“Religious Freedom, Terrorism, and National Security” Given to the Second Session of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom, Brussels
by Joseph K. Grieboski
Religious freedom is a principal reason for the success of the American republic. It is the "first freedom" of the American Bill of Rights, the first sixteen words of which – by guaranteeing free exercise and banning establishment – were designed to encourage the religious enterprise. The first amendment is based on the conviction that believers can and will do good things for themselves, their co-religionists, and their country, and that they should be encouraged to do so. Most important, however, the first amendment also protects the rights of those who choose not to believe. The American Founding Founders did not see religion as a "private matter" with no relationship to public policy. Rather, they saw religion and religious people as the cornerstone of democracy and representative of American vitality as a nation.
Religious liberty, in the full sense of the term, is the first human right. It is, therefore, a liberty that should not be confined to the private sphere only. The famous American clergyman John Witherspoon – the only cleric to sign the Declaration of Independence – stated in a May 1776 sermon what may be considered a philosophy of religious purpose in America: "It is in the man of piety and inward principle, that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both." By the same token, American foreign policy has always drawn on the impulses provided by the first amendment. Promoting religious freedom as a core element of our foreign policy is not only "being true to our character as a people," but also deeply rooted in America's security interests.
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