Iowans call for respect for religious beliefs

Iowans of different faiths celebrated Religious Freedom Day at the Iowa Capitol on Wednesday, saying the state has a tradition of respecting a wide range of faiths as well as people who don’t believe in God.

About 100 people gathered in the Capitol rotunda to hear speakers and share lunch at an event co-sponsored by the Iowa Catholic Conference and local congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints .

Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation last week recognizing Religious Freedom Day. The proclamation says Iowa has a long history of welcoming and protecting people from diverse backgrounds by allowing them to live according to their own beliefs. Strong religious freedoms help secure other civil liberties through vigorous public debate where all participants can wield the influence their ideas engender, he said.

Iowa’s annual event came as religious freedom issues are debated nationally. Religious freedom laws enacted in Mississippi and North Carolina have sparked a backlash focused on protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in both states. Meanwhile, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments last month in a case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic religious order. The nuns believe that a so-called birth control mandate from President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act imposes a burden on their religious practice, even with government accommodation.

Bishop Richard Pates of the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines told the audience that expressions of freedom are not limited to worship. Believers are governed by a relationship with a self-chosen divine power that is not defined by expression in specific buildings or geographic spaces, he said.

“For the religious person, faith is an integral component of identity. It is exercised wherever that person is,” Pates said. “To compel such a person to act contrary to the long-established moral principles which are at the heart of personal conscience is to erode and compromise his essential freedom and dignity. It is the government which limits the fundamental right which is part integral to the person.

Dr. Rizwan Shah, a longtime pediatrician in Des Moines, is originally from Pakistan and Muslim. She said she felt her life had been blessed. She considers everyone in Iowa to be her family and she never feels alone, for which she thanks God.

“We have a lot in common scientifically. We may look different and speak differently, but we have more in common than we are different,” Shah said.

Jeffery Campbell, a Mormon who serves as director of the Institute of Religion at Ames, urged people not to politically disenfranchise themselves because their views stem from their religion.

“A misunderstanding of the separation between church and state is at the root of this. I see a lot of religious people angst about advocating for policies, when their best reason for wanting a certain political outcome is religious,” Campbell said. “I see them relying on much weaker and speculative arguments, and not wanting to say right away, ‘I support this policy because it is consistent with my faith.’ The point of view of a conservative Christian is just as legitimate as the point of view of a thoughtful agnostic, or a genuine atheist, or an atheistic hedonist, or even a Mormon. are just manifestations of multiculturalism, which we usually claim to celebrate.”

Participants also heard from Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, and Rep. Dan Kelley, D-Newton, who both spoke about respecting religious beliefs.