The Battle for Religious Liberty in America

Rick Tyler

By early summer of 1787, the refrain echoing in Independence Hall from the skeptics among the delegates gathered in Philadelphia, was the fear that the new Constitution made wide the path to tyranny for the new central government. The “anti-federalists” insisted that the rights of the citizens of the new republic be made plain to avoid usurpation by an encroaching federal government. The First Congress subsequently passed and sent a list of proposed amendments to the states on September 25, 1789. The first ten that were ratified by the states comprise what become known as the Bill of Rights.

The very first sentence of the First Amendment to the Constitution begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Given this plain statement, with its intent so abundantly clear, it’s hard to imagine how in the course of human events that intent has become so tangled. Yet the courts have tortured these simple words into a maze of contradictory interpretations.

“The very first sentence of the First Amendment to the Constitution begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.””

The Secularist War Against the Free Expression of Religion in America

Today, the founders’ original intent is all but lost in a post-modern world patrolled by the fascistic impulses of self-appointed enforcers of political correctness.

If you think that characterization is too harsh or hyperbolic, consider the following true stories:

Deep within the Mojave National Preserve in Southeastern California, there is a cross affixed atop a lonely outcropping of rock known as Sunrise Rock. It commemorates the men and women who died fighting for freedom in World War I. A cross of one kind or another has stood on this rock for the last 75 years. Today the cross is obscured with plywood by order of a Federal Court until the Supreme Court decides its fate.

The President of William and Mary College removed a cross from the historic Wren Chapel because he decided it was “unwelcoming”.

In the new Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, DC, our Godly heritage was initially purged from the displays. Among the numerous errors of historical fact, our national motto was incorrectly identified as “E Pluribus Unum” instead of “In God We Trust.” And that motto was purposefully omitted from the display representing the House chamber, even though in the actual chamber the words “In God We Trust” are displayed prominently above the Speakers Chair.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that allowing school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase “under God” is unconstitutional.

A pastor was arrested in a California Mall for having a casual conversation about faith with two shoppers.

A Baptist Minister who offered sidewalk counseling to women considering abortion served 30 days in jail for peacefully protesting outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Oakland, California.

A student at Missouri State University studying to be a social worker was interrogated by school faculty and subsequently threatened with expulsion when she asked for an alternative assignment that did not compromise her Christian beliefs. She had been required to lobby state legislators in favor of adoption by same-sex couples.

Despite that fact that Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that public universities cannot discriminate against religious student organizations, the University of Wisconsin de-funded the student group, Wisconsin Roman Catholic Foundation (WRCF), arguing that funding the WRCF violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

A Vermont Family Court judge ruled that the biological mother of a 7 year-old girl must turn over her daughter to her long-time lesbian partner after the mother became an evangelical Christian, broke up the relationship, renounced the homosexual lifestyle, and moved to Virginia.

California voters went to the polls and voted overwhelmingly to protect traditional marriage. Four California State Supreme Court judges overruled the will of four million voters and declared that the ballot initiative was unconstitutional. Voters subsequently overruled the judges and passed a state Constitutional Amendment to protect marriage. A lawsuit is now being heard in Federal Court claiming that amendment violates the U.S. Constitution.

Congress passed a “hate speech” law subjecting pastors and other faith leaders to prosecution for preaching about aspects of their faith the state decides are “hate speech.”

In DeFuniak Springs, Florida, a judge ordered that a copy of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse be covered during a murder trial, because he didn’t want jurors to see the command “Do not kill.”

In Balch Spring, Texas, senior citizens meeting at a community senior center were prohibited from praying over their meals.

In Memphis, Tennessee, a library offered shelf space for displaying community announcements. When a local church used the shelf to announce its Christmas program with a small Nativity scene, the library required that Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and the three Wise Men be removed, leaving only the farm animals.

In EuClaire, Wisconsin, college students were prohibited from holding Bible studies in their own private dorm rooms, but were allowed to conduct discussion groups on any other topic.

In Saint Louis, Missouri, an elementary student caught praying over his lunch by a school official was lifted from his seat, reprimanded in front of the other students, and taken to the principal, who ordered him to stop praying.

Other instances include the state requiring pre-approval for Bible courses. There have been prohibitions on displaying: crosses on memorials, nativity scenes, the Ten Commandments, and even cemetery planters in the shape of a cross. There are bans against children using religious themes in their school artwork. Cities including Los Angeles have removed religious symbols from their city seals even if the depiction was historic. There are bans on non-inclusive public prayer. College campuses are notorious for speech codes especially on religious speech. In one legislative chamber there was even a ban on thinking a religious thought when introducing a bill!

This list is by no means exhaustive, but sadly it’s emblematic of the countless instances of religious intolerance, the hundreds of cases in the courts this year alone, and the thousands like them over the last decade.

“Radical secular activists in alliance with their chief prosecutor against religious freedom, the ACLU, use the courts as their principal vehicle for attack.”

Radical secular activists in alliance with their chief prosecutor against religious freedom, the ACLU, use the courts as their principal vehicle for attack. They continue to gain ground by recruiting sympathetic candidates for office to wage their battle in the halls of the Congress and the state capitols across the country. These efforts are part of a sustained and serious ongoing effort to purge symbols and expressions of faith, and indeed to litigate or legislate God and God’s morality from the public square, from our courts, our state houses, our schools, hospitals and even our churches.

Taken together this anti-religious campaign comprises the single largest threat to not only religious liberty in America but to freedom and the Republic itself.

