Ken Shaw

In the U.S. we have freedom of religion. To say that another way, we all have the freedom to believe whatever we wish. We also have the right to practice those beliefs, so long as they donít conflict with the law. That gives each of us tremendous freedom of thought and the ability to practice those beliefs. Along with this freedom comes an equally strong responsibility. That is, to respect everyone else's freedom to believe and practice whatever they choose. This freedom of belief is an individual freedom. It belongs to each of us individually. It does not give us permission to impose our beliefs on others or expect that our beliefs are more valid than anyone else's. That is not to say we should not discuss and debate our beliefs with each other, however, we should respect that they have an equal right to their beliefs and the practice of those beliefs.

If you extend this concept of freedom of belief beyond our popular religions to those of all faiths, there is no difference. In this country, everyone has the right to believe what they will and practice those beliefs within the law. Now, consider the realm of ALL of our beliefs, the same should hold true, political beliefs, cultural beliefs, ethnic beliefs, sexual beliefs and so on. So long as there is no conflict with the law, everyone has a right to their individual beliefs and the practice of those beliefs.

It doesn't appear that this is now, or ever has been the case in the U.S. There has always been a group that was looked down upon. This was no doubt caused by the opinion that one groupís beliefs and practices were more valid than another. Two examples; women didnít get the right to vote until less than 100 years. Italians starting coming to this country about 100 years ago. They were discriminated against in nearly all areas of the country. It took the better part of the last century to mostly overcome this prejudice. In hindsight, the Italian belief in the importance of family is something to be revered, to say nothing of their pizza. We have learned from women and Italians and every other country of origin, race, creed or color. We can learn from anyone with a different belief or practice.

Today it appears that a few minorities are still the subjects of our scorn. Yes, they may have different beliefs or different practices of those beliefs. But in this country, they have those rights, so long as they abide by the law.

The responsibility of freedom is to not prejudge a belief or a practice of that belief. Keep an open mind. Listen and learn. The lessons are many.