US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Defending Religious Freedom

Defending Religious Freedom
By Senator John Thune

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressI always look forward to Sunday mornings. Faith, family, and community take the focus as thousands of families across South Dakota and throughout our country gather with the freedom to worship under the religion of their choice without fear of persecution. The American values of religious freedom and liberty are woven into the very fabric of who we are as a country and a distinct part of what makes America great.

In the U.S., we view it as incumbent upon us to question the decisions of government and businesses that may infringe upon an individual’s religious freedoms. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the conscience rights of individuals in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Under our system of checks and balances, the Supreme Court found that ObamaCare was constitutionally overreaching into Americans’ lives and forcing many to violate their conscience. It was a victory for religious freedom.

With these most basic religious freedoms, comes the responsibility to protect and preserve these liberties not only for Americans, but also for the millions across the globe who are imprisoned, persecuted, and even killed because of their faith. Which is why, on February 5, 2015, I joined my colleagues in introducing a resolution defending religious freedom and calling for the protection of religious minorities worldwide.

Religious freedom forged by our founding fathers sought to protect an individual’s rights of conscience, even if their particular theological convictions differed from the majority. This was especially important to the protestant and later Catholic Christians escaping persecution in Europe who went on to form many of the denominations with which we are familiar in South Dakota.

These same principles are equally important to the Christian and Rohingya Muslim minorities in Burma who face persecution from a Buddhist majority, as well as the ancient Christian and Yezidi communities of Iraq, fleeing almost certain death at the hands of ISIS. The constant struggle can also be seen in individual cases, such as that of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor with duel Iranian and American citizenship arrested and imprisoned in Iran based solely on his Christian faith.

It was Ronald Reagan who famously said, “…We must remember the most distinctive mark of all in the American experience: To a tired and disillusioned world, we’ve always been a New World and, yes, a shining city on a hill where all things are possible.” It is our responsibility to not only provide an example of religious freedom in our own lives, communities, and government, but to also speak out for those around the world who want nothing more than the right to worship according to their conscience without fear of persecution.

This is what we are called to as a nation, and as a people who believe in defending the intrinsic value of human life. I will continue to fight for these essential and most basic values as a member of the U.S. Senate, and I hope South Dakotans will join me in lifting their voices in support of religious freedom around the globe.

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