Thursday, October 4, 2012

Religious liberty? How about for mosques?

One of the subtexts of the political season this year has been the debate over religious liberty. Has the Obama administration’s rules on making contraceptives available for free to employees violated the rights of Catholic institutions that oppose artificial birth control?

The American Catholic bishops have launched what they call a Fortnight of Freedom to defend their right to deny contraceptive coverage in insurance plans for their employees. They have gone to court to challenge the government’s ruling.

But a recurring theme today in panels at a session for journalists from across the nation who cover is religion is that this misses the real threat to religious liberty in this country.

Melissa Rogers, director of Wake Forest University Divinity School 's Center for Religion and Public Affairs, said that the spate of attacks on mosques “is a critical religious freedom issue” as she talked with Religion Newswriters Assoication participants in a conference on religion and politics at the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington , D.C.

“We’re not talking about religious freedom if we’re not talking about that,” she said.

Since early August, there have been nine acts of vandalism or arson at mosques in the U.S, including one last weekend in Toledo, Ohio.

There was also the shooting of worshipers gathering at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek near Milwaukee in  early August.

In a separate session later in the day, Sally Steenland of the Center for Amerian Progress said that while there are many components to religious liberty, “the most basic one is the freedom to worship.”

Attacks on mosques, attacks on worshippers on a Sunday morning, are far more of a threat to religious liberty than the ongoing legal battles defining the boundaries of the relationship of church and state.

Jerome Copulsky, who teaches history at American University, noted that too often, the idea of religious freedom is being used to "shore up the privileges of the dominant religious traditions" in this country instead of to protect those traditions that are most vulnerable.

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