OUR OPINION: Religious strife again enters a difficult crisis

Tensions and political upheaval in Ukraine occupied significant numbers of world leaders in the last week as many sought to calm the explosive situation.

It is perhaps not surprising that religion, even in an increasingly secular time, plays a significant role in Ukraine’s internal tensions. The New York Times reported this week that Christians of various stripes, Muslims and others have been in the ongoing drama of what happens in Ukraine.

Interestingly for Northeast Mississippians, many of whom identify themselves as Baptists, the interim Ukraine leader, Oleksandr Turchynov, is a high-profile Baptist (not a Southern Baptist but a Ukrainian Baptist), and he has espoused what ultimately must be part of any solution: tolerance of religious diversity.

Ukraine has seen bloodshed over the centuries linked to religion and ideas of ethic cleansing.

The history of democratic governance is tinged with failures when religious discrimination and intolerance are legal or encouraged. As Americans understand laws guaranteeing religious freedom often are easier to achieve than changed attitudes.

Both are necessary.

None less than Thomas Jefferson stand in the line of leaders defending free conscience and the “natural rights” in matters spiritual. His Statute for Religious Freedom in Virginia makes the case:

“Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free … That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness … (and) that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry …. We are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.”

The standard is crystal clear and universal. All who practice religion in the United States should keep Jefferson in mind.

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Friday’s editorial said that two job fairs were held this week to help laid-off Lane employees. One at the ICC-Belden campus was a job fair; the Saltillo Lane plant event was an intervention by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to offer assistance.