August 16, 2021

Religious Freedom Must Be First and Foremost

Two authors warn against the encroachment by social media upon our first liberty.

There’s a reason why the first words of our Constitution’s First Amendment are as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That reason? Our Founders thought religious freedom to be our most important freedom — even more important than the freedom of speech.

In a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, authors Salvatore J. Cordileone and Jim Daly argue that, as they put it, “The First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty is being dismantled, and with it the profound contributions that religion makes to American unity and self-government.”

And how is this fundamentally American guarantee being attacked? By the anti-God, anti-Christian censors of social media. They write:

Today’s sexual politics function as a new kind of fundamentalism, one that presents a deep problem to a diverse and democratic society. Instead of encouraging the dialogue of democratic process, the fundamentalists seek to impose their own rigid certitude unilaterally. On matters ranging from foster care and education to gender ideology and the family, this new fundamentalism is displacing the moral convictions that once grounded U.S. culture. The result isn’t a more compassionate and liberal society; it’s a more punitive one.

Social media enables the new fundamentalism, enforced by the mysterious rules of Big Tech’s quasimonopoly. On public sidewalks, the First Amendment still theoretically protects free speech. In the new public square of the internet, power displaces liberty and conscience.

Cordileone, who heads the Catholic Archdoicese of San Francisco, and Daly, who leads Focus on the Family, note that religious liberty allows us to fight government overreach by instilling in us the virtues necessary for that fight. And while they don’t say it in so many words, they might as well: Without that fundamental freedom, the American experiment is toast. “There is a reason,” they write, “the Pledge of Allegiance places our national loyalty ‘under God.’ Without that protection, the ambitions of power tend to corrupt conscience and deform human rights.”

This struggle between religiosity and secularism, between love of God and lack of God, isn’t anything new. In 1952’s Witness, one of the great books of the 20th (or any) century, author and ardent ex-communist Whittaker Chambers posited that “communism poses the most revolutionary question in history: ‘God or man?’”

Today, nearly 70 years later, that question continues to haunt us, and the fight for freedom of religious expression is its main battlefield. If we reject God on social media platforms or anywhere else, then we do away with our primary bulwark against the awful force that, as Chambers puts it, “has been inching its ice cap over the nation” for the past century.

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