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Religious freedom isn’t just an American value

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Religious freedom is a core human right and a central tenet of American democracy. But the religious pluralism that now prevails in the United States took hundreds of years to emerge, and it is still tested by bigotry and discrimination. In 1656, members of the Religious Society of Friends—Quakers—began to arrive in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans, themselves once victims of religious intolerance, forced many to leave and persecuted those who stayed. Marmaduke Stephenson and William Robinson—Quakers who with other victims would become known as the Boston Martyrs—were hanged on the Common. Their execution on October 27, 1659, is commemorated as International Religious Freedom Day, both to celebrate religious liberty and as a reminder that it is always hard won. The religious tolerance that Bostonians enjoy today is a relatively new phenomenon. In the 1800s, Protestant mobs persecuted Catholics, and during World War II, Catholic mobs did the same to Jews. These facts are worth keeping in mind as violent sectarianism strikes Egypt, where the Coptic Christian minority is under siege. Most recently, two masked gunmen opened fire at a wedding party outside a Cairo church, killing four, including an eight-year old girl. There’s a dangerous tendency in the west to regard persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East as inevitable. But Egypt’s sectarian violence is a symptom of the country’s political crisis as its transition to democracy stalls. Hostility toward Christians is not new to Egypt. But the political turmoil that began with the overthrow of President Mubarak and intensified with the military’s removal of President Morsi has led to an unprecedented wave of attacks on Christians. After the coup on July 3, Muslim Brotherhood supporters sought scapegoats among the vulnerable Copts, and the persecution increased after August 14 when the military raided Muslim Brotherhood sit-in protests, slaughtering hundreds. Copts—who represent about 10 percent of Egypt’s more than 80 million people—are pawns in the showdown between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Some Morsi supporters claim that Christians’ hostility to Islam led them to conspire with the military to overthrow the democratically elected president. At the same time, the military-backed government seems more interested in using the violent incidents to paint the Muslim Brotherhood as extreme than in trying to prevent them. For example, after Muslim extremists seized control of the town of Dalga on July 3rd and launched a pogrom against Christian residents, 76 days passed before the military moved in. While former President Hosni Mubarak may be gone, the new military government is governing in a fashion reminiscent of—if not more repressive than— his regime. The notorious Emergency Law is back in full force, and the government is attempting to quash dissent, restricting basic freedoms and persecuting not just supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood but also secular opponents. The U.S. government provided unconditional support to Mubarak throughout his three-decade rule. That policy both failed Egyptians and undermined American interests in the region by helping to create the current instability, yet the United States remains insufficiently committed to democratic reform. The United States needs a completely new policy, one that puts respect for human rights at its core. The United States should work with its regional and European allies to promote political reconciliation with the goal of producing an inclusive, civilian-led government. The government’s recent order banning the Muslim Brotherhood was a big step in the wrong direction. It should instead work to bring non-violent Islamist leaders into political process. Toward that end, it needs to release from prison Muslim Brotherhood leaders not facing criminal charges. Repeated elections show that many Egyptians wish to support an Islamist party; to leave them disenfranchised is to ensure continued conflict. President Obama has suspended most of the aid to Egypt. But for this approach to produce change, he must clearly articulate the steps the Egyptian government needs to take for aid to resume. The United States should also use its voice and vote at the International Monetary Fund to oppose loans to Egypt until the government puts in place sound economic policies and political reforms. As the last few years in Egypt have shown, elections are just a small part of the democratization process. If religious pluralism and genuine stability are to take hold, Egypt will also need the infrastructure of democracy: a free press, the rule of law protected by an independent judiciary, and clear legal protections for religious freedom and other fundamental rights. Egyptians, like people everywhere, have a right to form and fund private organizations, independent of the government, through which they can express their opinions, pursue their interests, and hold their government accountable. The United States must be prepared to help foster the development of this infrastructure over many years. As Boston’s own history shows, there are no shortcuts—-and frequent setbacks. [This article was originally published on 10/28/2013]

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1 Enakshi Ganguly = ""Quakers are members of the Religious Society of Friends, a faith that emerged as a new Christian denomination in England during a period of religious turmoil in the mid-1600's and is practiced today in a variety of forms around the world. To members of this religion, the words "Quaker"and "Friend" mean the same thing."http://www.quakerinfo.org/index"
2 Enakshi Ganguly = ""The Puritans established a theocratic government with the franchise limited to church members. Winthrop, Dudley, the Rev. John Cotton, and other leaders zealously sought to prevent any independence of religious views, and many with differing religious beliefs—including Roger Williams of Salem and Anne Hutchinson of Boston, as well as unrepentant Quakers and Anabaptists—were banished. By the mid-1640s Massachusetts Bay Colony had grown to more than 20,000 inhabitants."https://www.britannica.com/place/Massachusetts-Bay-Colony"
3 Shawn Bose = ""Go to Boston with they brother William Robinson," and at His command I was obedient and gave up to His will, that so His work and service may be accomplished. for He had said unto me that He had a great work for me to do, which is now come to pass. And, for yielding obedience to and for obeying the voice and command of the everlasting God, which created heaven and earth and the foundations of waters, do I, with my dear brother, suffer outward bonds near unto death. "Read Marmaduke Stephenson's entire Testimony here"
4 Sara Di Diego = "Surprisingly, King Charles II imposed a very light form of religious tolerance on the Puritans after this.  Along with Marmaduke Stephenson and William Robinson, a former Puritan, Mary Dyer, was also put on the gallows.After executing both Stephenson and Robinson, the Puritan leaders gave Dyer a chance to run during a two-month period, because they didn't want to kill a woman.  However Dyer stayed in the colony, and said:"with wicked Hands have you put two of them to Death, which makes me to feel that the Mercies of the Wicked is cruelty; I rather chuse to Dye than to live, as from you, as Guilty of their Innocent Blood."Thus in June 1, 1670 they were forced to put her on the gallows.  After denying, once again, a chance to recount and run, Dyer was executed.This was a huge scandal that quickly traveled to England.  Thus Charles II put an end to the practice of executing and arresting Quakers.Learn more:http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/10/this-day-in-history-october-27th-puritans-vs-quakers-the-boston-martyrs/"
5 Enakshi Ganguly = ""Freedom of religion is a core American value, but it is not an American invention. It is the birthright of every individual, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The freedom of religion is a priority for President Obama, as it is for me as Secretary of State, because it is essential to human dignity and individual liberty, and it remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.We call on the international community – governments, civil society, and citizens alike – to speak out against religious persecution, and to stand unequivocally for religious freedom."John Kerry, Sec of Statehttp://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/10/215897.htm"
6 Michael McKissick = ""