Religious Freedom Revisited
By Wendell Cantrell
This time three years ago (Sept- Dec 2011), Culture Watch published a series on religious freedom. There had been some troubling developments that we felt you needed to be aware of. We are revisiting the topic again this month for two reasons. First, there have been more signs that our religious freedom continues to erode. Second, we wanted to make you aware of a seminar addressing this very issue right here at Denton Bible on October 16 at 7 p.m. Please consider joining us for this seminar.1
Do you remember the place that the following phrase has in the history of this great nation? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Hopefully, you remember that this is the first phrase of the first amendment of our constitution. This amendment has been called the most important part of the US Constitution. It not only guarantees religious freedom, but goes on to protect free speech, writing and publishing, peaceful assembly, and the freedom to raise grievances with the government. This freedom goes far beyond just freedom of worship, but also means that we are free to exercise our religion and contend for faith in every area of our 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.” We are going to review three recent cases of this undue interference and its implication for living out our faith in the public square.
We will look first at California’s recent challenge to Christian student groups. This began with a case against the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the University of California’s Hastings Law School. Administrators there had instituted an “all-comers” policy that required all groups to be open to all students, regardless of beliefs. CLS and other Christian groups routinely ask student leaders to affirm a statement of faith that defines their shared Christian belief. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law school. All the campus ministries have been watching and praying. Last month, all nineteen public universities adopted parts of the “all-comers policy,” pushing one of the nation’s largest Christian groups off 19 campuses. Leaders with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship announced that all of its chapters in the California State University System would be moving off-campus this fall, being forced to operate as an unofficial student group.2
For the next example of our liberty erosion, we’ll move northeast to Massachusetts. For the last eleven years the city of Lynn, near Boston, has benefited from major volunteer efforts offered by Gordon College. Here we have an evangelical institution helping an impoverished suburb with mentoring and tutoring programs. Each year they would also invite 80-100 fourth-graders to campus for a college day. The plan was to increase the number to 500 next year. Guess what? None of this is going to continue. According to Lynn city fathers, Gordon College has “sinned” because the administration had sent a letter to the White House requesting that President Obama include a religious exemption in his expected executive order concerning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA for short. ENDA would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or “gender identity” by employers with at least 15 employees. By requesting that ENDA not discriminate against them based on their faith-based employment standards, Gordon is now at odds with Lynn. The leaders of Lynn, in their “wisdom,” have ended the volunteer program with the kids. In effect, they’re saying, “We can’t let those bigots near our school children.” This assault on religious freedom is bad enough, but the loss of service to the poor kids in Lynn is tragic.3
For our last recent development we move farther north to our beloved Canadian neighbors. Watching their cultural shifts are similar to the canary in the coal mine (if the canary dies, the humans better get out). Trinity Western University, an evangelical institution in British Columbia, was hoping to open a law school in 2016. They were advised last month that the Law Society of New Brunswick had voted to deny accreditation to the law school. This denial was based on the fact that those who attend Trinity are required to sign a covenant that bars same-sex relationships. The Law Society took the vote after a petition by activists calling for the law school not to be recognized. There are more scheduled meetings, so this isn’t set in stone yet. Earl Phillips, Trinity Western’s executive director, had the following comment: “There is no evidence to suggest that the religious beliefs that guide TWU would affect the ability of its law graduates to serve all clients.” Could this happen in America? We already have the Affordable Care Act that mandates that religious organizations pay for insurance plans that may go against their beliefs. Imagine how far these restrictions could go. Could we see the day where pro-life doctors are told, “Sorry, there will be no accreditation for you!”4
Author Jim Tonkowich, in a newly released book called The Liberty Threat, has the following advice for his brothers in Christ: “In response to the threats to religious liberty, let me suggest a seven-part plan: understand life in our fallen world, understand the dangers of losing religious liberty, get informed, pray, force the question, evangelize, and, if need be, suffer.” (emphasis mine to remind us to make the booking for this coming seminar)
Questions or comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) The Price of Citizenship: Losing Religious Freedom in America. An Evening with Hugh Hewitt, Ross Douthat and the Benham Brothers. Denton Bible Church, Oct.16, 7-9 pm. To register, visit https://hashtagpros.webconnex.com/dallas
2) Leigh Jones, World Magazine, Sept. 9, 2014
3) Eric Metaxis, The New Witch Hunt, Sept 12, 2014 www.breakpoint.org
4) Fox News Sept. 24, 2014