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Countering Religious Discrimination

What actions can we, as people of faith, take in order to Protect the Future of Faith?

Action is being taken against religious discrimination at a governmental level. The U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) “promotes universal respect for freedom of religion or belief for all as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. We monitor religiously motivated abuses, harassment, and discrimination worldwide, and recommend, develop, and implement policies and programs to address these concerns.”

This respect is as old as America itself. In 1785, future U.S. President James Madison wrote that “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every…man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.” Madison also said that the new nation should be “an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion.” This became a foundational principle of the emerging American Republic.

Fighting against religious discrimination and working to protect the future of faith are not, however, simply matters for government action. They are the individual responsibility of every person of faith as well. One principal action we can take is to become ambassadors of faith ourselves, not confined by triumphalism or supremacism, but open-minded, expansive, generous, tolerant, and firmly committed to peace.

The contemporary world offers us numerous examples of people who have made immense sacrifices in order to protect the unity of faith. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has protected and defended the holy Orthodox Faith in extremely difficult circumstances in Constantinople, with firm trust in the Lord and love for His Church. He has also spoken with a firm prophetic voice against attacks on people of other faith traditions in Turkey.

When gunmen killed a man inside a Roman Catholic church in Constantinople, not long after an assassination attempt against an imam in that city, His All-Holiness declared: “The recent tragic events that have afflicted both the Christian and Muslim communities of Constantinople serve as a reminder of our collective duty. Not only must we unequivocally condemn every form and manifestation of religious fundamentalism but we must also take proactive measures to prevent its emergence.”

His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy of Kyiv and All Ukraine, meanwhile, has stood with immense courage and at great personal risk for peace and unity in his war-torn nation. “Ukraine is proud of interfaith and interethnic peace,” Metropolitan Epiphaniy has stated, and is laboring to preserve those values even in the midst of war.

His All-Holiness and His Beatitude show us that one key to protecting the future of faith is to persevere, never giving up. Archbishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil in Iraq, is a shining example of faith, perseverance, and hope. After war decimated Iraq and millions of Christians left the country, leaving the survival of the Christian community of that country in serious doubt, Archbishop Warda did not despair. Instead, he set to work to restore what had been destroyed and rebuild his community. In 2015, the University of Erbil was founded under Archbishop Warda’s leadership; it stands as a beacon of faith, hope, and renewal in a nation that has suffered the ravages of war for decades, and a sign that the forces of hatred and division must not and will not prevail.

Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, was honored in August 2023 as one of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Heroes for Tolerance.” Michael Cohen, eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said of Wildes: “People see him as someone who is part of the Jewish community yet wants to help everyone, and that is really something that brings people together.”

That is a beautiful statement of what it means to be a person of faith, and to be dedicated to protecting the future of faith. Becoming a person who epitomizes tolerance and compassion should be a prime goal of all who cherish faith as a foremost and enduring human value.

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