The Myth of Constitutional “Separation of Church and State”

But because of its incremental nature, too few American recognize the loss of freedom, especially the loss to people wishing to live out their faith. The secularists have convinced so many Americans including people of faith that there is a constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, that it is now accepted as “truth.” The problem is that it is not true. Not only is “separation of church and state” not in the Constitution, it is not contained in a single law. Remember the Constitution only prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion or infringing on the “free exercise” of religion.

This entire campaign is a legal concept that grew out of a personal letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists where he referred to the First Amendment as having created a “wall of separation” between church and state. Jefferson was trying to alleviate the concerns of the Baptists in Danbury, assuring them that the state had no intention of interfering with their type of worship. We know this because Jefferson and the other Founders knew full-well the power of a state controlled church and they adamantly rejected it. What Jefferson wrote has been turned completely upside down by the courts and now the secular culture.

The Founders’ Embraced and Promoted Religion in America’s Public Life

Today, “separation of church and state” is asserted to mean that actions, speech, or any public displays of faith on government property are unconstitutional. This would be unrecognizable to Thomas Jefferson or his fellow founders. Nearly every Sunday during his Presidency, including the very Sunday after he wrote that letter, Jefferson rode up Pennsylvania Avenue to attend church services which were held in the Capitol building itself until at least the 1860s. Jefferson also lent the Treasury building for religious services. He saw no inconsistency with religious worship on public property.

Perhaps Jefferson should have simply sent the Danbury Baptists “The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” which he drafted in 1779, three years after the Declaration of Independence. It passed the General Assembly of Virginia in 1786. Like the establishment clause, it is clear enough that we might have averted the current debate had his original intent been honored. Here is what Jefferson’s law said in part, all of which can be seen on the Jefferson memorial in Washington, DC: “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly of collectively.” This sentiment, reflected in the First Amendment, was widely held, not because the Founders were anti-religious but because they were religious.

“The “Separatist” misconception which the secularists have asserted, is now pervasive, not only with regard the First Amendment, but throughout virtually every aspect of our culture.”

The “Separatist” misconception which the secularists have asserted, is now pervasive, not only with regard the First Amendment, but throughout virtually every aspect of our culture. Militant secularists now dominate the intellectual and cultural commanding heights of our civilization including academia, the newsrooms, entertainment, public schools, art, history, and even the churches.

Their indoctrinations have created a generation so uneducated about our history especially our Godly heritage that most Christians cannot even articulate a defense.

It is up to every American who believes in freedom to assert leadership, retake the heights, and displace the radical occupiers. To regain the intellectual and cultural commanding heights may take a generation, but it will be worth the struggle. We need to reconnect the present with our past. Only then can we understand how to move forward. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). Understanding our history within the context of world history makes clear the present. Knowing and understanding what happened in the past, allows us to see emerging patterns that will help guide us away from repeating history’s calamities. We not only need to take this responsibility for ourselves, we need to ensure that we are selecting leaders who share our worldview.

How To End the Tyranny of “Separation” and Restore “Free Exercise”

Judges 9:7-15, provides an insightful parable about selecting leaders. In that story, the most qualified plants –those who produce the best fruits, the olive, the fig, and the vine –were all asked to lead. But all refused citing some excuse. So the bramble was asked to lead by default. And of course, the bramble eagerly agreed. Today, we have too many bramble bushes leading us and not enough olive, figs and grape vines. The reason is not so much that the brambles keep getting elected over the fruit; it is that men and women of character who are producing many fruits in the private sector are failing to step into leadership roles in the public sector. If we are to reoccupy the economic, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual commanding heights of American civilization, then a dedicated crop of leaders are going to have to step up and clear out the brambles.

Testing Candidates

“But how can the average voter determine which candidates will produce the fruits of freedom and which ones will strangle it?”

But how can the average voter determine which candidates will produce the fruits of freedom and which ones will strangle it? Here is one simple test. You really need to know just one thing – the candidate’s worldview. Does he or she believe God is in charge or does he believe man is in charge? If he or she believes God is in charge, you can with reasonable certainty predict how that candidate will vote on taxes, abortion, marriage, defense, and virtually any other issue. If she believes, as John Adams believed, that liberty is a gift from God, your candidate will vote for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, those are rights given to us by God and not government. So you can count on the fact that he or she will vote for smaller limited government, lower taxes, protect life, marriage, and freedom because your candidate knows man’s nature is subject to the corrupting temptations of power.

A God-fearing candidate will also most certainly vote for a strong defense. If he or she is then criticized for supporting “big government,” the answer is simple. A strong defense is essential to protect freedom. Freedom is second in importance only to life, because it allows us to pursue happiness.

If on the other hand, if the candidate believes man is over God or God does not exist, he or she will vote the opposite. Why? Because if you don’t believe there is a God, then you can rationally conclude that you are going to need a very big government. And that means more, more , more – more taxes, more bureaucracy, more rules, more regulations, and less freedom.

Why Free Exercise of Faith Threatens Statists

Here is the nub of the issue about religious freedom. Why do the secularists want to tear down crosses, arrest people for talking about their faith in shopping malls, redefine marriage, prohibit crèches and menorahs on public property, keep students from the Bible, and remove God from the public square? The answer is really very simple. The religious worldview is the single greatest threat to the left’s utopian vision of powerful, centralized, bureaucratic government that will control every aspect of our lives. Only if citizens can be kept ignorant or apathetic about their Creator, will the secular left be able to impose their statist socialist agenda. That is why protecting religious liberty was the first priority of the Founding Fathers. Freedom of faith is the prerequisite for protecting all liberty. The freedom of every American is threatened when government interferes with the religion of any American.

Rick Tyler is the Founding Director of Renewing American Leadership

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