It is almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or news magazine these days without seeing an article about religious freedom. That raises questions of how to define religious freedom.
Atheists maintain that religions are vehicles of discrimination, and in some cases that charge is valid. We previously reviewed the history of the Mormon Church which excluded blacks in its early days. There have been cults that have excluded people based on their sex or their occupation. Should the government allow a religious group to advocate the violation of the laws of the land? What about a religion that advocates violence or suicide as was the case in the Jim Jones tragedy in Guyana? We have a case in the Midwest where a nun is suing the Roman Catholic Church because they won’t allow her to become a priest. Recently a local Church of Christ was threatened with a lawsuit because they wouldn’t interview a woman for the advertised position of pulpit minister. The list of grievances is virtually endless and raises questions of how to define religious freedom.
Many people in America limit the definition of religious freedom to the right to meet in a single facility and worship God as you choose, but your religion must not move outside of that building. In this view, you may not share your faith with anyone outside of the building or make it part of what you do at work, in school, or in the presence of the general public. This has been evident in cases where a person is asked to make something or do something that violates their religious convictions. Asking Christians to act against their faith has led to legal cases involving people like Jack Phillips and his wedding cakes or Barronelle Stutzman and her flower displays or Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski and their custom art. Pro-life pregnancy care centers have been told they must promote abortion options in spite of their religious convictions.
As the government tries to decide how to define religious freedom, we must remember that Christianity does not need religious freedom to survive. God cannot be defeated by the ACLU, no matter how much money they have. It may be that the right to worship outside of a government-registered building is going to be destroyed by activists and government officials who are determined to drive historical Christian beliefs from the public square. Remember that the early church did not have religious freedom, but the teaching of Jesus Christ on love and service still survived.
“And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, ‘Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018