Religious freedom is not just about religion. It’s not just about the right of Roman Catholics to organize a mass, or Muslims to hold a religious funeral, or Baha’is to meet in each others’ homes for prayer, or Jews to celebrate High Holy Days together – as important as those rituals are. Religious freedom is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, and come together in fellowship without the state looking over their shoulder.
That’s why the free exercise of religion is the first freedom enshrined in our First Amendment, along with the freedoms to speak and associate. Because where religious freedom exists, so do the others. It’s also why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion – all three together – because they all speak to the same capacity within each and every human being to follow our conscience, to make moral choices for ourselves, our families, our communities.
So why can't I enter the Temple Mount without overt restriction? Cannot pray anywhere therein, as unobtrusively as possible? Cannot read a Psalter or from Lamentations? Cannot dig there to excavate archaeological finds from my people's history at the site from two or more millenia ago?
Why is my religion secondary?
From the Report:
The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law safeguards the holy sites of all religious groups, including in Jerusalem. All holy sites enjoy certain protections under the penal law, which makes it a criminal offense to damage any holy site, while historic sites are protected by the antiquities law...A government policy since 1967, repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court and routinely enforced by the police citing security concerns, denies all non-Muslims opportunities to worship at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. While the government ensured limited access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to everyone regardless of religious beliefs, only Muslims are allowed to pray at the site, although their access has been occasionally restricted due to security concerns. Police regulated traffic in and out of the compound and removed non-Muslim visitors if they appeared to be praying. Since 2000 the Jordanian Waqf that manages the site has restricted non-Muslims from entering the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslim religious symbols are not allowed to be worn on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
Government authorities prohibit mixed-gender prayer services at Jewish religious sites maintained by the Chief Rabbinate in deference to the belief of most Orthodox Jews that such services violate the precepts of Judaism. At the Western Wall, men and women must use separate areas to visit and pray. According to a policy repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court, women are not allowed to conduct prayers at the Western Wall while wearing prayer shawls and are not permitted to read from Torah scrolls because this form of prayer by women violates Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law. There is a separate prayer area along the Western Wall, south of the Mughrabi Gate where women may read the Torah and pray wearing prayer shawls.
The signs posted around the Western Wall plaza requesting gender segregation throughout the plaza, rather than just at the prayer areas, were removed in 2010. Official “modesty patrols” occasionally attempted to enforce gender separation and guarded the path designated for “men only” that was installed in 2009 opposite the Western Wall. According to the government-appointed Rabbi of the Western Wall, the path was created for those who asked to be able to get to the Western Wall plaza without having to walk through a mixed-gender area.
P.S. Here is how she kowtows to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt:
Now meanwhile, Egypt is grappling with these challenges as it navigates its unprecedented democratic transition. And during my recent visit, I met with members of the new government, including President Morsi, and representatives from Egypt’s Christian communities. Religious freedom was very present behind closed doors and out in the streets. President Morsi has said clearly and repeatedly, in public and private, that he intends to be the president of all the Egyptian people. He has pledged to appoint an inclusive government and put women and Christians in high leadership positions. The Egyptian people and the international community are looking to him to follow through on those commitments.
But I heard from Christians who want to know that they will be accorded the same rights and respect as all Egyptians in a new government led by an Islamist party. They wonder, understandably, will a government looking explicitly to greater reliance on Islamic principles stand up for non-Muslims and Muslims equally? Since this is the first time that Egypt has ever been in this situation, it’s a fair question. Egyptians are building a brand new democracy. What it will look like, how it will work, how it will handle religious pluralism – Egyptians will be writing the answers to those and many other questions for years to come.
As I told the Christians with whom I met, the United States does not take the side of one political party over another. What we do is stand firmly on the side of principles. Yes, we do support democracy – real democracy, where every citizen has the right to live, work, and worship how they choose, whether they be Muslim or Christian or from any other background; where no group or faction can impose their authority or their ideology or their religion on anyone else; where there is healthy competition, and what we call checks and balances, so no one institution or leader gets too powerful and the rights of all citizens are respected and protected.
The Egyptian people will look to their elected leaders to protect the rights of all citizens and to govern in a fair and inclusive manner, and so will we. And if voters make different choices in future elections, then they and we will expect their leaders to respond to the will of the people and give up power. We are prepared to work with the leaders that the Egyptian people choose. But our engagement with those leaders will be based on their commitment to universal human rights and universal democratic principles.
Another important aspect of Egypt’s transition is whether citizens themselves respect each other’s differences. Now we saw that capacity vividly in Tahrir Square, when Christians formed a circle around Muslims in prayer, and Muslims clasped hands to protect Christians celebrating a mass. I think that spirit of unity and fellowship was a very moving part of how Egyptians and all the rest of us responded to what happened in those days in that square. And if, in the years ahead, if Egyptians continue to protect that precious recognition of what every single Egyptian can contribute to the future of their country, where people of different faiths will be standing together in fellowship, then they can bring hope and healing to many communities in Egypt who need that message.