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Freedom of and from religion

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Rev. Fr. Roy Cimagala

Candidly Speaking

 

THAT was a piece of good news. Texas Governor Rick Perry signs into law the so-called Merry Christmas Bill allowing public schools and other public places to have Christmas greetings on display.

This is actually a no-brainer kind of law, and Perry said as much. But with some people complaining about others greeting Merry Christmas to one another in public and wanting to ban such practice, the state had to clarify the issue, and even had to make a law about it.

Freedom of religion, said the governor, is not freedom from religion. He said that freedom from religion was not included in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Well, I thought this kind of distinction is primitive thinking, but it seems our times call for it. There are many people branding themselves as enlightened, modern, liberal and all that, who invoke religious freedom to claim that public places should be freed from any signs of religion in order to be fair to everyone.

These are the people who, for example, would ban praying in schools and other public manifestations of people’s piety even if such come out spontaneously and are respectful of the peace and order of the locality.

We hear this kind of thing mainly in places like the States, but we should not be naïve to think that this thing does not happen here. Last year, if I remember right, there even was a young party-list congressman who moved to strike down any sign of popular piety in public places.

I suppose he was doing it in line with the policies of a worldwide network of atheists and agnostics who want to erase traces of religious piety of all kinds of faith and beliefs not only from public display but also altogether in the world.

We have to be ready for this kind of eventuality. Religion and everything related to it—personal beliefs and practices that need also to be shown in public since we are not only individual persons but also social beings—are such a precious albeit mysterious part of our life that they even surpass complete understanding.

To suppress them would be inhuman, to say the least. Even those who profess to have no religion, like the atheists, do in fact believe in some kind of God, even if that God is they themselves. We cannot help but refer ourselves to a God. Those who say there is no God are already referring themselves to a God.

We need to take care of the religious freedom of everyone who can have different creeds, including the freedom of those who believe there is no God. We just have to learn how to respect each other’s religious beliefs and practices, fostering dialogue and understanding, and resolving differences and conflicts calmly and civilly.

Let’s hope that thing about banning prayer in school, display of religious symbols in public places, etc., will be a thing of the past. We need to move on, and that’s why we have to learn how to flow with the times also.

The other day, a young friend of mine who visited France with the family recently told me that he figured in an argument with an elderly overly pious person inside the Church who told him to remove his earphone from his ears.

My friend was making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at that time, but since there was a massive Polish crowd inside the Church in some liturgical celebration in a language he did not understand, he decided to pray using his electronic device that read for him some things from a spiritual book.

Obviously the elderly person must have thought my friend was listening to music inside the church, and so my friend explained what he was actually listening. That was when the elderly person apologized.

This kind of situation is actually getting more common. It shows how our rapid pace of developments is creating wider gaps among generations and different types and groups of people. The challenge we have now is how to close or at least narrow these gaps.

In this kind of situation, we need to be more understanding with one another and to foster dialogue and more ways of interaction. We should try to be calm and courteous always even as we explain our opinions and argue our points.

We need to have a good grip on our passions, and stick to reason and to our faith firmly and charitably, quick to understand, forgive and be at peace with one another.


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