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Guest Commentary / Sep. 29, 2020

Religious Freedom Under Attack

Religious freedom is under attack in our country as never before. If we, as Americans, do not return to our founding principles enshrined in our nation's original documents, it will only get worse.

By Greg Martin

Religious freedom is under attack in our country as never before. If we, as Americans, do not return to our founding principles enshrined in our nation’s original documents, it will only get worse.

“Protesters” have burnt houses of worship in America and violently attacked parishioners. Recently, in Birmingham, the local school board and housing authority kicked out the Church of the Highland because the pastor “liked” a social media post that was unacceptable to the local government. A California state judge upheld Governor Gavin Newsom’s ban on singing in worship. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the governor of Nevada can limit casino patrons to 50% of building capacity, but will only allow 50 people to attend church regardless of building size.

In a Democrat presidential debate last year, a moderator asked Beto O'Rourke, “Do you think religious institutions — like colleges, churches, and charities — should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?” His answer was, “Yes! There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us… We’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

During Brett Kavanagh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, two senators questioned the judge’s fitness because of his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a long-established Catholic fraternal organization and charity. Is this the new standard? Are we going to forbid a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim charity or school from receiving assistance because it follows a teaching that marriage is only between a man and woman? Or that abortion is abhorrent to their historical theology? Are we going to shame those who privately belong to a charity that holds a different view from the government’s? Are we going to allow the state to be the only purveyor of right and wrong in society?

Every freedom-loving American should be concerned and vigilant for a number of reasons. First, Congress has repealed amendments and sections of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment could be next. In addition, if Congress changes the First Amendment in any way, there are huge ramifications for nonprofits and churches. Historically, our country viewed these organizations like a foreign embassy or an Indian Reservation with a tax-exempt status. Finally, there are ramifications for the individual whose conscience cannot reconcile what the state is requiring. Think of the nurse or doctor who can’t participate in an abortion in a public hospital. Think of a baker who can’t provide a cake for a celebration that is contrary to his or her conscience.

Our great country was founded on the belief that in a pluralistic society, people can practice their religion (or lack of religion( based on the “dictates of their own conscience.” The very clause “freedom of religion” in the First Amendment suggests various views and not one government-approved view of the world.

A few years ago, Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, Texas, subpoenaed the sermons of many local ministers because they spoke out against her equity ordinance surrounding homosexuality. When did it become okay for the government to have any say on what a minister says from a pulpit? Or anywhere else for that matter? I fear many sermons could be labeled “hate speech” by the government.

Religion and morals are the foundations of our republic, and yet, we are more non-religious today than ever before. Seventy years ago, only 5% in America were not religious. Today, it is 26%. During our founding, non-religious people made up 1% of the population. Our founders were mainly Christians, Deists, or Universalists. At the very least, they were moral and religious. President John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

How can our Constitution and Republic survive with a growing base of people who have no need for the First Amendment? If you are non-religious, why do you even care about the First Amendment? If you see religious people as people on the wrong side of history with same-sex marriage, transgender issues, and abortion, why would you not be for adjusting it as some have suggested?

We must preserve our Constitution and the liberties it articulates. The government or even the governed do not give these liberties. As the Declaration of Independence proclaims, they are “our natural rights.”

Perhaps now more than ever, Americans must protect and promote religious freedom and liberty. The right to dissent or think differently, and even wrongly, is an American value worth fighting for.

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