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America faces challenges to religious pluralism
by Holly Hollman and Hoda Elshishtawy
Americans face many challenges that threaten to undermine their obligation to protect religious pluralism and the rights of fellow citizens. Earlier this month in Tennessee, for example, a program on public discourse designed to answer questions about Islam was continuously disrupted by protesters and hecklers, some of whom claimed that Islam was evil. Yet we should not diminish what has been called "the most successful experiment in religious liberty the world has ever known" – the United States of America. Whatever challenges we face, the two of us, from a Baptist organization and a Muslim organization respectively, agree that protecting religious liberty is paramount. Protection of religious liberty requires careful attention to upholding the principles enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protect the right to practice one's faith without government interference.
In many respects, religious liberty serves as a baseline for democratic participation. Religious liberty – and consensus on its importance – creates the conditions for people of all religions (or no religion) to influence lawmakers on various policy concerns. A mutual commitment to the right of religious liberty for all allows people of faith or of none to share their opinions, agree or disagree and attempt to persuade others about various matters related to the public welfare. In this sense, religious liberty is fundamental not merely for its own sake, but also because it facilitates robust democratic debate.
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