As Americans, we’re blessed by our Constitutional freedoms, but they’re so easily taken for granted. When any of our liberties are under attack, they must be defended and preserved for future generations.
Our religious civil liberties are guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Clarifying religious freedom is an ongoing challenge. In Everson v. Board of Education, the Court drew on Thomas Jefferson's private correspondence calling for "a wall of separation between church and State," but the precise boundary of this separation remains in dispute even today. Jehovah's Witnesses has won 47 of the 72 cases involving the First Amendment brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. American author Irving Dilliard asserted, "Jehovah's Witnesses has done more to help preserve our freedoms than any other religious group."
But make no mistake; religious freedoms are under attack. Recent religious liberty laws in Mississippi, North Carolina and Georgia have set off a firestorm of protests from gay groups and large progressive organizations.
Reacting to Georgia’s religious liberty bill, Hollywood heavy hitters like Disney, Time Warner, NBC and CBS promised a boycott. The NFL promised to bar Georgia from having the Super Bowl. Coca-Cola and Apple came out swinging. Gay groups like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD joined the protests!
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal buckled under the pressure and vetoed a bill with three primary objectives: 1) Protect a pastor from being forced to perform a gay wedding against his will. 2) Protect religious organizations from being forced to host gay weddings against their will. 3) Protect religious organizations from being forced to hire someone who opposes their fundamental tenets, beliefs, and goals. Stated loopholes still allowed a court to punish an organization for clear “discrimination.”
The “free exercise” of any religion would require abiding by the moral doctrines of one’s chosen faith. A moral doctrine “discriminates” against activities it deems immoral—what it considers “sin.” If religious beliefs must be sanctioned by the government, will Christians be forced to delete “offensive” verses from their Bibles? Thankfully, Christians are winning many “freedom of religion” battles in our court system.
The recent movie, “God’s Not Dead 2,” directly deals with the cultural and governmental infringements on religious liberties. The film is based on a Christian teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King High School in Little Rock, Arkansas named Grace Wesley. After responding to a student question regarding the similarities between Jesus’s teachings and those Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King, Grace was required to apologize for “violating the separation of church and state.”
In its closing credits, twenty-five cases defended and won by Alliance Defending Freedom are listed, including: 1) Dr. Mike Adams was denied a promotion at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington after becoming a Christian and conservative writer; 2) Emily Brooker, a Missouri State University student, was assigned to write a letter to the state legislature in favor of adoption by same-sex couples and was charged with an ethics violation for refusing based on her religious beliefs; 3) A senior at Tomah High School received a zero from his teacher for drawing a picture for his art class depicting a road, cross, and the words “John 3:16 – a sign of love” and refusing to remove the biblical reference.
First Amendment rights also support the rights of those who would attack religious beliefs. Freedom has a cost; you may not be liked. With Christians being beheaded and a Catholic priest being crucified by the Islamic State for refusing to abandon their faith, perhaps withstanding insults, offensive emails, or even hysterical demonstrations, is a small price to pay for freedom.
In the New Testament, Christian disciples witnessing for their faith, were given “strict orders” to cease. They replied: "We must obey God rather than men!” After being flogged and ordered not to witness in the name of Jesus, they were released. The Bible reports: “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
We are blessed to have First Amendment protection, but standing for one’s faith in the face of attacks is what exercising one’s faith has often required.
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