Religious Freedom is a term we toss around in this culture freely as though we all knew what it meant.
Being a chaplain in a prison highlights to me both what it means – particularly in a culture where the lack of personal freedom is so evident.
Freedom of religion is:
– The freedom to believe what you want to believe and not suffer discrimination because of it. In other words, if you want to be a pastafarian, that’s cool. No one should be able to deny you work based on that belief. Of course, this is also limited by choosing to work in an area where your beliefs are part and parcel of the work you do – the Bible teacher at a Christian school certainly would not be a pastafarian. However, Walmart cannot deny you work based on that. This has not always been the case in our western-christian heritage but it certainly is now.
– The freedom of religion is also the freedom to practice your faith in a way that makes sense to you – limited, of course, by the law. In other words, questions of zoning are not necessarily questions of religious liberty unless zoning is being used to suppress a particular faith group. Another example is that while it is perfectly legal for a licensed butcher to sacrifice an animal in this country to spread a feast of beef on a table, it gets a bit complicated when you want to do it in your back yard for a worship ritual.
In a prison setting where one’s freedom is limited, the freedom of one person to share their faith with another inmate is limited by the other’s freedom to say “I don’t want to hear it.”