Related: Civil & Human Rights, Living, Politics, Religion

Voices of Trinity: Constitution Day I



Every year on September 17, we observe Constitution Day, a moment to reflect on the great foundation of our democracy.  Colleges and universities are required by law to observe this day in some manner.  This year at Trinity, one of the ways we observe this moment is to engage in a public discussion of our basic freedoms on this blog.

I have invited members of the Trinity community to reflect on two questions about the First Amendment — threats to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion.  Today and on subsequent days this week, I will be posting the answers you submitted.  Others are welcome to join this discussion by posting comments directly on this blog, or send me your thoughts via email at

Here are the questions:

1. Has Freedom of Speech gone too far?  Should there be more limits to stop extremists from provoking violence, e.g., threatening to burn the Koran?  Or, does the fact that people feel free to be outrageous show the strength of our freedom?

2.  Is Freedom of Religion in danger?  Is government doing enough to protect everyone’s right to practice their religion in peace and safety?  Should some religious leaders chill out when it comes to advocating for their rights?

Here are the first several answers from members of the Trinity community, more to come later this week….

From Waseme Zuwema Berry, Class of 2011:

“Freedom of religion is undoubtedly is grave danger. The signs and warnings are evident as the media continuously portrays the Islam religion, for instance, as radical, heretical, and dangerous. Persons who aren’t learned in the Islam religion (adolescents, non-religious,  etc.) are mainly influenced by the stereotypical renderings of the Muslim faith. As a result of misinformation, the spread of anger and frustration rapidly moves throughout our society.  Unfortunately,  there has been a population of Islam Radicals that have chosen to commit monstrous acts upon the United States and neighboring countries—- yet, this does not negate the overall intrinsic inner beauty of the Islam faith and its rich culture. If the media spent nearly as much time highlighting the positives of Islam and drawing attention to those followers that are AGAINST the atrocities of terrorists, the rights and safety of Muslims would not be in limbo.

“I am a Christian, that is, a believer of Jesus Christ (as the Divine Son of God). My faith teaches me to, above all, Love others and to live in peace among them. My faith does not subscribe to the belief that mistreating others and forcing one’s “faith” upon them is acceptable or right. For example, burning the Holy Books of another faith group—only incites rage, fear and animosity towards the person (s) / faith community which is committing the act. Surely, this is not the answer to verbalizing one’s disparagement with another culture or religion.  Moreover, as a Christian, one can take a look at Jesus’ actions in the story of the, “Woman at the Well” (John 4:1-26). In biblical times, Jews were not to associate with Samaritans at any length. However, Jesus did not mistreat or ignore the Samaritan woman as he approached the well, but he kindly asked her for a drink of water and spoke to the issues of her heart. In the end, the Samaritan woman was restored from her life of adultery and pain. It is implied that she walked away from the well, a better woman than before!  This is a prime example of how we ought to treat other human beings of various faiths. All in all, religious leaders need to take a moment to analyze what it truly means to be a believer and “faith follower”. Past times are evident of the harm that religious intolerance can have on various cultures and races. In order for us not to repeat the unfortunate aspects of our history, we must take a stand against tyranny and instead, love & respect each other to the fullest.”

From Erika Goergen, Blue Class:

“1. “…Or, does the fact that people feel free to be outrageous show the strength of our freedom?”    — I do not believe this shows the “strength” of OUR freedom, meaning the United States.  I feel that this is generalizing American’s and their freedom of speech.  Yes, there are people who will always pull the card “Well, it’s freedom of speech!”  however, these are only select cases.  I do feel as though most however, have the common sense that although there is freedom of speech, there are also consequences to follow.  Of course in an ideal world, there should be more precautions and limits to stop the “freedom extremist”  but what and who could decide these factors?  Sadly, it does not show the strength, but lack there of.  Strength would be able to express your feelings in a civil manner.

