The top 3 Things You Need to Know about Religious Freedom in the United States

It is a well-known fact that America is the most religious country in the western world. From the founding Puritans to the ardent evangelistic preachers nowadays, religious sentiment is well embedded in American culture and politics, and the laws of the country reflect this.

President Barack Obama declared, in 2015, that religious freedom could not be a reason to deny LGBT rights, while Donald Trump called, more recently, in an abrupt tone, for the reopening of places of worship, despite the fact that the Covid pandemic has not yet been subsided.

Two different approaches about the exercise of religious freedom, which are grounded, simultaneously and coherently, in the American establishment.

While many people complain about religious discrimination, there are more and more religious exemptions and privileges

In most jurisdictions across the United States, state employees as well as parents of children who go to school have the legal right to seek exemptions and privileges on the grounds of religious incompatibility. However, the situation of employees of private firms is more complicated, their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion often conflicting with the right of the employers to organize the activity in their own firms as they wish.

In those states where religious exemptions are permitted, the trend of this type of demand is increasing, without it being clear whether, in the long run, it could affect democracy. Because history shows us that most people are not content with the right to believe what they want and to organize their own lives accordingly; sooner or later, they come to think that their religious truth should be the truth of all, which is the source of most evil.

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The tradition to object on religious grounds

The First Amendment to the American Constitution prohibits the establishment of the monopoly of a state religion, or the restriction of the free practice of religion. Over time, this guarantee was taken very seriously by American judges, who often allowed citizens to say to the state, “I am sorry, my God won’t let me do that!”.

Perhaps the best-known example of this is the refusal of some American believers to fight on the front lines – a gesture whose history is even longer than that of the United States Constitution! The Quakers and Mennonites, among many other religious groups, refused to fight the Indians in colonial times, refused to fight in the War of Independence against the English, and refused to fight in the Civil War. Sometimes they were thrown into prison, sometimes they were just fined, and sometimes they were left alone.

The U.S. as an exporter of religious freedom

The U.S. State Department annually publishes a report on religious freedom for nearly every country in the world. Unlike international organizations that collect their information both from public sources and directly from their own experts, and advance their conclusions rather through diplomatic or political sanctions, the State Department makes consultations as transparent as possible with all the actors involved and publishes its findings in a substantial annual document. It is a report of the American political-bureaucratic establishment, matured over the past 20 years within the Bureau of International Religious Freedom, the bipartisan Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the plethora of NGOs and think-tanks dedicated to religious freedom.