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 -- particularly, in recent years, regarding Christianity.
Last week, I discussed how religious liberty in foreign countries is being suppressed. This week, I will begin to address how it has been assaulted right here in the U.S. I will give you roughly 36 examples this week and next.
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, regardless of any moral or religious objections, religious organizations to pay for free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health care plans.
And if you think this is an isolated circumstance, consider that in the past 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, in the Alliance Defending Freedom's words, "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 has been with her school district for seven years was threatened with termination by school 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 after-school program at an elementary school, even though other nonprofits -- including the Boy Scouts of America, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the American Legion -- aren't charged for using school facilities.
--There was a similar case in California. The American Center for Law and Justice said it filed suit against a California school district for rejecting "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 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 were placed on "provisional status" until 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 trumping the First Amendment rights of citizens who are refusing on religious grounds to support or participate with groups and events that run contrary to their faith and practice. As a result, wedding cake bakers, shirt-makers, bed-and-breakfast owners, pastry-makers, 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, I will highlight 24 more examples of the assault on U.S. religious liberty.)
According to a recent poll by the Barna Group, "most Americans (are) worried about the future of religious freedom, (and) 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."
Now is not the time to flee from 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, which says governing authorities "shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion?
As I said last week, 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 his faith as he wishes and where he wishes. 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. (See PeaceWithGod.net for more information.)
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 practices, wherever and whenever you would like.