(Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on religious liberty. Read Part 2 here.)
It’s Holy Week, but what’s not so holy is the assault on religious liberty in the U.S.
Religious liberty has been called rightly America’s “first freedom,” not only because the right is contained in the First Amendment but also because it predates the U.S. and has its origin in God, not government, and the freedoms He endowed within us. But over the past few decades, that basic freedom has come under assault, and in recent years particularly against Christianity.
Last week, I discussed how religious liberty in foreign countries is being suppressed and persecuted. This week, I will address how it has been assaulted right here in the U.S. I will give you roughly 36 examples in Parts 1 and 2 – yes, three dozen.
The assault on religious liberty isn’t a matter of opinion, or a simple issue of left vs. right, or even religious vs. secular. The case is as clear as a blue sky.
Most glaring in recent news is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate forcing religious organizations to pay for free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health-care plans, regardless of any moral or religious objections.
And if you think this is an isolated circumstance, consider that in just the last few years alone the following assaults on religious liberty occurred, as reported by the Family Research Council, the office of Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and various media outlets:
- A social service worker at a Minnesota senior living complex banned an elderly resident “from praying, reading her Bible, and discussing her faith in private conversations with other residents in the commons area.”
- A New York high-school science teacher, who teaches biology and anatomy and has been with the school district for seven years, was threatened with termination by school district officials if she didn’t take down posters with religious messages, notes with Bible quotes, and a “prayer request” box for the school’s Bible Study Club.
- In neighboring New Jersey, the censorship continued, as a substitute teacher was fired for giving a student a Bible.
- An East Texas high school barred its cheerleaders from using banners with Bible verses on them at football games.
- A Pennsylvania school district demanded that a group pay a rental fee to hold a Bible-based, afterschool program at Foose Elementary School, while other nonprofits, including the Boy Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs and the American Legion aren’t charged for using school facilities.
- A similar case was made by a California school district’s rejection of ”a Christian youth club’s request to meet in district facilities on equal grounds with similar, nonprofit, nonreligious youth organizations.”
- Another school board, this one in New Holland, Pa., decided to replace prayer with a moment of silence.
- An Eastern Michigan University counseling student was expelled during her last semester for her Christian beliefs.
- Officials at Louisiana State University airbrushed a snapshot of football fans to remove small crosses painted on the students’ bodies at a game.
- Tufts University, a private school in Massachusetts, suspended official recognition of Tufts Christian Fellowship because the organization required its leaders to adhere to its religious beliefs. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
- Several religious student organizations at Vanderbilt University had been placed on “provisional status” unless they allowed for students who do not share their core religious beliefs to obtain leadership positions within the organizations (yes, you read that correctly, too).
- Culture and courts are also trumping citizens’ First Amendment rights who are refusing on religious grounds not to support or participate with groups and events that run contrary to their faith and practice. As a result, wedding cake bakers, T-shirt makers, bed and breakfast owners, pastry shops, high-school teachers, military chaplains, restaurant owners, photographers, parents, churches and others have been harassed, bullied, suspended, fired and sued for merely exercising their Christian beliefs.
(Next week in Part 2, I will bullet 24 more examples of the assault on U.S. religious liberty)
According to a recent poll by the Barna Group, “Not only are most Americans worried about the future of religious freedom, many feel the restraints have already started. One-third of adults believe religious freedoms have grown worse in the last decade.” The study added, “more than half of adults say they are very (29 percent) or somewhat (22 percent) concerned that religious freedom in the U.S. will become more restricted in the next five years.”
Gone are the days when most truly understand and practice what PBS explained as America’s “First Freedom: the Fight for Religious Liberty”:
“On the eve of the revolution, colonial America included virtually every Christian denomination, with no single religious sect holding a majority. Congregationalists were the largest single denomination; they comprised only twenty two percent of all religiously affiliated colonists. Next were the Presbyterians, next was the Church of England. Judaism, Native American religions and the beliefs of a growing slave population also were represented. No European society looked like this. Up close, in any given town, the differences among sects were distinct, yet viewed from a distance the population of the colonies was homogeneous. …
“In their First Amendment to the Constitution, the founders guaranteed freedom of religion for each and every citizen in the new United States. As a matter of practical governance, that single action might have brought about the destruction of all that they had achieved and all that they had planned for the new country. After all, no nation throughout the Western tradition, dating back thousands of years, had ever been created without a state-sanctioned religion, one that might well be controlled by the government in order to control the populace.”
Now is not the time to flee the fundamentals of America, especially our religious liberties. Rather, we should re-embrace them, especially during this sacred Holy Week.
What is so difficult about understanding the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment, in which governing authorities “shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”?
As Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council explained, “Well, it’s time to get something straight. There’s no fine print in the U.S. Constitution excluding certain people from the First Amendment – not teachers, not businessmen, not even politicians. America will start understanding that fact as more Christians find their voice and stand their ground.”
That is why I said in my last column: We shouldn’t fear diversity or differences; rather we should be proud of them. We must not hinder others’ opinion or be intimidated by the sharing of our own. We must neither fear repercussions nor threaten others with them because of our differing beliefs. We must learn again the power and benefits of religious liberty and free speech (even debate), and to agree to disagree agreeably on even the most passionate of issues.
It is everyone’s individual right (first freedom) to express their faith and practice as they wish and where they wish, just as during this Holy Week my wife, Gena, and I profess our belief in Jesus Christ, His crucifixion and resurrection, and His free offer of salvation to the whole world – His steps to peace with God.
It’s high time for teachers, leaders, politicians and clergy (the black robe regiment), as well as every other American citizen, to start standing up and pushing back against these assaults on religious liberty.
It’s time we all turn into cultural heroes by standing up for our faith and First Amendment rights!
Friends, it’s Holy Week, and you have rights from God and country to exercise your religious freedoms, faith and practice, wherever and whenever you would like.
(To fight against the assault on our liberties, I recommend following the advice in my New York Times best-seller, “Black Belt Patriotism.”)