“2.  This is a very interesting question.  Yes, I do agree that some religions are definitely in danger, especially religions from the Middle East, that all too quickly become associated with another.  People clump Buddhism, Islam, Hindi, etc into the same category based on skin color, accents, dress codes, etc.  Yes, I do believe the government should do more to foster respect and safety for all religions, after all, didn’t many of our own ancestors immigrate to escape religious persecution?  I know my relatives did.   Alas, the never ending question of how exactly to protect all of the religions of the 6 billion people that inhabit the United States.  Yes, of course some religious leaders need to “chill out”.  As the pastor in Florida decided it would be a good idea to burn the Koran, I believe A.  He thought he was doing the “Christian” thing. and B.  He lacked the knowledge of why he would want to burn the Koran.  If people would realize that religions really are similar, and take the time to learn about them, I do not think there would be as many fanatics.  Eid, the Muslim holiday falls on a lunar calendar, just as Easter and Lent in the Christian faith, and the alleged “Mosque” is really a cultural center, nothing different than the Pope John Paul Cultural center down the street.  A simple answer is yes, religious leaders need to chill out and think about what they are really fighting for.

“It is sad to me, that in a nation that prides itself on being multicultural, that many of it’s members cannot embrace it.  It’s sad how many people, in this case religious leaders, take a freedom and toss it around like nothing.  People in general need to start taking responsibility for their actions and strive to improve them.”

From James R. Risse, Graduate Student, School of Education:

“Freedom is alive and well in the U.S.A. today. With the predominance of media outlets for whatever outlandish ideas one espouses, we can expect to see what has existed in silence all along. Previously these opinions and attitudes were left in the closet and celebrated on rare occasions with cross burnings and lynchings. I believe bringing these perspectives out in the open is a good thing. People can finally see how their attitudes are accepted, or ridiculed, by the mainstream and perhaps learn from their efforts. The rest of us can learn that the world isn’t quite the “safe” place we assume and take actions accordingly.

“Carl Marx said “religion is the opiate of the masses.”  In a way, the extremism of today is a reflection of the times. Where people long to be famous less for their skills and knowledge but for just being famous, one can expect all types of outlandishness. Why should religion be excluded? The recent story of an unknown pastor in rural Florida burning Islamic religious scripture is a perfect example of why freedom is alive and well in the U.S.A. Twenty years ago no would EVER have known this man’s name. Today, through mainstream media he is known worldwide as a symbol of Christian intolerance.  I don’t believe the world is likely to change anytime soon. Extremists of ALL types are likely to step into the light of modern day media and anonymity; their reception will ultimately be more telling about who we are as a people.”

I will post more of your comments tomorrow and Friday, keep them coming!
What is your opinion?  Post a comment by clicking on “comment” below, or write to me at and I will post your comments in one of the next blogs on this topic…

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8 Responses to Voices of Trinity: Constitution Day I

  1. suezer says:

    Our Constitution guarantees the unalienable rights and freedoms of all individuals which includes freedom of speech and religion amongst others.

  2. Yes John you are right. I’m completely agree with your opinion. But Politicians are playing game with the people using this Freedom of religions.

  3. John says:

    “Freedom of religion is always a good choice for politicians. Sometime politicians play their Religious card before election to get more votes. Religious freedom can be a game changer in US.”
    I absolutely agree with you just to add not in US only. The politics as it seems as equal all the world.

  4. Our Constitution guarantees the unalienable rights and freedoms of all individuals which includes freedom of speech and religion amongst others.

    The Constitution also paves the way for free enterprise (free exchange of values and ideas). Rational self interest of all parties trump barriers of religion, race, color, etc. in the long run.

    Unfortunately our elected representatives have ignored the constitution for decades and have fostered unconstitutional laws, treaties, executive orders, agencies that are counter to peace, justice and free enterprise.

    Vote in Nov.

  5. Freedom of religion is always a good choice for politicians. Sometime politicians play their Religious card before election to get more votes. Religious freedom can be a game changer in US.

  6. I believe that physical freedom is still alive and well in the US today, however mental freedom is another issue!

  7. Adult says:

    Freedom of religion should work both ways. In countries dominated by Muslims, they persecute and eradicate all other religions. Koran talks about how they should infiltrate, rapidly reproduse and take over non-Muslim countries from within. If this religion is not tolerating others, than why should we tolerate them?

  8. irs levy says:

    sometimes “freedom of speech” comes back to bite you…its interesting that the secular side or left has come to the defense of the iman and the building of the mosque…not knowing that the iman is a “slumlord” or where the funds are coming from…now that he’s exposed for who he is, i dont hear his defenders exercising their “freedom of speech”…should someone burn the koran or a bible? of course not. should they be forced not to burn them…absolutely not…if someone wants to be that “dumb”, “insensitive” and flat out “ugly”, then let them…they should be shunned…they are not to be part of a civil society that has respect for one another…shun them for what they are.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: