Defending our Freedom of Religion for All

By Joan Van Becelaere

Joan VanB 2017
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.” I remember these words of Dorothy Day as I think about the work we must do- all of the small and large steps we must take - to end hatred and bigotry in our nation. And the small victories that we celebrate, such as the recent cancellation of the ACT for America anti-Muslim rallies. The cancellation of these anti-Muslim, Islamophobic rallies is one small step toward building the inclusive, welcoming society we dream about.

The city of Columbus, my home, and our nation are at their best when we come together from all faith traditions, all ethnicities, all backgrounds to support one another in creating a positive future for our children and ourselves.  We know that we can do better when working together to address the issues that hold us back from the promise of progress.

ACT for America was originally scheduled to gather in Columbus on Sept. 9. This rally and others like it have been cancelled, mostly likely in consideration of assured counter-protests by people like me. ACT for America is now one of the largest anti-Muslim groups in America. They falsely claim that American Muslims cannot be loyal US citizens and that they want to impose religious law on all Americans; Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew and others alike.  This would be a huge surprise to the Muslim Americans who serve faithfully in our military, in our state and local governments, in the US Congress and more. Years ago, bigots said the same thing about Roman Catholics, like President John Kennedy, and Catholic canon law. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

ACT for America is one of many hate groups that are trying to force us to give up our bedrock, historical American commitment to freedom of religion. All the while, the hide behind twisted claims of freedom of speech designed to cover over destructive hate speech.

As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I trace my own religious ancestry back to the Pilgrims. Freedom of religion is etched into the deepest DNA of this religious heritage, and it is etched into the foundational DNA of our nation.

We know we can do better. We know we can bring together the strengths of all of our people and all of our faith traditions to address the many social issues we face today. Only by realizing that we are truly stronger together can we truly make our city, state and nation the land of love, peace and progress that my Pilgrim ancestors and we dream about.

We need to stand up together to put an end to hate. Together, we have that power. As Dorothy Day also said: “A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere
Columbus OH
Executive Director, UU Justice Ohio and CER Congregational Life Staff

About the Author

Joan Van Becelaere

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere is the Executive Director of UU Justice Ohio. She served as a Congregational Life Consultant for the Central East Region from 2007-2018. Previously, Rev. Van Becelaere was Vice President for Student Services at Iliff Theological School in Denver, CO where she also taught...

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