Diverse Coalition Signs and Releases New Charter on Freedom of Religion and Conscience
11/29/2018 Washington, D.C. (American Charter Project) — In the National Archives Rotunda where America’s founding documents are displayed, a courageous gathering of the nation’s leaders will stand against polarization and divisions and reaffirm America’s religious pluralism and commitment to freedom of religion and conscience for all. The signing ceremony will include two dozen of the 75 diverse original signers of the American Charter of Freedom of Religion and Conscience.
Project co-director Byron Johnson, who also serves as Founding Director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, said, “The American Charter is crafted to be a restatement of the first principles of America’s freedom of religion and conscience in contemporary language.” It celebrates the history of social reforms led by women and men who asserted the freedom to follow the dictates of their faith, including their integral role in the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights Movement.
The American Charter frankly acknowledges today’s controversies involving tensions involving freedom of religion and conscience, including those involving the equal protection of the laws and domestic security. “A major premise of this effort, however, is that what we agree on and unites us as Americans is greater than what we disagree on and threatens to divide us,” said Johnson. “This includes the vast majority of questions and issues involving freedom of religion and conscience.”
The American Charter is intended to serve as a touchstone for signers and supporters to use in their public education and advocacy regarding freedom of religion and conscience. It is the result of a multi-year collaboration of leaders and scholars. The aim is to (1) restore civility to public discourse on religion and freedom of religion and conscience in America; (2) explore the meaning and value of freedom of religion and conscience as a foundation of American democracy and national and global prosperity; and (3) build a multi-faith, non-partisan coalition working to affirm freedom of religion and conscience as a vital safeguard for people of all faiths and none.
The American Charter does not attempt to resolve today’s most contentious controversies. Instead, it states, for example, that while “it is not always possible to uphold both non-discrimination and religious liberty clams in particular cases, both claims should be taken seriously, and both sides should seek common ground.” The Charter does not say which side should win in any of these cases. It calls on leaders not to see such disputes as zero-sum, winner-take-all battles.
Instead, it calls on Americans of goodwill to “work together to fashion reasonable accommodations for the good of all.” It goes on to state: “We believe that an urgent challenge of our time is to build and sustain societies that are worthy of human beings possessing innate and inalienable dignity and freedom and to resolve the question of how we are to live with our deepest differences, especially when those differences are religious and ideological.”
The initiative’s vision is to advance a productive, respectful discussion and increase understanding of the meaning and value of freedom of religion and conscience and America’s extensive and ever-increasing religious pluralism. Efforts are being planned to use the Charter in follow-on educational initiatives and to weave the principles and purposes of the American Charter into multi-faith services projects that allow volunteers and staff members to put the ideals of the American Charter into practice.
“Ultimately,” said project co-director Brian W. Walsh, “the impact and meaning of the American Charter will be defined by the leaders who are its signers as they model its principles of civility and freedom of religion and conscience for all throughout American life.”