Religious Freedom an Unkept Vow in U.S.

(A version of this article originally appeared on AJC.com)

I have been watching with interest and apprehension the movement reverberating in my birthplace over the past few weeks. The cries of “Azadi” by the people who have poured out in the tens of thousands into the streets to demand greater freedom have defied the distance between us.

I was born in Iran four days after the 1979 revolution. My name, Azadeh, means "free-spirited," signifying the great hopes that my parents and the many other parents who named their daughters Azadeh that year bore for the revolution. Their hopes were soon dashed, however, as the oppressive regime of the shah was replaced by a theocracy in which there are rules governing every aspect of people’s lives in public, and even private, spaces. In this system, one’s advancement in professional and especially official ranks depends in part on the extent to which one chooses to profess one’s religiosity, as defined in a regime-dictated manner.

Faced with this backdrop, one of the freedoms that was most appealing to me when I came to the United States at age 16 was the right, free from governmental interference, to practice one’s religion, or no religion at all. I learned that this right is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. In my trips back to visit family and friends, I often boasted about the guarantee of religious freedom in the United States.

This fundamental right has been increasingly denied, however, to Muslim-Americans post-9/11, tarnishing America’s reputation as a beacon of religious freedom.

Last week, the ACLU released a report demonstrating how American Muslims’ right to practice zakat — charitable giving, which is one of the five pillars of Islam — has been violated. The ACLU report shows that U.S. terrorism finance laws and policies have had a chilling effect on Muslim charitable giving by creating an atmosphere of fear. These laws have authorized executive branch officials to target charities based on secret evidence, and without notice, charges, an opportunity to respond, or meaningful judicial review.

Closer to home, I recently joined Ms. Lisa Valentine and her husband before the Georgia Committee on Access and Fairness in the Courts. Ms. Valentine was there to testify about the experience she faced at a courthouse in Douglasville, Ga., where she was made to choose between her right to free exercise of religion and her right to access to court.

Ms. Valentine, also known by her Islamic name, Miedah, spoke about the experience of being denied the right to gain access to the courthouse on December 16, 2008, because she wore a headscarf. She found herself in handcuffs and in jail with her hijab removed after Judge Keith Rollins of the Douglasville Municipal Court sentenced her to 10 days in jail for contempt of court. Ms. Valentine and other Muslim women were denied access to the Douglasville Municipal Court, even after they expressly conveyed to court officials that the wearing of the headscarf is an expression of their faith.

Muslim-Americans, like all people in the United States, should have the right to express their religious beliefs free from discrimination or the jeopardizing of other important rights.

As eloquently stated by President Obama in his speech in Cairo on June 4th, “freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.” The President acknowledged the right of Muslim women and girls to wear the hijab and raised the issue of the adverse effect of terrorism finance laws on Muslim charitable giving.

The administration and governments on the state and local levels need to follow up on this premise by ensuring that our laws, policies, and practices are in fact consistent with American values of due process and religious freedom.

These freedoms are too important to be violated, as evidenced by the willingness of people in my birthplace to risk their lives to secure them.

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Yamamoto

The best thing to do would be to return home where your religion is welcome...

roald

Yamamoto...Their religion is as welcome here as is yours. Read the Constitution.

jan

I am sick of our goverment taking our religious freedoms away to satisfy people from other countries. They say our religion is not welcomed in schools and sports events in pray before atheletic events. I was born and raised in America we prayed before every spoorting event, we prayed for students in our schools that died. This country was built on faith in God and if these people don't like it get the hell out and go back to their country. We fought for our rights and half of these people or running out because it is easier to come here ruin our freedoms than to get off there ass and figt for theirs. As far as the aclu you are here to protect our rights not theirs for once get off your butt and do the right thing for Americans

Gloria

I read where the ACLU wants to remove military cross shaped headstones and to end military prayer. I am quite sure my Father and all those who fought for the freedom of America are rolling over in their graves. Where do you get off believing this is your right. You have rights because of those of fought and died. You also seem to confuse the issue of the separation of church and state .. it is a legal and political principle derived from the First Amendment to the US Constitution which reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise there of..." From Thomas Jefferson, ...with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declard that their 'legislature' should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the FREE EXERCISE Thereof..."
You could really serve, but instead you denigrate. My husband served and when he passes away, I will place a cross on his headstone and the Lord's prayer will be said. And, quite frankly my dear ACLU, I don't care what you want. I will exercise my rights of freedom to speak and to pray as I so desire. Again, your talents could be utilized in a more beneficial way. If you don't like it, GET OVER IT. Thanks be to God.

roald

jan, this country was founded by people who wanted to escape from religious persecution and formed by people who vowed not to repeat those mistakes.

