Why Egyptians Should Demand Freedom of Religion in Their Constitution

Freedom of Religion is the first of the Freedoms mentioned in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.  We Americans had good reason for putting it there!  European colonization of North America was largely driven by religious warfare.  It is very likely that a majority of Americans are descended from peoples who were seeking Freedom of Religion.  I know my ancestors were.

My ancestors left Holland in 1625 to become 5 of the first 200 settlers of Manhattan Island, then in the Colony of New Amsterdam.  They were poor farmers, who wanted nothing more than to make a living.  In Holland they found themselves in the midst of the 80 Years War (1568-1648), in which Catholic Spain sent armies to Holland every summer to force Calvinist (Protestant) Christians back into the Catholic Church.  The battle would ensue through the primary growing season each year, and in the fall the Dutch farmers would flood their lands, forcing the Spanish to return to sunny Spain for the winter.

Wolfert Gerritsen Van Couwenhoven, the Patriarch of all Conovers in the world, had the chance to settle in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now New York City, and escape these incessant religious wars.  Then in his late thirties, he took his wife and three sons with him, and was instrumental in founding the cities of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Albany and Renssalaer.  He cleared the land in the area now known as Wall Street, which became his first farm.  Wolfert kept moving away from civilization, because all he wanted to do was farm and make a living for his family.

Today we think of ourselves as American, not Dutch-American, partially because we Americans have intermarried so much.  My four grandparents came from Dutch, German, Welsh, and Swedish ancestry, and three of our grandchildren will point to grandparents of Korean ancestry.  These cross currents of heredity, religion and culture have made America strong and pragmatic.

Many of my friends today are Catholics.  They would not even know of the sad history of the 80 Years War, but for me telling them the story over drinks.  They would probably think me eccentric for doing so.   We think of ourselves as American, and take little notice of how we honor God.  If asked, depending on the sect of Christianity, we might have the belief that we will not see the other in Heaven, but this is now and that will be then.  But that will be the problem of the one who believed the wrong way, and God’s concern, and not a matter that must trouble us very much in our day-to-day lives.  Why should we care if they have foolish ideas?

All religions have divided and sub-divided throughout history.  Though most Americans see Egypt as a Muslim country, we typically do not know of the many divisions within Islam.  Very few Americans know anything about the Coptic Christians, who make up 10% of the Egyptian population.

Egyptians seeking to build a new society would do well to take note of the histories of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and demand that Freedom of Religion be written into the bedrock of their new Constitution.   Failing to do so can be the seed of many more generations of conflict, animosity and feuding within your society, and hold you back as a nation.

President George W. Bush made the sad mistake of thinking that if he toppled a dictator, democracy and peace would reign supreme in Iraq.  He underestimated the long held animosities between the Sunni and Shi’a factions of Islam in Iraq, and this mistake cost hundreds of thousands of peace loving Iraqis their lives in civil war among themselves.

The violent interactions between Sunni and Shi’a are still playing out across the Muslim world this very day.  They will only stop when politicians and religious leaders decide to stop them and live in peace.   That can only happen if Freedom of Religion becomes the very basis of Egyptian society and the new Egyptian Constitution.


Skip Conover is an International Executive, Author, and Artist.  He has written a novel, a published current affairs book, and a published journal.    He turned his long time interest in Jungian Archetype into the Archetype in Action™ Organization.

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