Religious Freedom in the United States

Emma Webb

College Writing II

Dr. Carol Robinson

1 July 2013

  Religious freedom is one of America’s most fundamental liberties. The term “religious freedom” may have different meanings to different people, leading misunderstandings while trying to define this term. To some, 21st century United States may seem as if it is completely free off all discriminations and violations of freedom. However, this is not the case. The United States takes stands against religious freedom abuse with groups such as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). However this group focuses on all countries but the United States. The United States need not focus on only international issues, but also focus on the issues in “the land of the free.” Even though religious freedom is one of the fundamental liberties in America, almost every religion has been a target of discrimination at one point or another. While various other freedom violations may no longer be an issue, religious freedom is not one of them; these violations going on in the United States must be stopped.

  The video, “What Are Human Rights?” tells the story of the history of human rights. In the beginning, there were no set human rights.

If you were in with the right crowd you were safe; if you weren’t, you weren’t. Then, a guy named Cyrus the Great decided to change all of that. After conquering Babylon, he decided to do something completely revolutionary. He announced that all slaves were free. He also said that people had the freedom to choose their religion, no matter what crowd they were a part of (“What are human rights?”).

This is where the idea of religious freedom came from; it was also the first time people ever heard of choosing their own religion. In 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established. This is where Article 18, Freedom of Thought, was made official. Article 18 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

       United States Commission on International Religious Freedom defines religious freedom as:

Our first freedom, part of our history and identity as a free nation and enshrined in our First Amendment; A core human right recognized by international law and treaty; A necessary component of our nation’s foreign policy and commitment to defend democracy and freedom globally; A vital element of our national security, critical to ensuring a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable world.

If this is how USCIRF defines religious freedom, then the question remains: why are there religious violations and abuses happening every day in the United States? For being so active with religious freedom rights, this group does not focus on the United States as uch as it should.

        “The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy” states that:

The doctrine of human rights rests upon a particularly fundamental philosophical claim: that there exists a rationally identifiable moral order, an order whose legitimacy precedes contingent social and historical conditions and applies to all human beings everywhere and at all times.

With this identifiable moral order, comes freedom of religion. As stated, “…applies to all human beings everywhere and at all times.” This sentence specifically points at the fact that all human beings are entitled to their freedoms and liberties promised to them, religious included.

In 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) formed. On July 1, 2001, the NCCB and USCC were combined to form the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The USCCB is an assembly of the hierarchy of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands who jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of the United States (USCCB). In A Statement on Religious Liberty, written by USCCB, the committee lists specific examples of how religious freedoms are violated. Number one being a well-known example: the Department of Health and Human Services mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The USCCB states, “the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit protection of their religious liberty” (“A Statement on Religious Liberty”).

   On June 28, 2013, The Department of Health and Human Services issued the final rules on contraception coverage and religious organizations, coming to the conclusion that certain religious employers are exempt. According to the article:

A religious employer was defined for this purpose as one that: (1) has the inculcation of   religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a nonprofit organization described in section.

This example shows the government intervening into a religion and demanding the people go against what they believe, violating Article 18 and the people’s freedom of religion. The “final rule” of the Department of Health and Human Services shows that the government is taking it upon them to decide which employers and businesses are “religious enough” to be exempt from this rule. If the people of Christian faith had full freedom of their religion they would in no way be forced to supply such products that go against their original faith, no matter “how religious” they are.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing the laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability or genetic information. The EEOC defines religious discrimination as:

Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs. Religious discrimination can also involve treating someone differently because that person is married to (or associated with) an individual of a particular religion or because of his or her connection with a religious organization or group.

Although this group is specifically for discrimination issues in the workplace, their definition goes out to religious discrimination anywhere in the world. From not being able to express religion where needed, to being banned from wearing certain religious articles, and to being forced to participate in something against one’s religion, religious discrimination is an on-going, every day issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a union that works against religious discrimination, whose goal is to defend and preserve individual rights that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in the country. Unlike the USCIRF, the ACLU focuses solely on the United States of America. According to the ACLU, these rights include.

Your First Amendment rights – freedom of speech, association and assembly; freedom of the press, and freedom of religion; Your right to equal protection under the law – protection against unlawful discrimination; Your right to due process – fair treatment by the government whenever the loss of your liberty or property is at stake; Your right to privacy – freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into your personal and private affairs (ACLU).

The goal of the ACLU when it comes to freedom of religion and belief is “to guarantee that all are free to follow and practice their faith –or no faith at all—without governmental influence or interference” (ACLU). Recently, Muslim communities have been at the center of outright hostility. Muslims in America are being unfairly targeted simply for exercising their basic right to religious liberty.

Across the country, existing and proposed mosque sites have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts. The controversy over the planned Park 51 in New York City is a specific example of opposition to mosques and other Islamic centers in the United States. “The Constitution guarantees the right of the private citizen to protest…But making Muslim’s –or any other religious group—feel unwelcome in local communities conflicts with our Founder’s vision of religious liberty and tolerance” (ACLU). In the past five years, 32 out of the 50 states have reported multiple anti-mosque incidents. In Ohio alone, over five incidents were reported. In September 2012, in Toledo, a gasoline fire on the main floor of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo was ruled to be arson. David Yonke, writer for The Huffington Post, and the writer of the article reported, “The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, which released a report on Sept. 18 showing a spike in anti-mosque attacks, announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator” (Yonke). This alone proves that not everybody is treated with equality and given freedom when it comes to religion and their religious places of worship.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights established a total of 30 human rights, Article 18 being: Everybody has the freedom to thought, conscience, and religion […]. Although it is written down on paper, all over the world religious violations and events of discrimination are not seen as unusual. Right here, in the 21st century United States, religious violations, discriminations, and hate crimes happen every day. While some human rights may not have everyday violations, religious freedom is not one of them. In 1948, every human being was granted the freedom to choose their religion, to practice when/where they wanted, to express their religion in any way they chose, and to wear what they needed to in order to practice their faith. Although today, there are people out there scared to express their religion due to these crimes and violations that go on. No matter it be what people wear for their religion, where they practice their faith, or how they live their everyday lives, people are harassed for their life choice.  Luckily, there are groups such as the ACLU out there helping to protect these innocent people, protecting their human rights. These religious freedom violations need to come to an end because once somebody’s granted rights and liberties are attacked and violated, then everybody’s liberties are at stake.

 Works Cited

The Department of Health and Human Services. Administration issues final rules on contraception coverage and religious organizations. 2013. Print. <;.

Fagan, Andrew. “Human Rights.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2003.

United States. American Civil Liberties Union. Religion and Belief. Web. <;.

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. N.p., 2013. Web. 28 June 2013. <;.

The Ad HOC Committee for Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty. Administrative Committee of the USCCB, Mar. 2012. Web. 28 June 2013.

“U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” Religious Discrimination. N.p.. Web. 28 Jun 2013. <;.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Print. <

What are human rights?. N.d. Video. United for Human RightsWeb. 1 Jul 2013. <


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