Our planet is a spiritual one. There are 2.3 billion Christians worldwide which account for 31.2% of the total world population. 1.8 billion people (or 24.1% of the world) are Muslim, 1.1 billion (15.1%) are Hindu, and 500 million (6.9%) are Buddhist. For those of you who are about to pull up your calculator, no need, because I just put mine away and I’m here to tell you that it’s a whopping 77.3% of this planet that ascribes to these four particular religions; and even more who belong to less-mainstream thought systems. It’s easy for people to blink and shrug at these numbers, but I think they illuminate something really fascinating; spirituality transcends culture. All around the world there are examples of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) at play, and the extent to which government and religious organizations intersect is of course varied depending on the country. Countries constantly move through transitionary periods and knowing the relationship between world governments and their spiritual (and decidedly non-spiritual) citizens is an essential aspect of FoRB education.
The United States has long enjoyed lawful protections for freedom of religion or belief, with provisions in place such as the Johnson Amendment which according to Americans United for Church and State “protects the freedom of speech of both houses of worship and other community nonprofits. At the same time, it shields them from the pressure to endorse or oppose specific candidates in elections. No one wants our charities and houses of worship to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics.” This upcoming year the United States will transition its Executive Branch, and President Elect Joe Biden has several plans in place to continue promoting and protecting FoRB. These plans include providing increased security grants to religious communities, establishing a faith-based law enforcement program, and strengthening prosecution of hate crimes. Ensuring that places of worship are safe - both physically and in ideology- is of paramount importance. Maintaining the essential connection between religious organizations and government, over a thousand US-based faith leaders signed a joint statement affirming their commitment to a free and fair election this past year. Their statement states, “We join together as leaders of faith across political, religious, and ideological differences to affirm our commitment to a free, fair, and safe election. The values of our faith traditions inform our dedication to this cause. All of the constitutional freedoms that we enjoy, including our religious freedom, depend on the integrity of our elections—the foundation of American democracy.”
Monumental efforts to protect freedom of religion or belief have also been demonstrated by the United Kingdom; a country that has been in massive transition since voting for Brexit in 2016. This past year, Parliament allocated £12 million for a program to “find innovative solutions to promote and defend freedom of religion and belief.” They also dedicated £1 million for religious freedom-related projects in Iraq, Malaysia, Burma and Sudan. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2018 Human Rights and Democracy Report estimated that 215 million Christians worldwide had faced religious persecution in 2018. The report specified that Christian women and children are “particularly vulnerable and are often subjected to sexual violence as a result of their beliefs.” From the House of Commons website: “In response to this issue, on Boxing Day 2018, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked the Bishop of Truro to lead an independent review of the support provided by the FCO to persecuted Christians worldwide.”
There is perhaps no country today who appreciates the power of transitory periods quite like Chile, who in October of this year voted to rewrite their entire constitution in order to guarantee more rights and freedom to its citizens. According to the Office of International Religious Freedom, the current Chilean constitution “states that [religious] practices must not be ‘opposed to morals, to good customs or to the public order.’ Religious groups may establish and maintain places of worship, as long as the locations comply with public hygiene and security regulations established by laws and municipal orders.” The new constitution will be drafted and put to the people in a referendum and voted on in early 2022. Chile is demonstrating grace through transition and will be sealing in law the fact that one cannot have true autonomy without guaranteed freedom of conscience.
These transitions are important to analyze and internalize. Transitions are experienced at a political level and also at a personal level. How have your personal transitions in life intersected with freedom of religion or belief? Let us know. Comment below, comment on social media, or send us a message. Your voice matters.