I was born and raised in America and felt persecuted every time I was forced to pray to a god in whom I did not believe.

The country was not built on faith in god, but on treating people who are different from us as we would expect to be treated (where did I hear a variation of that?). Whenever we failed at this, organizations like the ACLU fought to restore equality.

Gloria...I suggest that you find some reputable sources. I will give you a headstart
http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/cemetery.asp
debunks the rumor about removing cross shaped headstones. The ACLU's position is not against religion, but for ensuring the State does not favor any religion (including none of the above) over another.

Eric

Muslims are losing freedoms because they have been silent too long. I read quite a bit and in the time since9/11 I could count on one hand the times I have heard muslims dennounce terrorism. I could care less about your freedoms.When muslims all around the world live in peace Americans will accept them, until that day we will not trust any of them. I am pretty acceptable of any culture that does not tolerate violence Islam is not one of them. Islam treats women as second class citizens. Any country or cult for that matter that sanctions stonning to death of a young lady because she was raped should never be accepted.

Hazel

Why in God's name can't everybody have, practice and express their "OWN" personal choice of religion? I myself am a Southern Baptist and I respect each religion, for who am I to decide which if any is the best, the right one or the wrong one.. No one will know until it is their time, be from God, Allah, Buda, The Virgin Mary or which ever one represents your choice. What is the big problem? The most simple solution I see is, "You leave me and my God alone and I will do the same for you." Is this to much to expect?
About the comment: The country was not built on faith in god, but on treating people who are different from us as we would expect to be treated (where did I hear a variation of that?). That is actually a mis-quote of a Bible Verse: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." -Matthew 7:12. It is one of the Golden Rules, now where they came from I am not sure

Hazel

I posted a comment yesterday, what happened to it. I didn't make any threats so why is it not posted? Nor did I dis any other country nor their beliefs.

Connie

I am Born American. This is my Country. How Dare ANYONE come to MY Country and try to change it like the country they were unhappy with. Our fourfathers went searching for land to set us free to believe how we wanted to believe. IF you like our Land and want to become an American Citizen, then follow our CONSTITUTION and our guideline. Get a job and support your family. Send your children off to war to fight for our freedom like we have. WE have come along way with our strugggles to be free. We have lost lots of our Soldiers that fought to set us free and Someone what to come from a land they don't like and change OURS? This is NOT RIGHT BY ANY MEANS. If you want to worship your religion, build your church and go there. Stay there and do your believeing. Leave my UNITED STATES of AMERICA religion ALONE. We have paid for our United States of America and paid with our son' daughters' mothers' fathers, and grandparents lives. IF you don't like our Constition go to another land you love. Leave us Free as our Forefathers so greatfully declared.

Mark

Freedom OF Religion is NOT freedom FROM religion, a fact which the ACLU seems to have forgotten. Our Country WAS founded by Christians, who vowed never to persecute another for their faith, nor DEMAND by LAW that everyone follow any sect or faith. They, however did not espouse the expulsion of GOD from our counrty to satisfy the beliefes of other faiths who have immigrated here.
They are GUARANTEED the right to worship as they will, but they CAN NOT demand that we CHANGE or AMEND our faith or beliefs to suit them. Again, something that the ACLU seems unable to grasp.85% of this country, despite non believers best efforts, are still fundamentally Christian if faith, and we WILL NOT accede to this religiuos terrorism! God WILL remain in our land, In our Hearts, and in our schools and public buildings. If recent immigree's do not like this, well, sorry about your luck, so mote it be!

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