At this very time 403 years ago, a small band of Pilgrims and Puritans were just about halfway into their 66-day trip across the Atlantic Ocean from England in a pretty small vessel known as The Mayflower. They had left behind family members, possessions, their way of life, their ethnic heritage. They knew very little about the land they were headed for. They were getting a late start for such a voyage and knew travel was risky at best.
Why does someone make that kind of trip, take that kind of risk, make those kinds of sacrifices? Fortunately, we don’t have to guess as to the answer. Historical records tell us clearly that these hardy souls came to what would become America not for a better economy or better jobs but for something much more important than that. They came for religious freedom—for the right to live according to the dictates of their Christian faith and to rear their families within those beliefs.
One hundred fifty years later, the Founding Fathers fought a war to retain our independence and then struggled with establishing a government that would respect our unalienable, God-given rights. They called religious freedom the “first freedom” not because it became part of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to our US Constitution but because it is absolutely foundational and without it no liberty is secure.
The wording the Founders ultimately came up with tells us what religious freedom is—it is the right not to have to give obeisance to or live under the dictates of a state religion because Congress is prohibited from making a law that establishes a religion. That’s the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The second part of the Founders’ definition of religious freedom is what we call the “Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Today, we are facing serious and ongoing attacks against this First Freedom. Non-discrimination laws arising out of so-called civil rights issues, largely based on people’s self-determined identities or their sexual proclivities and preferences keep bumping into our religious freedom.
Christian bakers, photographers, florists, and others are being told their religious freedom must yield to those who want them to provide a service for their same-sex wedding. Students and their families all across the country are being told their faith-derived sense of modesty and privacy in restrooms, locker rooms, showers and even sleeping quarters must be ignored if even one student identifies with his or her non-biological sex. Religious organizations have to fight to not pay for abortions and contraceptives as a part of their insurance programs, even though both are in direct conflict with their firmly held religious beliefs.
Several years ago, a US Commission on Civil Rights released its report on religious freedom and non-discrimination. The chair of the commission, Martin Castro, wrote in the report, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance.”
This statement should alarm any American who truly understands and values religious freedom. Many are saying in this battle we have lost the middle ground that has historically characterized America—that area where we can find agreement on issues we fundamentally disagree on. What we are ultimately facing in this is a titanic clash of worldviews.
People of faith, especially Christians, strive to live out God’s clearly delineated Truths, not just in the privacy of our homes or our churches, but all day every day everywhere. Those pushing the non-discrimination laws and legal challenges have a very different worldview, one that says they themselves determine right and wrong and whatever they say about themselves is true and must be validated and even protected in law. Given this clash, I don’t see this epic battle of religious freedom and non-discrimination ending anytime soon.
Every generation has a responsibility to safeguard freedom. It is now our turn. It is our opportunity to ensure the lit torch of religious freedom is successfully handed off to the next generation. Those who have gone before us did that for us; we must do the same for the sake of those coming after us.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you that God, through the prophet Hosea, said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
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