Is Fourth of July a Religious Holiday?

Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks
People look at fireworks exploding over the Hudson River and the skyline of New York during the Macy's Independence Day celebration as seen from Hoboken, New Jersey, July 4, 2012. |

Several years ago Chicago Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear Pashman wrote a fascinating article about our nation's birthday. Based on material referenced in Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty, she questioned whether July 4 is a celebration of independence or deliverance.

Author Steve Waldman wrote:

"If you really look at the sweep of American history, one of the greatest achievements, one of the real points of differentiation between us and other nations and other Western nations, is our very unique approach to religious freedom."

According to prominent historian Eric Foner, "Today, the idea of freedom remains as central as ever to American culture and politics — and as contested. One thing seems certain. The story of American freedom is forever unfinished."

A Fourth of July Meditation on Religious Freedom

Among the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion is contested on the national, state and local levels in schools, universities, the workplace, the press, the courts and places of worship. American culture is trending against religious freedom, and it will take far more than political will and legal savvy to change course.

In the United States, people of all faiths are under-trained and under-mobilized, despite increased religious freedom abuses. To begin to address the religious liberty literacy gap in the U.S., we must agree on and promote key defining values:

1. Religious Freedom is a fundamental right that must be actively guarded and secured in the U.S. and around the world.

2. People of faith deserve protection from government-promoted social views when they form and operate private institutions (such as schools or hospitals) and when they express beliefs at work and in public.

3. Advocacy for religious freedom must allow for competing views. Freedom of conscience principles allow for all voices to co-exist with civility while maintaining full respect and protection for people of all religious beliefs or none.

Heart+Mind Strategies recently conducted research on religious freedom views in America. One of its findings is that Americans overwhelmingly (95%) are fed up with extremes dominating social dialogue. Research revealed that people on opposing sides of an issue demonize each other so severely that they make finding common ground impossible. However, they further learned that open tenor and willingness to engage create willingness to listen.

What can be done? We must cultivate an engaged constituency dedicated to free expression of religious conscience in America, learn to clearly articulate the threats against it, and become skilled in employing a new narrative to combat expanding secularism.

"The most essential element of our defense of freedom is our insistence on speaking out for the cause of religious liberty." Ronald Reagan

Take Action:

1. Read the book "The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today," where author Jim Tonkowich lays out what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong, and what we can do about it.

2. Read the book "World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty is Vital to American National Security" by Thomas F. Farr.

3. Watch these videos on YouTube to learn more about religious freedom in America: Preserving Religious Freedom and What is Religious Freedom?

Lou Ann Sabatier serves as Director of Communications and Strategy for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative

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