They Will Get You Fired!
By Wendell Cantrell
What would you do if you were being forced to compromise your religious convictions in your profession? There was a day when this would be a purely hypothetical question. In today’s workplace, it’s a real-life decision folks are having to make – and the cost for standing for their faith can be high. Many Christian business owners who are trying to run their companies according to their biblical beliefs are finding themselves increasingly at odds with our country’s laws. In this issue we will look at the challenges to our religious liberties. We have addressed this in a previous series of Culture Watch,1 but we needed an update given the current events of the day.
Let’s look at three examples of the dangers of religious convictions:
- Recently, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Christian photographers cannot decline to participate in gay-marriage commitment ceremonies, even though that state does not have gay marriage and the court acknowledged that providing services for the ceremony violated the Christian’s sincerely-held, traditional religious beliefs. One justice wrote however, that such compromise is the “price of citizenship.” This becomes one of the first major cases where religious liberty collides with gay rights, and could now go to the Supreme Court of the United States.
- A couple recently made national headlines with their cake shop in Oregon. They refused to create cakes that compromise their religious convictions, like so-called divorce cakes. That’s why when a lesbian woman came in to have the shop prepare a cake for her same-sex “wedding,” the owners politely declined her business. Their decision to run their shop according to their biblical faith led to a state investigation. LGBT groups pledged to boycott any other vendors doing business with their cake shop. The couple made the painful decision to shut down the business they took years to build.
- A pastor of Norwich Reformed Church in the U.K. was informed that he’d been reported for spreading “homophobic hate.” What was his crime? He was distributing gospel tracts about how Christ offers forgiveness and healing for all sinners—including homosexuals.
He explained that his evangelism was about love, not hate, and quoted the European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled that freedom of expression includes speech that might cause offense. He could soon be facing a judge.
So does religious liberty include convictions about how we do our work? Our Bill of Rights guarantees something called free exercise of religion. It implies that religious faith can’t be reduced to a private or individual affair. This free exercise may happen in activism, charity, education, or in the workplace.
This freedom goes far beyond just freedom of worship. It guarantees that we are not restricted to living out our faith in the privacy of our homes or church sanctuaries. It means we are free to exercise our religion and contend for faith in every area of life. George Weigel gave a profound definition: “Religious freedom includes the right to preach and evangelize, to make religiously informed moral arguments in the public square and to conduct the affairs of one’s religious community without undue interference from the state.”
Clearly, many courts in our country see a society menaced by a repressive Puritanism, where homophobes and pro-life advocates are creating havoc with offensive language and stances on issues. It would be refreshing, in a sense, if their concerns were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade. Ross Douthat commented, “If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.”2
Basically our legal system is telling us to compromise our faith or give up our livelihood. That’s some choice. But it appears that’s where we’re headed.3 On a recent Breakpoint, John Stonestreet had this comment about the outrageous ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court: “…this ruling eviscerates religious freedom.” I agree with his passionate objection.
In the midst of all of our talk about religious liberty, we face a tough question: Will we practice what we preach? In 2009, Chuck Colson and Drs. Timothy and Robert George launched the Manhattan Declaration,4 calling Christians of all traditions to defend marriage, the sanctity of life, and religious freedom. At the time, many people found it odd that religious freedom made the list. After all, the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise has made America one of the safest places in the world for religious minorities. But the Manhattan Declaration turned out to be almost prophetic. Just five years after its signing, many Christians in this country are being forced to choose between their livelihoods and their religious convictions. And that may just be the beginning, especially if developments in Europe foreshadow the future here, as they often do.
These recent rulings would have been impossible to imagine even a decade ago. Lord Justice Sedley famously argued in a ruling on a case before the British High Court back in 2000, “Free speech includes not only the inoffensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and provocative provided that it does not tend to violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.” One of our founders, Thomas Jefferson offered very similar comments on religious freedom: “No man…[should] be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened on account of his religious opinions or belief…all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion…”
Basically this means we have a right to speak and live our convictions, and if they offend you, get over it.
*Please visit the Manhattan Declaration website and consider joining the group.
**I had written this before the interview that Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty patriarch, had with GQ magazine. He spoke clearly (and maybe a bit too graphically) about his faith and particular sins. His bosses at A&E were compelled to suspend him, at least temporarily. This incident illustrates this topic clearly.
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(1) Culture Watch December ’12 –Mar ’13
(2) New York Times. Ross Douthat July 28, 2012
(3) Breakpoint. Your Conscience or Your Livelihood?