U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito recently stated the following about religious freedom: “We are likely to see pitched battles in courts and Congress, state legislatures and town halls… [b]ut the most important fight is for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom.”
Many Christians and Churches have, in a sense, delegated the defense of religious freedom to attorneys, legislators and interest groups. Though there are certainly important roles for these individuals and groups, they cannot win on their own. We must realize that “all of us” are necessary to champion the idea of religious freedom, which is critical to proclaiming and living out the power of the Gospel everyday everywhere.
The Apostle Paul is a great example of a “witness” for religious freedom. In Acts 16 and Acts 22, Paul stood for and used his Roman legal rights to further his ministry goals. One commentator explained that Paul’s assertion of his rights was “important for the reputation of the incipient Christian community as well as for the missionaries’ prospects for returning to Philippi…Paul’s recourse to the legal rights available to him sets a useful example for contemporary Christians who encounter discrimination, persecution, or even court trials, imprisonment, and martyrdom . . . [Paul] used the rights of his Roman citizenship to ensure that witness to Jesus would reach as far as Rome, the center of the empire.”
So, how can busy Christians and Church leaders “witness” for religious freedom in changing times? In this interview, Larry Crain and I discuss three recent topics/ideas you can use to do just that:
Topic #1 Senate Shakedown
Senator Feinstein recently grilled Amy Barrett, a judicial nominee for the 7th Circuit, about her Catholic faith. Senator Feinstein stated: ““the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” This interrogation of sorts follows a similar line of questioning aimed at Russell Vought, a nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, concerning his belief that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution provides that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Larry Crain also points to the case McDaniel v. Paty, which struck down a Tennessee provision blocking ministers from public office. 435 U.S. 618, 627 (1978). Despite these standards, U.S. Senators are sending signals that sincerely religious individuals need not apply for public office.
We can use this recent (and ongoing) development to point out to our sphere of influence that this logic grates against the vision of a cohesive, diverse society. Which religious belief will Senators pick on next–a Muslim head scarf or a Sikh wearing a ceremonial kirpan (dagger)? How about the fact that devout Christians believe in salvation through Christ alone? Wait, that one already came up. What if we, as a country, subjected members of Congress to similar religious tests? The Constitution prevents these religious tests for good reason. The Republic needs men and women of character and strong beliefs to guide her in turbulent times.
Topic #2 Wedding Cakes – Final Round?
We are all familiar by now with Christian creatives (florists, bakers and photographers) who decline to create messages affirming or celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies because such a message contradicts their deeply held religious beliefs. Such a case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights, is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Larry Crain gives his analysis of the complicated legal issues at play in the case. This case highlights the headlong clash between the two prized legal principles of religious freedom and public accommodation. Larry also gives his analysis of the Justice Department’s brief in support of Masterpiece Cake Shop and his prediction on how the case will turn out.
Though even some Christians disagree with Christian creatives such as Jack Phillips, it is important to remember that this is an initial round in an ongoing struggle over the right of conscience and free exercise of religion. What happens in this case will impact the legal rights of other professions, businesses and, eventually, ministries. This case brings up tough questions and it speaks to the necessity of robust, civil discussion in our public life. Since we an are increasingly diverse country, our society should do the hard work of becoming comfortable with vigorous discussion over conflicting religious and ideological viewpoints. Our point is very straightforward: the concept of conscience is critical to the atheist, the Christian, the Muslim and every other religion/ideology in America. We should all be able to live out our faith or guiding principles without fear of government coercion. For a great counterpoint discussion on this topic, pick up the book Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination by Jon Corvino, Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Girgis.
Topic #3 Your Town
In a fascinating play by Thornton Wilder named Our Town, a character states the following: “We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
Even modern Americans cannot escape this reality. The secularization theory-the theory that modern societies become less religious-has been shown to be false. Religion makes sense to 4 out of 5 people in the world and will continue to do so. The United States is or is at least becoming more plural than secular. As Christians and Church leaders, we should (1) lead the discussion about religious freedom and (2) we should advocate for a public square that welcomes diverse viewpoints and difficult discussions.
How about you? What are other ways that we can “witness” for/about religious freedom?