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What is Freedom of Religion?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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Freedom of religion refers to a group of liberties that allows people to choose whether to worship and how to worship. International authorities generally regard these liberties to be human rights and in many countries they are considered to be constitutional rights. Although these liberties are widely included in laws around the globe, they are exercised and enforced to varying degrees.

This concept grants people a number of rights. To begin with, it allows individuals to choose which deities to believe in. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s name is Jehovah and he has a son called Jesus Christ. Muslims believe that the creator of all things is called Allah and they do not recognize Allah as having a son. In a place where there is freedom of religion, a person can choose to believe in either of these or any other deities. This includes the liberty to believe in multiple deities.

A person can also choose not to believe in God at all. Atheists should be protected by the same rights as religious followers. In a society where people are free to choose their religions, they are also generally free to change them. Furthermore, each adult should be free to make the choice for herself. This means that a man, for example, should not be granted the right to declare a religion for his family.

Freedom of religion grants a person the right to observe whatever religion has been chosen. That means that followers should be able to possess religious material, gather in places of worships, and generally live lifestyles that reflect their beliefs. For example, Jews should be free to observe the holidays outlined by their faith and eat according to their beliefs. At the same time, Christians should not have Jewish practices imposed upon them.

There are limitations on these liberties, however. Worship does not entitle people to break the law. A person in the United States (US) cannot lawfully commit murder because his beliefs call for human sacrifice.

Some countries have laws that allegedly grant citizens freedom of religion. However, those rights are not always consistently or efficiently protected. When true freedom of religious belief exists, people should not be penalized for their beliefs. In some countries, despite the existence of law, it is an open practice to restrict the best educational, social, and employment opportunities to members of the religious majority. In these countries, people may also be persecuted for choosing their beliefs.

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Discussion Comments

By backdraft — On Dec 16, 2012

One of the areas that freedom of religion gets most consistently and interestingly challenged is in prison.

It is a unique environment where you must restrict certain freedoms while respecting certain rights. Religion fits awkwardly into this environment.

If you do just a little bit of research you will find dozens of instances where prisoners wanted to perform rituals, use substances, spread messages, and generally worship in a way that would be disruptive to the broader prison population. The question then becomes, when do rights end in the interest of safety?

By truman12 — On Dec 15, 2012

Freedom of religion is a concept that many of us take for granted, but it remains as revolutionary today as when it was first put into practice.

One of the reasons that we don't appreciate it so much is that we live in a fairly tolerant society that has a clear distinction between church and state. That means that the beliefs and doctrines and others rarely impinge on our own wants and wishes. As a result, we are permissive of other people's religious beliefs because they don't affect us. In the theocratic states of the past, that was not the case and religions had to compete between each other more fiercely.

By fitness234 — On Oct 25, 2010

The freedom of religion that I desire so badly actually has more to do with freedom from religious extremist. I really don't mind the influence that light religious references can have in our daily lives, but when people start killing each other over the issues that fundamental religions have then I have to take a step back and wonder just what it is that we are doing here with our world. No one should act like that and it is detrimental to the entire human population for us to continue such irate behavior into the future.

By jeancastle00 — On Oct 25, 2010

There is the possibility of of zealots causing a very big headache for the rest of society and the political spectrum but I am a believer in the bell curve of our demographic. People of both ideologies exist in this country and how they perceive the nation's role in religion. The freedom of religion foundations that are rooted in our history are seen by some as wrong or perhaps give preference to a specific religion, often described as Christian.

There are the other side of the political spectrum that believe the exact opposite. Large factions of political movements believe that the words "In God We Trust" should ever have been put on the coins and currency of the nation. Do we have freedom to not practice religion or should one always be reminded, and carry in your pocket, the word of God.

By MrPolitic99 — On Oct 24, 2010

It is scary to me just how in danger the basis for freedom of religion is in our nation today. For such an incredible and base right that our country of the United States was founded upon, the thought that it could be threatened disturbs many people and I think that they are justified in their concern.

When we have political movements come into our political realm that support the notion that God has delivered a divine right to them as a political power, there is an issue. While these people have the absolute right to do so, I can't but think how backward this is to the United States of America's constitution. We are exclusively guaranteed the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state as a founding principle of this great nation.

When people claim to have some divine right to rule or to make their political decisions, please be wary of their claims and realize that the law protects your from such discrimination.

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