Religious Freedom for All

By Richard Nelson

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August 18, 2015

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More than two years ago, the Bowling Green Daily News ran a story about the growing Muslim population in their city. Arriving from over 23 countries around the world, Bowling Green has one of the highest populations of Muslim refugees in the state. According to the Daily News, the refugee population made up 10% of the overall population in Bowling Green in 2013. The refugees interviewed for the story stated that their experience has been positive. Bowling Green has constructed two mosques to accommodate the growing population. More recently in 2014 a Mosque was constructed in Lexington, designed to hold upwards of 500 visitors. It is the first of its kind in the city. In Louisville, abandoned churches have been turned into Mosques.  

 

Throughout the Commonwealth, the influx of Muslims to the state is undeniable. Some may fear that such a rise in this population will mean some kind of denigration of other faith communities, or concern that Mosques will provide a training center for illicit activities. While we should not be naive in how we relate with our fellow Kentuckians, we should also not be so quick to ascribe motives that may not be present. Seeking the good of our Muslim neighbors is our good as well. Many have moved here for jobs, school, and a better life. Their faith is absolutely vital to who they are, and as such we should be willing to help facilitate conditions where they are able to flourish. We must remember that religious liberty is for everyone, including the rising Muslim population in Kentucky. 

 

Rest assured, whatever power the people provide for the state to stifle their enemies can be just as easily used to stifle you. You cannot appeal to Caesar to abstain from violating your conscience, then turn around and singe your neighbor’s. If you so desire the state of Kentucky to prevent religious freedom for Muslims, it may one day use that same power to limit your religious freedom. Freedom to worship is a central right of all Kentuckians, even if it is not your religion. We should want our fellow Kentuckians to flourish because it provides a fertile ground for us to flourish as well. In so far as my fellow Muslim/Jewish/Christians Kentuckians are free to associate and worship, I am that free. Religious freedom is the first freedom, because all other freedoms are contingent on this freedom. This first freedom is tied to belief, conscience, and the right to dissent. If that freedom is taken away, be convinced that they will take other freedoms away.  

 

The more we become aware of the world around us, the more it becomes increasingly small. This globalization starts to shape narratives. The atrocities brought on by ISIS and others start to make us question our very neighbors beside us. In some sense that is beneficial. We do want a commonwealth of credulity. But in another sense it is harmful. We are incapable of developing a culture that cares for our neighbor if this mentality grows like crabgrass. We are to be careful optimists, but optimists nonetheless. “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth,” writes John Milton, “so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength…who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” Mosques may be standing where churches were once erected but let Truth play the field, freely and openly amongst us.  

 

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center