The battle for religious freedom is not over, nor is it likely to ever be. I appreciate the work you do to protect a fundamental human liberty and to defend those who are modern victims of religious intolerance and persecution.
As you know, I gave a speech about religious liberty during the height of my campaign. This was not a speech I was forced to give, it was a speech I wanted to give. I felt that I had a unique opportunity to address in a very public way the role of faith in America.
In the days that followed, my remarks drew a considerable amount of congratulatory comment…and some criticism as well. The criticism was a good thing, of course. It meant that my words were not like the proverbial tree falling in the forest — unheard and unheeded. It also gave me an opportunity to go back and re-think, and that presents an opportunity for more learning.
Several commentators, for instance, argued that I had failed to sufficiently acknowledge the contributions that had been made by atheists. At first, I brushed this off — after all this was a speech about faith in America, not non-faith in America. Besides, I had not enumerated the contributions of believers — why should non-believers get special treatment?
But upon reflection, I realized that while I could defend their absence from my address, I had missed an opportunity…an opportunity to clearly assert that non-believers have just as great a stake as believers in defending religious liberty.
If a society takes it upon itself to prescribe and proscribe certain streams of belief — to prohibit certain less-favored strains of conscience — it may be the non-believer who is among the first to be condemned. A coercive monopoly of belief threatens everyone, whether we are talking about those who search the philosophies of men or follow the words of God.
We are all in this together. Religious liberty and liberality of thought flow from the common conviction that it is freedom, not coercion, that exalts the individual just as it raises up the nation.