Recently the church has been up in arms about religious freedom in our country. Personally, I wonder whether religious freedom is even a "Christian" concept. Do their scriptures guarantee to everyone the right to believe and worship as one pleases? What possible understanding of religious freedom can be held by any belief system which seeks to subdue all other religions?
Can a religion which demands religious conformity on penalty of divine rejection possibly believe in a meaningful freedom of religion? It seems impossible to me. We see this incongruity demonstrated when Christians routinely claim religious freedom as guaranteeing their right to deny freedom and equality to others. Their demand for conformity also explains why the institutional church can seek the government sponsorship of their doctrinal tenets and rituals and dismiss that as a violation of the religious freedom of non-Christians. If conformity to church dogma is mandatory, the right to express and propagate alternative religious thought is a disastrous freedom, best denied.
Many evil things are done in the name of religion. From the Salem witch trials to slavery, our own history serves as an example. Therefore, what serves as a limiting factor on the religious freedom of a Christian? Does the Golden Rule, for example, apply to the Christian's exercise of religious freedom? If not, what restraint is there?
Many early settlers came to America to escape religious persecutions in "Christian" Europe. Then, ironically these settlers brought many of the doctrinal elements of Christian intolerance from Europe to this country, resulting in intolerances here. Whatever religious freedom implied to these original colonists, it included the right to oppress those who disagreed with them religiously. A similarly oppressive concept of religious freedom has been past down to us and prevails in the minds of many to this day.
So what exactly is religious freedom? As is so often the case, words mean nothing until we agree on what they mean.