DNC Round-Up: Democrats Offer Alternative Vision Of Religious Freedom

Democrats met in Philadelphia, PA, last week to nominate a candidate for president— and in the process touched on religious freedom issues affecting the country today.

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) reminded listeners that America was founded on the principle that all should have equal rights, no matter what their beliefs. "Today, no matter who you are—rich or poor, Asian or white, man or woman, gay or straight, any religion or none at all," he stated, "you are entitled to the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.”

And on Thursday, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II of North Carolina pointed out how religion was being as used as an excuse to discriminate across the nation. "So in my heart, I'm troubled and I'm worried by the way faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism, and greed," he said before a cheering crowd. He continued later: "When religion is used to camouflage meanness, we know that we have a heart problem in America." 

Retired NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explained how Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA), specifically the Indiana RFRA signed into law by GOP vice presidential candidate and current Indiana Governor Mike Pence, were in direct contradiction to the First Amendment and common decency. State and federal RFRAs could allow individuals and even for-profit corporations to discriminate, deny women healthcare, and otherwise harm others in the name of religion.

"Today's co-called 'religious freedom' acts... allow discrimination," Mr. Abdul-Jabbar said. "And at its core, discrimination is the result of fear."

One of the most affecting speeches of the convention was delivered by Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq. In it, Khan refuted GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's Islamophobic rhetoric, brandishing a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution. "Have you even read the U.S. Constitution?" he asked. "I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words "liberty" and "equal protection of law."

Back in December, Donald Trump threatened to ban Muslim immigration if he was elected president, a statement that affected Mr. Khan and his family (immigrants from the United Arab Emirates) personally. Americans United was one of the many organizations who spoke out in favor of the Freedom of Religion Act, which would amend current guidelines to ensure that no one could be banned from the United States based on religion or lack thereof.

Americans United and Protect Thy Neighbor don't endorse political parties or candidates. But the DNC should be commended for the inclusive definition of religious freedom it put forward this week.