There is no shortage of organizations and advocates working to preserve the boundaries between religion and government.

Across the political spectrum, in cities and towns around the country, in churches, mosques, temples and more, the vast majority of Americans believe in the idea that all people have the right to believe as they choose – but not to impose those beliefs on others.

As director of field and organizing for Interfaith Alliance, it’s clear to me that the key to achieving our shared vision of inclusive religious freedom is uniting with diverse voices in service of a shared mission.

During World Interfaith Harmony Week, I’m reminded that building that network requires we focus not just on creating power at the grasstops, but also ensuring our partners at the grassroots are equipped to make change in their communities, and to do so with those who may live, love or worship differently than they do.

More and more, we’re seeing the fight for inclusive religious freedom play out locally.

From the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation at the state and local level, to the fragmentation of abortion rights and access to reproductive care, to efforts protecting religious accommodations for minorities, so much of the legislation undergirding these national conversations is being shepherded in state houses, city councils and school boards.

All too often, these policies are cloaked in religious language in an effort to divide communities against one another.

Those backing these efforts to erode religious freedom claim to speak for people of faith while seeking to impose their narrow interpretation of Christianity on all people. Instead of safeguarding our national diversity, they have distorted religious freedom to benefit the few, not the many.

But time and again, we have seen interfaith coalitions stand together to spread a counter message of love and justice. Where some have sought to sow seeds of hate for political profit, others have joined with their neighbors of all faiths and none to create safer, more inclusive communities.

In 2021, Interfaith Alliance published a grassroots toolkit providing resources for people of faith to mobilize against hate and discrimination. Creating interfaith connections and resourcing diverse networks with the tools to push back against hate – and push back against the narrative that people of faith are a monolith – is a critical part of reclaiming religious freedom.

Building interfaith networks isn’t just a tool to move an agenda forward – we’ve also seen time and again that, in times of crisis, community is central to healing.

Following the devastating attack on Congregation Beth Israel just over one year ago, it wasn’t just Jewish voices speaking out or showing up on the ground to offer support.

When Colleyville’s Jewish community was in its darkest hour, local Christian and Muslim leaders immediately showed up to see how they could aid their siblings – not in spite of their faiths, but because of them.

Similarly, the day after the deadly attack at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado convened an interfaith vigil of mourning and healing, joining in solidarity with those affected. Their quick response was made possible because of their strong existing relationships with LGBTQ+ advocates and organizations in Colorado, as well as partners of all faiths and none.

When we create community at the local level with people different from us, we build resiliency.

At Interfaith Alliance, we are traveling across the country this year to grow and empower our network with the knowledge and tools they need to effect change. Our grassroots base is at the heart of our work.

Some of our local affiliates have long histories, and others are just starting out – but they all focus on the issues that directly affect their local communities. What all of these affiliates have in common is their diversity of voices and their commitment to protecting the rights of their neighbors.

Our nation and our democracy are on a precipice. The livelihoods of far too many Americans are at risk, under attack by the Religious Right. But I haven’t lost hope.

While our opponents may be strong, our collective strength is tenfold. I believe we can actualize an inclusive vision of religious freedom – we just require more interfaith collaboration to get there.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series calling attention to February 1-7 as World Interfaith Harmony Week. The previous articles in the series are:

Beyond Harmony to Friendship Robert P. Sellers

How I Came Home With a Gift From Ayatollah Sistani | Andrew Larsen

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