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Principle 13: The right to choose the religion one wants to practice is guaranteed by the Supreme Law of the land. Lawmakers cannot tell people what religion to practice.
There are many different religions in a democracy. Why would this be? It is because people get to practice whatever religion they want. People want different religions. They often feel very strongly about this! Some like a religion that is about religious teachings. Others like a religion that is mostly about prayer; some like one that is mostly about service to people, and so on. There are lots of religions. Sometimes one religion is much more popular than the others, but in a democracy lawmakers cannot say it, or any other religion, is the one all the people must use. Freedom of religion is very important in a democracy. It is about people getting to choose how they will live, so long as it does not hurt others. Some may choose to have no religion at all and the state cannot force them into a religion. In a democracy we say people have a right to choose which religion they want to practice.
For many weeks in a row a different religious group came each week. They each said about the same thing. “People deserve self-rule. We offer you a religious experience. You are free to accept it or reject it. That is your right when it comes to religion. You get to choose what religion you want. You can practice it as you like, so long as it does not go against the laws the lawmakers have made—the lawmakers that you elected in a democratic way.”
One day Petra and her friend were talking. “So, is it settled then, this religious thing?” asked her friend.
“I think so,” Petra answered. “I think it’s like this: In a democracy, only the people, by vote, can say what is law for the group. Religions cannot do that. They can have customs that their followers practice, but that is what they are, customs, and not legal laws that all must obey.” She felt rather good about having it figured out.
But then she remembered something, “Oh yes, and each person gets to choose his or her own religion—the one they want to follow. That right cannot be voted away, even by a majority vote!” That last part was important to her, because even she and her brother, Nadesh, had chosen different groups to attend and she wanted each of them to have that right. To be continued....
Activity: Tell the children that this activity is funny, but the message is serious. Form them into 3 groups and have each group stand and face a different window, chalk board or something. Tell them to pretend they really like their window, chalkboard, etc. Now, announce in mock sternness that you are the state and from now on ALL students must face the window that you choose. Choose one and have them all face the one window that you have chosen. “Forget your old windows—the state window is the only one that matters now!” Have the children return to their seats. Discuss their feelings about the “state” deciding what window one must look through. Do they think it is fair? Explain that in a democracy we do not think it is fair. We think people should be allowed to look out the window they want to look out. We also think people should be allowed to worship God as they choose. That is why we have freedom of religion in a democracy. The state cannot tell us what religion to practice.