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U.S. religious freedom is being eroded, advocates say

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• Since the tragic war and ethnic cleansing of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, Jakob Finci, president of the Jewish Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has encouraged reconciliation among the Cath­­olic, Orthodox, Mus­­lim, and Jewish communities.

With these awards and programs, "we are trying to raise the decibel level" of conversation about the "first freedom," says Robert Seiple, council president. Dr. Seiple formerly served as the US State Department's Ambassador for International Religious Freedom.

"People don't yet feel comfortable talking about religion," Seiple says, but "we need to talk about it more. Ninety-five percent of the problems in the world take place at the nexus of religion and politics."

Calling America's concept of religious freedom the country's best gift to the world, Seiple says it's incumbent on every generation of Americans to learn why it is essential and to recognize that it has to be nurtured in order to be sustained.

"We need to get to a more sophisticated level as a nation as to why this is so important," he adds.

Obstacle: privileging one faith

One obstacle is a growing tendency on the part of some people to feel that Christianity, the majority faith, should be privileged, and minority faiths only tolerated, if that. This belief is a product of the popular notion that the United States Constitution established a Christian nation. It did not. It created a secular republic committed to freedom of religion and conscience for all.

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