Freedom of religion: A Norwegian student’s perspective on American values

Photo: Lorie Shaull / Flickr
What are our values? A sign held by a child at a rally against Trump’s “Muslim ban” policies earlier this year.

Kristin Chruicshank
Levanger, Norway

When Donald Trump issued a ban that stopped people from predominantly Muslim countries entering the U.S., many people reacted. People formed protests against this ban on the basis of it being an attack on U.S. core values: openness, diversity, and freedom. Politicians and judges stood with the people who protested and opposed the ban because they understood it to be against the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely (Cornell University Law School).

Demonstrations against discrimination based on religion are something we can see on television from all over the world at the moment, but lately most focus from the western media has been on the U.S. It makes me reflect on incidents in U.S. history when people have felt the need to protest for their rights and liberties: the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773; the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963; and the Solidarity Day March in Washington, D.C., on September 19, 1981, where workers demanded wage increases and safer working conditions. In addition, the Great American Boycott in 2006, when immigrant workers went on strike for a day to show their worth to U.S. society, made an impact and started a discussion about immigrants’ roles. The Guardian reported that one of the protesters’ posters during the Great American Boycott read: “The U.S. is made by immigrants.” The growing immigrant population all over the world is starting to see their worth, the importance they can make in society, and how they contribute to the countries they inhabit. In addition, this sparks thoughts regarding how the U.S. has been shaped as a society.

U.S. growth as a society from the first immigrants, throughout history and up to today, has been challenged because of its diversity. The Irish, German, Italian, and Jewish people were met with skepticism. Lawmakers, politicians, and the people had to find solutions to move forward together, and ultimately it shaped the society the U.S. is today. It seems like the only way of finding solutions to the problems the U.S. (and other countries) face today is to discuss, revise, and find solutions we can use to move forward. In Norway, there is an ongoing discussion regarding the use of niqabs or hijabs in schools or the workforce. Lately, the voices of the individuals whom I feel it is most important to listen to—the girls who wears a hijab or a niqab—have come forth. It has taken a long time, we have had several rounds of discussions, and we have not yet drawn a conclusion. People have been provoked, aggressive, and offended on both sides, but the discussion has been healthy because we are now not only closer to some sort of solution, but we have also managed to create an eagerness to participate in the discussion. We need to hear all sides of an issue to be able to find the most mutual agreement.

Christian leaders have encouraged people of all faiths from all over the world to oppose the “Muslim ban” and stand by the Muslim community. Some people express skepticism against religion because they feel it is the root of a lot of conflict around the world. We have seen how some people who interpret religion in an extreme way can cause a threat: Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, or right-wing extremists in Scandinavia. Deeyah Khan, a woman who works against extremism, said that our challenge as a society is that we have not yet found a way to live together that is enriching, positive, and inclusive of all members of society. If we are able to listen to each other and find a common understanding despite huge differences, it can fight extremism and war.

I question if the practice of opening up the borders for people of Christian faith but closing them for Muslims upholds U.S. citizens’ rights and liberties. Is the ban sending a message to the Muslim population that their religion is not welcome, and will this lead to restrictions on practicing individual religion? This could be seen as unconstitutional and against U.S. values. A ban or an attack on a certain religious group can be considered an attack on all humans’ rights and liberties because we do not know if something we feel is a basic right will be threatened next. To reject someone because of the choice of religion seems like a step backwards and I ask myself if we have not learned anything from history. However, we have seen that when someone threatens the freedom of religion, many people get up and fight for their rights. This again can promote unity and solidarity despite different religious beliefs, which can ultimately bring us closer as a community. Being challenged on our beliefs and feeling the need to fight for what we believe in on behalf of each other seems to be a good way of moving forward as individuals together.

Kristin Chruicshank is a Norwegian student from Levanger in North-Trøndelag. She is currently studying English as a part of a Bachelor degree in teaching at North University. One of her dreams for the future is to do a Master degree in English literature. She then wants to use her acquired knowledge in her future job as a teacher.

This article originally appeared in the June 2, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.