Religious freedom has been a distinguishing feature of American culture since its early days. But an onslaught of negativity from the media and educational institutions seems to have taken a toll on religious freedom. With the increase of safe spaces and regulation on university campuses and throughout the public square, religion is being pushed to the sidelines of American society.
Such attacks on religious freedom are nothing new, but they may have reached a new level of intensity. A survey conducted by Amicus in 2015 found 58 percent of millennials agreed with the statement that religion “is personal and should not play a significant role in society.”
In other words, 58 percent of millennials believe you can be religious, just as long as no one knows. Glenn responded to these findings with a call to return to a Constitution-based foundation.
“We need to find ways to shore up the Constitution and start teaching the Constitution,” he said, adding that educating the next generation with these fundamental freedoms is essential. “They will not rise up to protect or defend something [when] they don’t even know what it is.”
So what does the Constitution have to say about religion?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Then what do young people have to say?
We interviewed Rajesh, a millennial from the Dallas-Fort Worth area (who asked us to change his name), to get his perspective on religious expression as a young, Hindu American. His responses were eye-opening.
A frisbee throwing, trombone playing, 18-year-old, Rajesh was recently accepted at the University of Illinois where he plans to study computer science. It's his dream to enter the field of bio informatics or artificial intelligence.
Outside of sports, studies and musical pursuits, Rajesh can occasionally be found at the Dallas-Fort Worth Hindu temple.
Ornate architecture at the Dallas-Fort Worth Hindu Temple. Photo from DFW Hindu Temple Society Facebook page.
Born in New Jersey, Rajesh moved to Texas when he was a toddler. He said his religion makes up some of his earliest memories and was an important part of his life growing up. His parents, who were both born and raised in India, taught him many aspects of the Hindu faith, which he continues to practice today.
"Like many people know, there are a ton of deities and there a ton of different ceremonies and rituals," Rajesh said.
Although not highly devout, Rajesh said he enjoys participating in the rituals and traditions, because it allows him to unite with friends and family.
"I still go to the temple with my family, occasionally on Sunday," he said. "My mom still has me do puja in our puja room in our house occasionally. I go to some religious ceremonies."
Puja is most easily explained as a prayer session. Some of the ceremonies he described involve festivals with chariots, fireworks and color-throwing. He also described some of his religious dietary practices.
"One minor thing is that I don’t eat any meat. Mondays and Thursdays, in particular, are considered to be 'auspicious' days. So as it is we don’t eat pork, but on those days we don’t eat chicken, eggs or fish," Rajesh said.
Ceremonial items at the Dallas-Fort Worth Hindu Temple. Photo from DFW Hindu Temple Society Facebook page.
When asked how he feels about the importance of such festivals and practices, Rashesh said it's "not a huge deal."
"I think they’re important to the culture that’s associated with India and Hinduism itself," he said. "But I personally don’t really care if it stays or not. I think for my mom and my dad it’s pretty important to them, but for me and my brothers, it’s not a huge deal."
Rajesh said he, like many Hindu people, considers Mahatma Gandhi a role model who inspires him in many ways. Admitting he'd never experienced the type of opposition Gandhi did, Rajesh seemed fine with allowing people to exercise religion freely, so long is it does not interfere with the basic rights of others.
Regarding his future religious practice, he said, "I don’t care too much for the small everyday things, but I do like the things like Diwali, Holi and when we go to the temple, when you see all these families coming together. I do like that and probably will carry that on."
As the political divide deepens in America, it's important we allow ourselves to be exposed to new cultures, practices and traditions. Our nation needs healing. The more love, empathy and understanding we can show towards others, the less divided we will be.
It's time to return to the Constitution of our nation. No longer can we urge people to hold back on living their religion due to risks of offense and discrimination. Regulation and indifference are strangling the life out of our culture.
In a takeaway from the survey on religion among millennials, Emily Hardman, president of Amicus Communications, emphasized religion is more than an institution:
It is linked to the very core of their human dignity, that religious belief above any other right is what makes us human, that ability to seek truth, to embrace truth and to express that truth is score to what it means to be human.
Because faith is more than just a thought, the exercise of religion must be tolerated as it is what holds the fabric of this nation together.
What about you?
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