How to Define Religious Freedom

How to Define Religious Freedom
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

Business Owner’s Religious Freedom

Business Owner's Religious Freedom
One of the most critical issues of this decade in America is a business owner’s religious freedom. If you own a business, do you have a right to refuse to perform a service which violates your religious faith? Here are some examples of Christian business owners being told by the government that they must provide a service that they find morally objectionable.

Barronelle Stutzman owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. She declined to design a flower arrangement for a same-sex wedding. The Washington Attorney General and the ACLU brought suit against not only her business but her personally. She could lose everything because of taking a stand based on her Christian faith. This case is being appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Blaine Adamson owner of promotional printing company Hands On Originals in Kentucky turned down a job to print promotional t-shirts for a gay pride festival. He had refused to print other materials that he considered to be morally objectionable. The local human rights commission charged him with sexual orientation discrimination saying that he must print the shirts. In 2015 a Kentucky circuit court found in favor of Adamson, and that decision was upheld in 2017 by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Now the Kentucky Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case.

Masterpiece Cake Shop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is one of a dozen similar cases where a private business owner of a bakery wishes not to produce something that violates their religious convictions. In this case, Jack Phillips did not want to design a cake for a same sex wedding. The state is threatening him with a fine and jail time.

It is not only Christian printers, flower shops, and cake decorators that are being forced by the government to provide services that violate their faith. Christian wedding photographers and videographers also face legal challenges. In the Minnesota case of Telescope Media Group vs. Lindsey, Carl and Angel Larsen have a video business. They produce videos that teach Christian values and educate couples about God’s plan for marriage. They are being threatened with a $25,000 fine and 90 days in jail because they do not make videos of same sex marriages as well.

These cases bring to mind many questions about a business owner’s religious freedom. Can a printer refuse to print pornography because of the moral issues involved, even if it is legal? Should a black business owner be required to provide materials promoting a KKK rally? Should a Jewish business be required to provide facilities for a neo-Nazi rally? Should a Christian printer be required to print materials promoting atheism? Does a business owner’s religious freedom end when the doors open for business? To turn the question around, should a business owner who is a gay rights advocate be required to produce material saying that homosexual activity is immoral?

We have commented before about the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and their efforts to protect religious freedom and Christian values. In Acts 4:18-20 we read about the authorities telling Peter and John “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” They responded with, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017