The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees religious freedom to every American. It's the cornerstone of all our liberties. When this freedom is imperiled, our other rights as citizens are in jeopardy as well.
As Americans, we want everybody in the world to enjoy this cherished right. The United Nations has endorsed this in its adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 of the declaration states that all people everywhere in the world are entitled to religious freedom.
I co-authored the Presidential Pledge for Religious Freedom with Dr. Thomas F. Farr, who teaches religion and international affairs at Georgetown University, where he directs the university's Religious Freedom Project and the Program on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy. The pledge begins like this: "I pledge that I will protect religious freedom in full for all Americans, and will advance international religious freedom as part of American foreign policy."
So why has only one candidate – Rick Santorum – for the United States presidency signed a pledge that simply underscores support of protecting this liberty at home and advancing it abroad?
Regrettably, this is an uncomfortable area for most politicians. Although the candidates talk about religion, most are ill at ease with the subject when it concerns political leadership. When politicians strive to reach a political, economic or some other goal, sweeping aside religious liberty concerns is often expedient.
Candidates know that endorsing such a pledge will hold them accountable once in office.
For example, a candidate who signs the pledge commits himself to appointing judges who respect religious freedom and rejecting those who do not.
In some ways the United States has, economically and militarily, unintentionally supported some of the worst abusers of Christians as defined by the Open Doors World Watch List. Western forces have fought to liberate Afghanistan from the oppressive Taliban, yet Afghans have no freedom to practice any faith other than Islam. It is to our shame that after more than a decade of American involvement in Afghanistan, the country has risen to second on the 2012 World Watch List behind North Korea.
Well ahead of the Nov. 28 public launch of the Presidential Pledge, Open Doors' advocacy team delivered the document to each candidate. Open Doors would love to have the pledged signed by every candidate. Far from being a radical, divisive political document, this pledge lays out a position that our Founding Founders rightly agreed is a basic American value. Republican Santorum signed the pledge. His signature does not mean we endorse him. It means that this candidate endorses the Presidential Pledge.
The good news is that religious freedom is entering the national debate. We've seen this recently through a domestic attack on religious freedom in the form of the United States Department of Health and Human Services' mandate on Roman Catholic charities to offer insurance that provides artificial contraception, something that Catholic doctrine specifically opposes. This attack on religious liberty affects all faith groups and organizations who don’t want to provide abortifacient drugs -- even groups such as Open Doors.
Today religious liberty is a broadly supported ideal in American political and social life. Only those who see an artificial distinction between public and private life in terms of religion, a division that the founders never saw, have any problem with it.
The pledge supports equal religious rights for all faiths, not just Christianity. Even Muslims are within our spectrum of supporters. It is inconsistent for us as Christians to advocate for Christian religious freedom but not that same liberty for all faith communities. Clearly, I'm a Christian believer who strongly holds that in an equal and open marketplace of religious ideas, Christian belief triumphs. However, as Christians we must support this right for all to believe in accordance with their consciences.
The time is right for American leadership to stop advancing other agendas at the expense of the first freedom. We hold great hope that soon the politicians will be ready to take steps in this area of vital importance to each of us.
This is a call to action for each of us. Pray that the candidates, including President Obama, will sign the Presidential Pledge. We must actively advocate on behalf of those suffering loss of religious freedom by encouraging candidates to sign. Check to see if your candidate supports the pledge.
Dr. Carl Moeller is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, an affiliate of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians living in the most dangerous countries around the globe since 1955. For more information, visit www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Publication date: March 19, 2012