The Religion Newswriters Association continued its 64th annual conference in Austin, TX, at the State Capitol building for a pre-conference about issues of religious freedom in the public square in the United States on Thursday (Sept. 26).
Eric Teetsel, executive director of The Manhattan Declaration founded by Chuck Colson defined religious freedom as “the right to ask questions of ultimate significance.”
“Religious freedom is America’s first freedom. Freedom of religion is the foundation for all that comes after. What’s to stop the state from telling you what to read and write if it can tell you what to believe,” Teetsel added. “Religious pluralism is messy and complicated. We ought to embrace this tension and learn from it. Recognizing and honoring our differences is a sure guarantee of peace.”
“We need to begin an era when government doesn’t quash religion but actively promotes it.”
According to Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience atheists haven’t traditionally been invited to the table when discussing religious freedom in the public square. He advised reporters to include atheists along with pastors in their stories.
“Exploring God is exactly how I got where I am today,” he added. “There’s a risk and a clear bias against atheists and a bias toward Christianity in this country. These complaints aren’t about offense but about the law; the separation of church and state.”
“This isn’t a Christian nation, it’s a secular nation, at least it’s supposed to be. . .while I may personally want to kill faith because I think faith is gullibility I don’t want to kill off the right to have faith. I’m gonna kill off faith in my spare time. “
Liberty Institute general counsel Jeff Mateer said religious hostility incidents in the United States have doubled in the last year to about 1,200, according to his organization’s research.
Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network said “Texas is kind of the Petry dish of testing new ways of pushing the boundaries of what separation of church and state means. ”
Many sex education classes in Texas had overtly religious materials as part of classes including True Love Waits and virginity pledges, Miller added.
“There are amazing courses about the Bible in public schools that are not religious,” she said. “No one is suggesting that a student can’t ask questions about their religion but the instructor needs to know how to answer those questions in a way that doesn’t suggest a particular faith.”
Amanda Greene is the editor and community manager of Wilmington Faith & Values.