On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt itemized in his State of the Union Address four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
Seventy-six years later, we find ourselves living in a world of unprecedented opulence of a kind that was not conceivable when he gave his address. We have participated in wars, conflicts, and ongoing peace talks throughout those years. Today we see the different regions of the globe are closely linked. The devices that provide immediate access to information is astounding. This luxury affects not only the fields of trade, commerce and communication, but also in terms of interactive ideas and ideals. Of particular importance, to our church community is the second freedom of every person to worship God in his own way.
From its very beginning, the United States has been home to a wide range of religious beliefs. Without a confining state-sponsored church as had been a 1,500-year European tradition and with an assorted stream of immigrants, religious diversity continues as a signal feature in America. Americans find they can choose their own faith group, select a congregation (or start their own) and find a minister. They can also choose not to adhere to religion at all. This vast array of religious choices demonstrates an invigorating freedom of conscience and a flourishing religious freedom.
Freedom means many things to many people, however. One may say, freedom is to be able to dance and sing, with joy, with loved ones during the day, to be independent in a very busy city that is not very accessible to wheelchair users, the giving and receiving of mutual respect between humans and animals, or for many, having the critical medications to keep one’s life may be paramount to their daily concerns.
Yet there has been no royal road to religious freedom in the United States. Baptists, Jews, Catholics and other faiths — which at some time have been new, unpopular and minority religions — have felt the sting of religious persecution and societal prejudice. Every day we realize religious differences are under attack. Freedom of religion and conscience requires more than simply living and coexisting with our differences. All recipients of religious freedom — every group and individual who is free to live according to the dictates of his or her conscience — must in turn protect that same freedom for all others, especially the most vulnerable, whether religious or not. That is the obligation. And it is rejuvenating because it “enables diversity to be a source of national strength.” Freedom stands for something greater than just the right to act however I choose—it also stands for securing to everyone an equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward. Drew Houston