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August 16, 2010

A Commitment to Religious Freedom

Listed in: Separation of Church and State, NJDC News, Opinions

Originally published in Politico’s Arena

By David A. Harris, NJDC President and CEO

As the President emphatically said, “This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” What’s at stake here is an issue of our core principles, and the President is precisely correct. I applaud his clarion statements on this matter that cut to the heart of what our country stands for - including religious liberty for all peoples and the separation of church and state. Because without needing to address the location or mission of this one particular mosque, and recognizing the profound sensitivities involved, the fact is that there is a singular, larger controlling issue - religious freedom. And the President was right to focus the country’s attention on it.

Of course any issue in this emotionally charged atmosphere will understandably be fraught with profound sensitivities and difficult to navigate. But particularly in this emotionally charged atmosphere, it’s all the more critical that we get it right. Like so many others, members of the Jewish community have endured countless struggles to protect, defend and preserve our religious freedom, a founding principle of our country. Indeed it was the knowledge that they could worship freely which originally attracted our relatives who came before us to this great country.

These core principles should be celebrated by every American, but they sometimes feel particularly valuable to members of minority faiths - such as Muslims and Jews. These two communities have worked closely for decades alongside other faith groups to protect and defend the cause of religious liberty in Washington and around the country, through legislation and advocacy. For my colleagues in leadership positions within the Jewish community who may have remained on the sidelines of this vital conversation, I would encourage you to speak up about the central value of religious freedom - and to do so now.

The President was right to rededicate himself to this essential belief on which our country was founded, especially at this particular moment. Jewish and other faith leaders should too.