Giving Thanks for Religious Liberty — America’s First Freedom


Tomorrow, we red-blooded Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. We admittedly have many holidays celebrating our national identity: Memorial Day for fallen patriots, Veterans’ Day for those who gave their youths to freedom, and the Fourth of July to celebrate our independence. However, Thanksgiving is special because it arguably centers on gratitude for one particular constitutional right: the freedom of religion.

While images of a sumptuous autumnal feast between Pilgrims and Squanto’s men may be more fable than fact, that does not diminish the importance of the holiday. From Catholics disembarking the Ark and Dove in Maryland to the prolific Massachusetts Puritans, Americans have a long history of giving thanks to the Almighty for the freedom to worship, the ability to live their (especially Judeo-Christian) principles in the public sphere, and later, the constitutional governance upon which those freedoms rely.  

Needless to say, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and the prime time football games played over turkey legs elicit holiday gratitude. But a recent study by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty gives something to truly be grateful for: more than two-thirds of Americans support religious liberty and view it favorably.

Even more importantly, the study indicates that the people in the bully pulpit of mainstream media, leveling accusations of prejudice at religious liberty advocates, do not represent Americans. The findings of this study clarify that from contraceptive coverage to religious veiling and traditional marriage, Americans believe that government should not infringe upon religious practice. On the contrary, they believe it is important that religious people and organizations can fully abide by their consciences in the public sphere.

This information is all the more heartening given how the anti-religious left has fought tooth and nail against religious freedom. Outlets publish works with headlines as incendiary as “Let’s Call ‘Religious Freedom’ by Its Real Name: Poisonous, Anti-LGBTQ Bigotry.” Left-wing media churns out dismissive rhetoric over practical religious freedom policy too: “ludicrous ‘religious liberty’ task force is the real threat to liberty.” That campaign doesn’t stop on the pages of left-wing opinion sites either. Leftist legislation at every level attempts to twist the arms of religious people in public life. Such attempts can be as institutionally targeted as trying to force the government into the confessional or as individual as coercing entrepreneurs to make specialized products that violate their conscience.

Fortunately, these attempts have so far been in vain. Our political situation, fraught as it may be, has been good for religious liberty. President Trump’s administration stands up for it at the U.N. At home, Minnesota and Arizona have ruled in favor of Christian videographers and calligraphers who would prefer not to participate in non-traditional marriages. Perhaps the icing on the cake (or more currently, pumpkin pie) is that public opinion still favors freedom of religion.

Knowing that Americans, by and large, still value “The First Freedom” is something we should all express thanksgiving for this Thursday — alongside culinary bounty!

Leo Thuman

Leo Thuman is a columnist for, primarily focusing on religious liberty issues.

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