The United States was founded on the principle that God, not government, is the source of our fundamental rights. Our Founders, including the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, understood this clearly:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men. ..."
The other widely held understanding during the founding era was that religion and morality formed the foundational basis upon which both our society and our form of government rested:
"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens." — President George Washington's Farewell Address, 1796
"Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." — President John Adams, 1798
Given the religious roots of our founding, and the universal acknowledgment of Christianity's role in this nation's continued success, the alarming erosion of religious freedom we're now witnessing should serve as a wake-up call to us all.
Consider these few troubling examples:
- As part of the new Affordable Care Act enacted on March 23, 2009, the federal government has issued a controversial policy — commonly known as the “HHS mandate” — which will require employers to provide possible abortion-causing drugs via their company health plans, even if they object to it on religious or moral grounds. Millions of dollars in fines, bankruptcy and/or the dissolution of their businesses are the only alternatives available to public and private companies who object to the mandate.
- New Jersey officials revoked part of a church’s tax-exemption status and found it "guilty of discrimination" for refusing to rent a part of its facilities for a same-sex civil union ceremony.
- Nurses in state-funded hospitals around the nation have been threatened with termination for refusing to participate in abortion procedures on religious and moral grounds.
- County clerks in New York state were threatened with criminal prosecution for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses and/or attempting to delegate the responsibility, after the passage of a same-sex marriage law there in 2010.
- Since 2006, Catholic Charities has been forced to abandon its adoption services in Boston and the District of Columbia, because of its biblical stance on placing children only in homes with heterosexual married couples. in Illinois, the state government took it a step further and refused to renew contracts with Catholic Charities and other faith-based adoption agencies for the same reason, effectively putting them out of business.
- A post-graduate counseling student at a state university in Michigan was expelled from the program for asking if she could refer a homosexual client to another counselor. She cited her Christian beliefs as the reason for the referral.
- In El Paso, Texas, a grand jury was convened by a local prosecutor to look into possible criminal charges against members of a local church. The mayor complained the church circulated petitions in favor of a ballot initiative to stop the city’s attempt to provide taxpayer-funded domestic-partner benefits to unmarried government employees.
- In the past few years, an increased number of owners of bed and breakfast inns, bakeries, photography shops, and florists have all been subjected to state and local government sanctions and prosecution for refusing, for reasons of religious conscience, to furnish goods or services in furtherance of same-sex ceremonies.
- A federal judge threatened all participants in a Texas high school graduation ceremony, including the school's valedictorian, with jail time if there was a prayer offered by anyone At the ceremony.
These are just a few examples of the over 600 documented instances of local, state and federal encroachments into religious freedom in recent years. Justice has prevailed at the court level for a few of the defendants; however, for others the courts are the problem.
It's clear from many of these cases the goal of those who are infringing our rights is not a compromise between secular and sacred; rather, it's the complete stamping out of conscience and rejection of our nation's spiritual heritage.
As Christians and as Americans, we must stay aware of these battles, pray for our nation and its leaders, and join in the defense of the rights and freedoms of all people of faith — in their communities, as well as in the public square of ideas. It's been said many times, our religious freedom is the lynchpin upon which all of our other rights depend. If that is, indeed, the case, then these current battles to protect religious freedom will determine America’s destiny.
We cannot afford to stay silent. Here are a few things every Christian can do to fight the loss of religious freedom:
- Pray. Pray for our country, for our elected representatives and our judges. Ask God to remind them of the pre-eminent place of religious freedom in our nation’s founding. Pray also for Christians overseas, as they're experiencing persecution in countries that don’t respect religious freedom. Surprisingly, even in places with a Christian heritage like Great Britain, Christian business owners are being forced to close their businesses as the price for exercising their religious faith.
- Register and vote. You can help restore our endangered liberties, and impact the national debate, by holding accountable the elected officials charged with protecting the religious freedom landscape of our public life.
"It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn." — George Washington, 1789