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Remembering The Roots Of Religious Freedom

Remembering The Roots Of Religious FreedomThe start of a new school year is a good time for people to reflect on their roots and celebrate religious freedom and civility, according to Tufts University Chaplain David O’Leary.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.30.05] The Rev. David O’Leary regards his position at Tufts University as evidence of how far religious freedom has come since the Universalists founded Tufts in 1852 in the face of intolerance. Today O’Leary, a Roman Catholic priest, serves as university chaplain, while his office acts as an umbrella for all religious life at Tufts. The religious freedom celebrated beneath this umbrella is contingent upon tolerance, communication and respect, O’Leary says.

“History can teach us many lessons if we are willing to learn,” O’Leary wrote in a Somerville Journal opinion piece. “The two I want to reflect on [are] our religious liberty and civility. Religious freedom and civility die with the death of dialogue and respect.”

O’Leary explained that religious liberty and civility were advanced in 1948, when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” O’Leary quoted from article 18 of the Declaration. Article 26, he added, states: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. And education shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.”

Decades later, in 1981, the UN promulgated A Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion of Belief.

Key concepts related to the Declaration, and religious freedom, in general, are tolerance and civility, O’Leary explained.

“Tolerance is the committed action and disposition to be patient with, or indulgent to, the opinions and practices of others, having a catholicity of spirit,” he wrote. “Tolerance is not easy…Tolerance is like patience; it is best practiced and lived, not attained.”

O’Leary pointed out that, like tolerance, civility is something that must be practiced and lived.

“All faith traditions or spiritual paths speak of the inherent dignity and respect with which all people are born,” O’Leary wrote in the Journal. “It is not one’s ZIP code, vehicle type, clothes or income that warrants civility, but that life itself. Being civil and practicing acts of civility require showing respect to another’s culture, ethnic background, religion/faith tradition, gender, race, sexual orientation and sexual identity.”












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