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OPINION

Make 2018 the Year of Religious Freedom

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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“Religious persecution.” It’s a phrase that conjures up awful scenes of brutality and human rights violations in distant lands.

Christians in many countries are routinely locked up, beaten or deprived of their livelihoods simply for attempting to practice their faith.

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Most of us can’t imagine what it’s like for the government to force us to engage in activities that violate our deeply held faiths or to recant what we believe. We don’t stop to think about it because such things never happen in America.

Or do they?

While Christians around our nation freely celebrated the Christmas season last week, a young couple was receiving word from the Oregon Court of Appeals that they had violated the law by adhering to their Christian beliefs. The court even deemed it appropriate for a state agency to financially ruin them.

Aaron and Melissa Klein are the former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a small family business. I say “former” because in 2013 the bureaucrats at the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry fined the Kleins $135,000 for refusing to create a cake for a same-sex wedding.

That abusive government action caused the Kleins to lose their business, along with their sacred First Amendment rights. Unbelievably, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the fine on Dec. 28, bringing government-sanctioned religious persecution a little closer to home for all of us.

“The Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Aaron and Melissa are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, who is representing the Kleins at no cost. “Government punishing people because of their religion is not America. It is wrong. And it is not only morally wrong, it violates the First Amendment.”

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Such government persecution increasingly is happening to average American citizens all across the land — a T-shirt printer is being punished for refusing to print messages that violate his beliefs, photographers are being forced to participate in homosexual marriages or face crippling fines. The list of abuses is shocking … and growing.

On YouTube, if you search under “First Liberty Sweet Cakes,” you can hear from the Kleins what it is like to be victimized by your own government, simply for refusing to violate your faith. The reality of what the Kleins and others are suffering as Americans in America is blood-chilling. Although the popular cultural mantra insists on “tolerance,” it only seems to go one way.

“Many activists don’t want mutual tolerance. They want to punish or destroy people who disagree,” Mr. Shackelford said.

The Kleins, and others who are losing their livelihoods, just want to be able to make a living while also living out their faiths. They have strong records of serving people whose lifestyles they don’t agree with, but they draw the line when asked to participate in activities that violate their deeply held religious beliefs. They deserve tolerance, too — not government punishment and financial ruin.

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“No matter what your views are on the issues of the day, you don’t want to give the government the power to destroy you for your faith,” Mr. Shackelford warns. “If we give the government this type of power, it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when’ they turn against you too.”

Will you stand by while our bedrock right of religious freedom becomes a mere footnote in American history?

The start of every New Year is filled with promises of resolutions, of pledges to commit ourselves to things that really matter. Why not make 2018 the year you help fight for religious freedom?

First Liberty is engaged in fighting for your right to practice your faith every day. In fact, it is “the largest legal organization dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.” It never takes a penny from those it represents but relies on people like you and me whose rights have not yet been violated, whose businesses have not been lost because we dared to stand, like the Kleins did, for what we believe in.

You can learn about all of the religious freedom cases First Liberty is working on and make a donation at www.firstliberty.org.

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Cases like the Kleins are headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and they have to take a long and expensive road to get there. Our freedoms don’t come cheap; as Ronald Reagan said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

Help protect religious freedom in 2018. #religiousfreedomin2018.

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