Monday, January 18, 2016

Religious Freedom Day

Here in Houston we have an ongoing discussion about the Astrodome, one of the modern wonders of the world (the 8th, specifically). But, as modern buildings go, it’s old. It was built in 1965 and hasn’t been used for baseball or rodeo since 2002. If it weren’t considered historically significant, the building would simply be razed and replaced with something more currently useful.

But because it is historically significant, the debate goes on. Should it be restored? Used for some other purpose? Maybe a museum? Who should pay for whatever is done with it?

A couple of times the people have been faced with an ultimatum: pay big bucks for some specific purpose (which they may not prefer) or it will be destroyed. Even when the big bucks aren’t approved, however, the destruction doesn’t happen, and the debate continues. Eventually the people will need to answer the question, does it still have value?

celebrating religious freedom
image from
I’m using this as a metaphor for the way our larger society has been tossing around the idea that religious liberty is maybe historically precious, but can we afford to bother about such things in a modern world?

This ought not to be in question. Unlike a physical building, which may or may not have utilitarian or nostalgic value to various people, religious freedom’s actual value is beyond price.

Who should control what you believe: you, or some distant ruling authority?

If you think you should be in control of your own thoughts and beliefs, then you value religious freedom.

 It’s not some quaint tradition, for those people who care about such things; it is the essence of being who you are, instead of having everything about you, even your thoughts, enslaved.

This Saturday, January 16th, marked National Religious Freedom Day, which has been happening annually since 1993. It consists of a presidential proclamation on the subject. And possibly something schools and churches might bring up. (study guide for schools here).

I believe I’m pretty involved in the support of religious freedom—our first God-given right in the First Amendment of the Constitution. But I wasn’t aware of this designated day—which in some years has coincided with Martin Luther King Day, being celebrated today. But Saturday I came across a video on Facebook, shared by my religion about Religious Freedom Day. I'm unable to embed, but it's available here.

The video has a link to this page on Religious Freedom. This page has several additional videos and resources, and ends with a list of What We Can Do:

·         Learn about religious freedom—what it is, how it works and the issues that threaten it.

·         Practice religious freedom—respect the religious beliefs of others and the beliefs and opinions of those with no religion. Be civil in your conversations and interactions, both face to face and on the Internet.

·         Join with others to promote religious freedom—get involved in your community wherever you feel comfortable. Use the Internet and social media to help others learn about religious freedom.

In Ryan T. Anderson’s book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, he talks about the recent threat to our religious freedom. I’ll just share some of his words from chapter nine:

In recent political memory, religious liberty was a value that brought together conservatives, libertarians, and progressives. As recently as 1993, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed by a nearly unanimous Congress and signed by a Democratic president. Today, the same value is a political liability. Bakers, photographers, and florists are being ruined, adoption agencies shuttered, schools threatened with loss of accreditation and nonprofit status. So what happened? Why is religious liberty now losing so much ground?
Three historical developments explain our current predicament: a change in the scope of our government, a change in our sexual values, and a change in our political leaders’ vision of religious liberty. An adequate response will need to address each of these changes.
First, government has changed. The progressive movement gave us the administrative state. Limited government and the rule of law were replaced by the nearly unlimited reach of technocrats in governmental agencies. As government assumes responsibility for more areas of life, the likelihood of its infringing on religious liberty increases. Why should government be telling bakers and florists which weddings to serve in the first place? Why should it tell charities and religious schools how to operate and which values to teach? Only a swollen sense of unaccountable government authority can explain these changes.
Second, sexual values have changed. At the time of the American Revolution, religion and liberty were so closely linked that Thomas Jefferson could affirm, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” Meanwhile, his French contemporary Denis Diderot, expressing sentiments that would culminate in a very different revolution, declared that man “will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” In our own time, however, the sexual revolution has shattered the American synthesis of faith and freedom, setting religion at odds with “liberty”—or more accurately, license. Now bakers, florists, adoption agencies, and schools that uphold what Americans have always believed about marriage find themselves at odds with the law.
Third, religious liberty has changed. Our Constitution protects the natural right to the free exercise of religion. But some liberals are trying to drastically narrow that right by redefining it as the mere “freedom of worship.” If they succeed, the robust religious freedom that made American civil society the envy of the world will be reduced to Sunday-morning piety confined within the four walls of a chapel. They have even gone so far as to rewrite the U.S. immigration exam to say that the First Amendment protects “freedom of worship” rather than the “free exercise of religion.” True religious liberty entails the freedom to live consistently with one’s beliefs seven days a week—in the chapel, in the marketplace, and in the public square.
These three changes represent a rejection of the American Founding. Progressive politics and a radical view of human sexuality are combining to coerce compliance at the expense of a bedrock human right. And of course much of this has been enabled by judicial activism, as in Obergefell.
Anderson talks about what we can do. First, fight for courts to interpret and apply laws fairly. And, outside the courtroom, do all we can to limit government. And then, correct the faulty anthropology; restore a sound understanding of human nature and the laws of nature—combining the efforts of churches and synagogues, schools and universities, and other organizations. He says, “We need groups like this to push back on the sexual revolution and remind people of the law written on their hearts—a law that points the way to true, ordered liberty, not license, when it comes to human sexuality and the family.”

In an earlier chapter, Anderson refers to Pope Benedict XVI, who said, in Anderson’s paraphrase: “While intellectual arguments are important, people are moved more by beauty and holiness. The first thing we need to do is live the truth about marriage ourselves.”

His book is mainly about marriage, but also how changing what marriage is affects religious liberty. So, we could take that last statement and apply it to our religious freedom: The first thing we need to do is live the truth about our religious beliefs ourselves.

We who are used to doing that quietly, as a natural part of our peaceful lives, may find ourselves needing to do it more boldly, more firmly. Because we must not allow someone—anyone—to enslave our beliefs, which would enslave our very selves.

Religious freedom isn’t something nice to have, if we can afford it, and if “regular” people decide to tolerate that in believers. Religious freedom is the essential freedom of our minds and hearts.

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