Professor of history and theology at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio Wendy J. Deichmann ’81 delivered her address on Tuesday Nov. 15 entitled “One Nation, Under God: The Myth, Ethic and Hope of Religious Freedom in the USA” as part of the MacVittie Lecture Series. The Livingston County Coalition of Churches established the MacVittie Lecture series in order to bring in prominent theologians to raise the questions of ultimate existence and to honor Geneseo President Emeritus Robert MacVittie and his wife Margaret (Peggy) MacVittie, according to President Denise Battles.
Deichmann’s address was primarily focused on the religious freedom—or lack thereof—around the world and the foundation of religious freedom experienced by American citizens.
“Our subject here tonight impacts every one of you, and yet tonight’s topic is illegal in most of the world and we’re not even talking about drugs or murder,” Deichmann said at the beginning of her address. “We’re talking about something that you have that literally billions of people want and don’t have. Most of the world yearns for this … we’re talking about religious freedom.”
More than two-thirds of people across the world face severe religious restrictions originating from their own governments, according to Deichmann.
“In 2015, the U.S. Department of State reported increasing religious discrimination in 16 countries: Angola, Azerbaijan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Brunei, Burma, Vietnam, Central African Republic, Hungary, Bahrain, Ukraine, Russia and the Slovak Republic,” Deichmann said.
After describing instances of religious injustice inflicted by governments, Deichmann spoke about the state of religious freedom in the United States, including the “fear and suspicion” of Muslim immigrants.
“Challenges that affect all of us, related to religious freedom, go far beyond immigration policy and practice. Clashes of religious values have lately been pronounced in the U.S.,” Deichmann said. “For example, a 2016 study found that two-thirds of Americans want employers to provide birth control in insurance plans, while three-tenths do not for religious reasons.”
Deichmann highlighted other issues that divide Americans based on differences in religious beliefs, including gay marriage and whether or not transgender people can use the bathroom of their preference.
After this discussion, Deichmann spoke about the history of religious freedom in the U.S., which began as religious freedom for all Christians.
“[The founding fathers] assumed that religion and all its diversity would help to create an undergird and ethic for our lives together as part of the essential fabric, or glue, for society,” Deichmann said.
After presenting the history of religious freedom in the U.S. and in seeing the problems regarding religion and its practice in society, Deichmann argued that the world would perhaps be a more peaceful place if atheism was adopted in place of religious freedom. Deichmann believes that atheism would not solve problems of violence, because of the persistence of violence in communist states that tried to abolish religion.
Economics major junior Tyler Cook thought Deichmann’s argument for tolerance was powerful.
“I thought she was really influential saying that we live in a really diverse world and if everyone respects each other, we’ll live in a more peaceful world without religious uprisings,” he said.