Leaders talk religious freedom, cooperation

By Aubrey Turner
For the Prosper Press

Religious leaders from a variety of organizations came together to discuss religious freedom and diversity last week.  The conference, held via video through Facebook and on its website, featured speakers from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Sikh traditions and was offered in English and in Spanish. 

North Texas mayors gather for a discussion about cooperation during the Religious Freedom Conference last week.

This summit was organized and promoted by the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom, an interfaith, non-partisan organization.  

“The summit offered thoughtful discussion about religious freedom issues within communities here in Texas and around the country,” said Heather Smith, a member of the Alliance board and a religious freedom attorney.  

Members of the conference believe that this conversation is timely, especially with the stresses people face with COVID. 

“Human dignity and religious freedom can be hot topics in today’s fractious environment,” Alliance founding member Bill Benac said.  “These freedoms are important to protect at all times, including during a global pandemic.  We encourage men and women of all faith traditions, and those with no faith tradition, to put aside partisan politics and come together to discuss these topics of critical importance for everyone.”

In a conversation about religious freedom in Texas during the summit, Mayor Laura Hill from Southlake and Mayor Betsy Price from Fort Worth discussed current needs in the local cities for religious diversity celebrations. 

“Communities are focusing on more than just parades,” Hill said.  “Now people are coming together to celebrate religious freedom and the diversity we have in our towns.”  

“We know it is important for everyone to have a seat at the table,” Hill said.  “We have shifted the conversation about what a great community really is.  We know that it is important for everyone to be represented in the community.  Everyone should be heard, that is so important.” 

“This country was built on religious freedoms,” Price said.  “People are becoming more tolerant of each other.  We are all allowed to believe what we believe and worship how we choose.  That is one of our fundamental strengths here in North Texas.”  

“It is interesting learning about other religions,”  Price said.  “As our diversity has grown, our ability to understand about other religious communities has grown as well.  People have not always talked about religion, but it seems like people are starting to talk about the differences.  People are learning that we can celebrate those differences and get along.”

As Prosper continues to experience rapid growth in population, the diversity in the town will continue to rise.   According to the town website, the population of Prosper is over 28,000 people. While specific statistics on religious organizations differ between sources, Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Islam, and Eastern religions are all represented in Prosper.

“The differences between people, between how the worship and their culture, is what makes a community so beautiful,”  Hill said during the summit.  

The Religious Freedom Conference is held annually.  “The summit has grown larger every year,” Melissa McKneely, founding member of the Alliance, said.  “The online platform will have a broader reach.  We hope the summit illuminates the importance of religious freedom to the general public.”  

More information about future Religious Freedom Conferences can be found at www.DFWReligiousFreedom.org.