Every year, 8th grade students at St. Michael’s School participate in the Knights of Columbus Catholic Citizenship Essay Contest. The essay topic this year was entitled “The Importance of Religious Freedom.” Luke D’Agnese, a student in 8B, who has applied to St. Augustine High School, earned first place honors from a field of 72 entries. Luke’s winning essay, shown below, will now be judged at the State level.
Catholic Citizenship Essay Contest “Why is Religious Freedom Important?” By Luke D’Agnese
     Imagine a place without the ability to pray, go to religious services, and to show respect to the creator. For about 75 percent of the planet, that place is a reality. In these countries, people are not allowed to practice certain religions, or even believe in a higher power at all. Religious Freedom is the right to worship any religion or no religion at all, without persecution. We are lucky that we live in the United States of America, a country with a very long history of strong religious freedom. Religious freedom is very important to our society because it helps us to accept each other’s differences and live peacefully.      One of America’s founding purposes was to get away from England’s official religion, which many of the colonists did not believe in. The colonists considered religious freedom as one of the God­given rights that no person could take away. Those colonists settled in America and kept the idea of God­given rights as one of their main focuses when fighting in the Revolutionary War and later creating laws. This freedom of faith is further highlighted in our first amendment to our constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The ideal of free worship has since been incorporated into several other countries’ laws and government documents.      But why is this religious freedom important? Religious persecution traps us inside a box of “you have understand and worship this set of beliefs or else”. Religious freedom is the escape from the box and it allows us to believe in whatever or whomever we choose. The freedom of faith gives us opportunity to pray, perform rituals, go to worship and live the way we believe is right to find peace throughout our existences. It gives us the ability to freely believe in a higher power that we can find comfort in, or just not believe in any religion at all.      In our government, we have “separation of church and state” as Thomas Jefferson put it, meaning that no government can tell any religion what to do or vice­versa. This separation, ironically, helps bring unity to the world. This prevents a leader from walking up to a religious group and saying that some of their faith is wrong and if anyone practices the said religion anymore they would be given severe punishment. This goes against most religious and moral teachings. For instance, Jesus wanted us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, therefore we should respect other people’s beliefs and not persecute them if we don’t want to be persecuted back.      Religious Freedom is a basic right that brings us to a mutual understanding for other people. Most wars have been caused because of misunderstanding or intolerance of different cultures of people. If every nation had religious freedom, many conflicts regarding what group is right when it comes to faith would be avoided in the past, present and future. Freedom of worship wouldn’t convert everyone to the same religion or personal identity, but it would help people understand each other much more.