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Editorial: Love thy neighbor?

Religious freedom was a core tenet of the creation of the United States. Despite the fact that the early settlers of New England — the Puritans — did not practice tolerance in their first years here, the men who crafted the Constitution were imbued with the principles of the Enlightenment and represented a wide spectrum of religious belief.

Some were devout Christians, some were Quakers, some Unitarians, others Deists and some undoubtedly, secretly, agnostics.

Freedom to practice individual religion — and prohibitions against the idea of a state religion, were the subject of the First Amendment.

In the years since the nation’s founding, some have infringed on that principle, and there is a continuing effort to include Christian beliefs and practices in government, education and societal norms. But believers in individual rights have usually — despite some failures in the teaching of evolution — been successful in heading them off.

But in other parts of the world, the picture is not so bright.

In Sudan, for example, a woman named Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death for “apostasy.” Her father was Muslim, and her mother was an Orthodox Christian. She married Daniel Wani, a Christian from southern Sudan, in 2011. But Muslim women (by law, children must follow their father’s religion) in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims.

Meriam refused to abandon her husband, and was arrested. Wani had lived in New Hampshire, and had been granted US citizenship, but had returned to South Sudan where he met Meriam.

Her sentence was overturned, but she had to flee and come here, abandoning her family.

In Vietnam, a U.N. official who traveled there to assess religious freedom reported that government agents followed him and harassed and intimidated Vietnamese he was interviewing.

On his return to New York, he said he had allegations of harassment, house arrests, imprisonment, destruction of houses of worship, beatings and the pressuring people to join “official” religions and to renounce their own — despite the fact that religious freedom is guaranteed in Vietnam’s Constitution.

There are six religions officially recognized by Hanoi: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao, but Mennonites and some others have been suppressed.

These are just two of the many pernicious examples of the effect of official state religions around the world. In Iraq, Sunni and Shia Muslims attack each other daily, and of course the never-ending bloodshed between the Israelis and their neighbors is fed by religious fervor.

The sad thing is that all of the world’s religions, at their heart, preach codes of conduct that include tolerance.

Somehow, though, that message is lost in translation.

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