Meriam Ibrahim, sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, is headed at last to a safe, welcoming and tolerant place: New Hampshire. En route to the "Live free or die" state from a "Live Islam or die" country, she stopped in the Vatican, where she was greeted with love. What can we make of this story? Maybe, just maybe, it can provide some clarity for the current debates about religious freedom.
Ibrahim is on her way to a nation founded in part on the principle that the state must never be allowed to compel a person to violate his or her faith. "I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend Benjamin Rush in 1800 in a letter opposing "an establishment of a particular form of Christianity thro' the U.S."
We are supposed to be a nation that leaves people free to practice their faith unmolested by the state. And yet as we have seen in these last few years, that is not always the case. Religious tolerance, as advanced as it is here, still has room to progress.
The Vatican, where Ibrahim was welcomed after the Italians secured her release from Sudan, is often portrayed in this country as a source of oppression.
Christians, particularly Catholics, are said to wage a faith-based "war on women." And yet it was Italy, Europe's most Catholic nation, that rescued Ibrahim, and the Vatican, home of the church, where she was sheltered from the non-Christians engaged in actual wars on both women and "non-believers."
"With my family, I will start a new life," Ibrahim told The Telegraph of London last week. "We are going to move to New Hampshire, where my brother-in-law Gabriel lives. He will help us. We'll all be together, like a proper family."
May this newest New Hampshire family find the Granite State as open and tolerant as they expect it to be.