Aug. 22 marks the UN’s International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.
Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are a common standard of achievements for all people recognizing their most fundamental freedoms.
Many are familiar to those of us in the United States and we see them protected under the First Amendment: freedom of religion, freedom of expression (speech) and the right to peaceful assembly.
Yet, both home and abroad, these freedoms have not always been the reality for many.
One need only to look at Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina or Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania or Christchurch mosque in New Zealand (all taking place in the past six years) to recognize that for many religious and racial minorities, these freedoms have yet to be fully achieved.
At each, elements of Christian nationalism and white supremacy manifested themselves into tragedy.
In the United States, we have a unique Black faith tradition that often finds itself targeted in these attacks.
The Black faith tradition is more than a legacy of doctrines, more than a network of like-minded houses of worship and denominations, more than a collective experience. It is all that and more.
The Black faith tradition is an institution seeking to serve the spiritual and physical needs of a diaspora of people facing marginalization.
Other faith traditions share similar experiences and similar needs.
Earlier this year, when four members of the Indianapolis’ Sikh community were killed, their leaders expressed a feeling of collective trauma as they channeled their pain into calls to combat the bigotry, bias and violence they have suffered for decades.
Why do individuals target houses of worship? Because they know that in doing so the impact of their actions will be widely felt by the targeted community.
Minority institutions have power and meaning, particularly in the face of marginalization that makes them targets.
Yet, both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution offer a way to protect the exercise of religious belief (or non-belief) freely and ensure that it is a reality for all, including those who subscribe to minority religions.
Freedom of religion, freedom of expression (speech) and the right to peaceful assembly work together to fight against intolerance and discrimination. These rights are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
Pluralism works the same way. Interreligious, interfaith and intercultural dialogue show us we have more in common than not.
Realizing these freedoms bodes well not only for combating religious intolerance, but also for strengthening our democracy. Our experience is enriched when those who may not believe, think, worship or look like us are still engaged in the public square and hold equal standing.
BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty) has worked for 85 years to protect religious freedom for all, which includes those of minority religions and those who do not practice a faith.
BJC also launched the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign, providing an avenue for individuals to call out and stand against this dangerous ideology that too often manifests itself in violence against racial and religious minorities.
Admittedly, BJC has not always recognized every voice and perspective in our work. But the commitment to religious pluralism – where people of all faiths and none live in civic harmony – will forever be a worthy vision not just in the United States, but also abroad.
This annual observance is a strong statement from the United Nations General Assembly about the importance of faith freedom.
As stated clearly online, “By proclaiming an International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, the [UN] General Assembly recalled that States have the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights, including the human rights of persons belonging to religious minorities, including their right to exercise their religion or belief freely.”
Our work is not finished until these words are the reality for all.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. Each article expresses only the opinion and perspective of the author and not any other columnist in the series. The other articles are:
Religious Minorities’ Plight Too Often Overlooked | Shane McNary
To Be Anti-Zionist Is Not to Be Anti-Jewish | Vinoth Ramachandra
Advocacy and outreach manager at BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), where he works to engage and empower supporters of faith freedom for all.