DES MOINES, Iowa - A plethora of religions and backgrounds gathered at the Iowa State Capitol Wednesday to celebrate a common cause in religious freedom.
"This nation was founded on the principles that you can worship, and believe and profess, the way you so choose," said State Senator Jake Chapman (R-Adel). "We may have differences in religious belief, but the one thing we can unite on is that we should be protecting each other's rights to profess and proclaim whatever they may choose."
It's a matter of personal choice, individual freedom, and the importance of respecting others who choose differently; the third annual Iowa Religious Freedom Celebration is especially significant, as last week, Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation making April 13 "Iowa Religious Freedom Day."
"I think the way to eliminate or reduce the tension is to have dialogue and to have a greater understanding of others' beliefs," said Gary Pence, President of the Iowa Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "So, we need to have a conversation, it needs to be in a form like this where we listen to each other."
Speakers at the celebration included Sen. Chapman, State Representative Dan Kelley (D-Newton), Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese, and Dr. Rizwan Shah, a Muslim.
"I think it's extraordinarily important, because if we're not careful, these religious freedoms can erode, and be taken away," Bishop Pates said.
Dr. Shah shared her experience moving to the United States in 1968; she told Iowans in the room her faith has never made her feel isolated from her fellow Americans.
"We may look different, we may speak differently, we may dress up different. But we are more alike than different," she said. "Because my family is all of you, Iowans here. And I never feel alone, and that is a feeling for which I thank God and all of you."
As Sen. Chapman says, it's not about what we disagree on; it's about standing in solidarity in support of the freedom to disagree in the first place.
"Even though we may disagree on what those theologies and beliefs are, we should be united - and that's what today's all about," he said. "To show solidarity when it comes to religious freedom."