Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In the Wake of Religious Freedom Day

The conservative Christian website OneNewsNow reported today that the Alliance Defense Fund and the Gateways to Better Education (GTBE) are collaborating on a project called the "National Free to Speak Campaign." This follows Religious Freedom Day, which was celebrated this year on January 16th.

The GTBE website encourages visitors to celebrate Religious Freedom Day by requesting that the Alliance Defense Fund send a personalized six-page letter on religious liberties to school officials of one's choice. It also encourages readers to place Free to Speak pamphlets in the foyer of their churches and inside bulletins (see below). The Free to Speak pamphlet reminds students and teachers that they can pray, read their Bibles, and talk about faith in public school, as well as express faith in their classwork, school events, and graduation ceremonies.

There are a few things to keep in mind. First, the Alliance Defense Fund is a conservative organizations whose website states that it defends marriage, family, and the sanctity of life.Its founders herald from right-wing Christian organizations such as the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and Campus Crusade for Christ. (Right Wing Watch has a breakdown of the organization's principle issues and background.)

Second, the GTBE website describes GTBE as a nonprofit organization intended to assist public schools in teaching students about "the important contribution the Bible and Christianity make to the world." In "faith-friendly schools," it argues, students can have the freedom to express their faith and learn about Judeo-Christian values and history. The GTBE online store sells books with titles such as Expressing God's Love at School and Keeping the Faith in Public Schools.

For these two organizations, I suspect the "National Free to Speak Campaign" are about proselytizing conservative Christianity in public schools. Would they show the same enthusiasm, I wonder, if Muslim students wanted to read the Quran at schoolWiccan students wanted to start a club, or Baha'i students wanted to express their faith at graduation?

Religious freedom -- for people of all faiths -- is a cherished right in the U.S. Rather than focus on religious freedom for one type of Christian, as the Religious Right often does, we should remember that religious freedom is a right extended to citizens of all religions (or no religion). With this important fact in mind, we can enrich the public discussion on religious diversity, tolerance, and boundaries between church and state.

For additional commentary, visit these links.

Talk to Action: Religious Freedom Day: For A Real Celebration, Go To The Source

The Wall of Separation: Superb Statute: Celebrate Religious Liberty January 16

Street Prophets: Happy Religious Freedom Day! (Huh?)

An online sample copy of Free to Speak is available at www[dot]gtbe[dot]org/uploads/images/files/Free%20to%20Speak%20Pamphlet%20(sample).jpg

An overview of the "National Free to Speak Campaign" is available at www[dot]gtbe[dot]org/news/index.php/56.html

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