The law that strikes closest to the conscience has again been ridiculed by the hateful: freedom of religion, the law that guides the hearts and minds of man.

This time-honored principle allows you to believe what you want without facing harm for your religious beliefs. Around the world, this right has not always been upheld. Jewish people fled Czarist Russia; in the United States, Catholics were beaten up on the streets; in France, Protestants were banned; and from every corner of the world, this right has, at some point in history, been violated.

Recently, we heard the tragic news of attacks against three major world religions in their places of worship—places that are supposed to be sanctuaries—and these events struck a chord in the hearts of many.

Alas, sanctuary! Where is this sanctuary? It is in our hearts and minds, but even more so, it is an expression of the human state and of our human culture. Atheists, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, agnostics—we all have the right to worship as we see fit.

First it was the Muslims in New Zealand, then Christians in Sri Lanka, then Jewish people in California. Such tragic events occurred because of hatred and fear of the unknown.

Citizens of the world, we share this planet with people of many different cultures and religions. I speak of this issue mainly in terms of government and politics, for, as I have stated before, the government must remain secular in order to protect both the church and the state.

But we as individuals should also take all the opportunities we can to discuss religion and religious beliefs with others. Through getting coffee with an atheist friend, having a discussion about the meaning of life with a Muslim friend, or talking about religion with a Buddhist friend, we see the humanity of these people.

If we truly believe all humanity is valuable, we need to have conversations with those who are different from us. We need to talk about religious beliefs more often in coffee shops and have important discussions about the meaning of life.

I also would urge all of humanity to attend a religious service that is different from your own beliefs.

For instance, I am not a Catholic, nor am I from a Catholic background or culture. However, when I was living in Paris, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a beautiful church service in the grand Notre-Dame Cathedral, a place of architectural significance and the setting of one of my favorite novels, "Notre-Dame de Paris" by Victor Hugo. Does this make me a Catholic? No, it does not. But I learned much about them. Through quietly observing and asking questions, I enriched my own knowledge and education about a religion that so many people around the world follow. It gave me a deeper appreciation for their cultural contributions. Likewise, if we are traveling to a new country, we should probably learn about the religion of that country. For instance, if you are going to Thailand, I would urge you to learn about the Buddhist religion and the meaning it has to the Thai people. This does not mean you have to believe in Buddhism yourself, but it will enrich your knowledge.

Alas, how does this work for democracy? I will show you, my dear reader!

Imagine a nation where everyone must believe in atheism as the state religion.

"What??? That is an infringement on human rights!"

Alas, my dear reader, it is and was done in the Soviet Union. Citizen, is that a Bible in your hands? Get that out of here—it probably preaches words of rebellion!

Likewise, all around the world at one point or another, most nations have had an official state religion, be it atheism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, etc. In these nations, people of opposing religions were considered dissidents and were often imprisoned solely because of their religious beliefs.

Did making atheism the state religion mean everybody was an atheist? Ahhh not at all, for many people practiced their own religion underground.

Likewise, when the Spanish Empire made Catholicism its official religion, everyone was required to be part of the Catholic Church, and many people just went through the motions without believing in it. Sometimes Catholics themselves who had the slightest disagreement with the church were attacked for not being "Catholic enough."

Now, as a disclaimer, I realize that any religion that is in power will do the same, and I have great respect for all. These are merely the two historical examples I thought of.

Imagine now a country where the government is neutral, and where citizens can worship in the manner they see fit—they can attend services or sit at home and believe what they want and reason amongst themselves. Alas, the coffeehouses! In such a country, these great places of light and dialogue will be filled with people sharing and discussing their religious beliefs with each other and being open without fear of being imprisoned for having a *gasp* different opinion.

Light! All are looking for truth and light, and if you believe you have that truth within you, wouldn't you want to share it? Imagine a world where we can all learn from each other and share the knowledge that we have found.

My dear readers, I'm not saying you have to believe in everything you hear, but you must have the opportunity to hear different religions in order to understand them and appreciate where they are coming from. Am I an agnostic? No, I am not, but in order to have a good conversation with an agnostic, I should ask them about their beliefs, for they are citizens of this earth as we all are.

This is the world we must strive for: a world where any religion can worship without fear of persecution. The way to achieve this is through dialogue and reason, for the more we talk and listen to people's beliefs, the more we will know how to protect them. Jewish people should be able to freely walk down the street, as should Christians, Muslims, atheists and anyone else who is reading this.

For knowledge is one of the many cornerstones of democracy. Vive la démocratie!