Freedom is a Fantasy if Religious Minorities are Forced to Hide Their Faith

November 22, 2019
Freedom is a Fantasy | First Liberty

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

For over two centuries, the United States has been a beacon of freedom. The principles, values and liberties enshrined in the American Constitution have made our nation a safe haven for people of all faiths.

In particular, one of the characteristics that makes our Constitution so exceptional is the incredible protection that it offers to minority religions and smaller faith communities. From the very inception of our republic—and really, even before we formally unified as a standing nation—we’ve been a religious refuge for the least among us, namely those oppressed and persecuted because of their beliefs.

But as we survey the landscape of a culture that’s growing increasingly hostile to religion and religious expression, we see that fundamental promise undermined. And, it is minority faith communities who eventually suffer the consequences, as many of them are often hesitant—or worse yet, afraid—to openly live out their faith.

Right now, we’re seeing this phenomenon very starkly with the Jewish community in the United States. A litany of recent studies and surveys reveal:

  • One in three Jewish-Americans reported avoiding publicly wearing, carrying or displaying items that might identify them as members of the Jewish community.
  • 2018 recorded the third-highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the past decade, with a sharp 99% increase in claims of harassment, vandalism and violence from 2015.
  • 57% of religious hate crimes in 2018 were motivated by offenders’ anti-Jewish bias, according to the FBI.

Certainly, living out your faith should never come down to a choice between your beliefs and your safety. Whether it’s members of the Jewish community, or of any faith group, Americans shouldn’t have to fear harassment, violence or coercion at the hands of the government just for wearing religious symbols, clothing or jewelry.

The fact remains that if people are bullied or intimidated into hiding their faith behind closed doors, or forced to practice their religion underground…then we don’t have religious freedom in any real sense.

Faith Underground | First Liberty

At its most fundamental level, fostering true religious freedom for people of all faiths requires a couple of things from each and every one of us.

For one, we must hold strong to a mutual understanding of peaceful coexistence. We can live in the same country without having to bully, intimidate, or violently harass others who believe and worship differently.

Secondly, we must stand boldly and act to stop religious hostility, especially when minority faith communities are the target.

Here at First Liberty, we continue to be First in the Fight in some of the worst cases of discrimination against religious minorities, including:

  • Our ongoing defense of a Jewish community in Airmont, NY, who’s been forced by local officials to practice their faith underground. They’ve had to pay exorbitant fees in order to receive approval from the city to worship in their very own homes.
  • Our successful victory on behalf of Rabbi Netanel Louie of the Hebrew Discovery Center, a small Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles county that endured multiple acts of violence and property damage in the past few years. They were even ordered by a judge to pay over $6,000 to one of the accused vandals who sued the Rabbi!
  • Our legal triumph on behalf of Congregation Toras Chaim, an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Dallas, TX. They spent nearly six years in court wrangling with the city over parking spaces—even though their members don’t drive on the Sabbath.

Without question, America’s promise of religious liberty and the freedom for all—especially religious minorities—to live according to the dictates of their conscience is a feat unlike any other in world history, an ideal few nations have successfully brought to fruition.

That’s a legacy worth defending. If others’ faith is under attack, you are likely to be next.

Forcing faith underground isn’t a part of America’s DNA. That’s why First Liberty Institute continues to stand strong for the right of all to freely, openly and publicly exercise their beliefs.

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