October 27th is International Religious Freedom Day, an opportunity to celebrate the freedom we have achieved, reflect on how we got here, and remember those who are still experiencing oppression.
On this day, we would like to recognize the freedom we are given: the freedom to worship or not to worship any higher power in any way we want. The ability to worship without fear of punishment has helped us ground ourselves in our faith, spirituality, and worldview.
The First Amendment adopted on December 15, 1971, sets the grounds for the separation between church and state and prohibited the federal government from establishing any state religion. The 14th Amendment adopted in 1868 extended religious freedom by preventing states from inhibiting any faith practice.
The passing of both amendments catalyzed freedom of religion through legislation, but the fight was not over. Judeo-Christian religions were often tolerated, but anything different was swiftly refuted. Because of this intolerance, many slaves were forced to convert. One of the first Muslims to touch American soil was a slave named Omar ibn Sa’id. Sa’id and other slaves documented the forced conversions and the secrecy of belief. Many slaves were forced to convert or were starved of religion altogether.
These forced conversions were not unique to the slave experience. Indigenous people were robbed of their traditional beliefs until 1978. An indigenous person practicing their traditions risked being arrested. Laws were passed that forcibly detained indigenous children and took them to schools to learn the “correct” religion. The effects of forced conversion and forced re-education are still felt today.
Today we remember those who got us to where we are, but we also remember those currently oppressed. We recognize the Uyghurs who are presently kept in concentration camps, and we remember the Rohingyas that have been forcibly removed from their lands.
While we recognize our freedoms, we must use our ability to worship to advocate for those robbed of the same privilege. We do this by engaging our elected officials, creating awareness of issues both in and out of our country, and continuing to start conversations about the right and freedom to worship for all.