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The fight for religious liberty


I listened to President Barak Obama’s State of the Union address with great interest on Monday evening, Jan. 19. I observed the president’s entrance into the House Chamber, his greeting to well-wishers as he proceeded down the aisle toward the podium. He gave both Speaker Boehner and Vice President Biden copies of his speech and turned toward a capacity audience to deliver his address.

The TV cameras captured the president standing before the gathered dignitaries and political leaders and for a moment there was a panoramic view of the entire House Chamber with the audience applauding. In that moment what I noticed was neither the president nor the crowd, but our national motto inscribed in letters of gold behind the Speaker’s rostrum.

Yes, it was there in full view – “In God We Trust.” I have been in the Capitol on several occasions – once as a guest of the Speaker of the House who invited my wife and me to the National Prayer Breakfast and then to his office in the Capitol.

In the Rotunda, the Senate Chamber, and throughout the Capitol there are multiple Scripture verses, Christian symbols, engravings, paintings, and statues that illustrate how the Word of God was used in the shaping of America.

Church services were regularly held in the Capitol even before Congress first met there. By 1867 over 2,000 per week attended church services at the Nation’s Capitol.

However, in spite of our rich Christian heritage, there is little doubt that a concerted effort is underway to erase the role of God and faith from America’s public life. In fact, a leading religious liberty scholar, Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia, recently warned, “For the first time in nearly 300 years, important forces in American society are questioning the free exercise of religion in principle – suggesting that free exercise of religion may be a bad idea, or at least, a right to be minimized.”

History seems to support the idea that the end point of liberalism is the establishment of a coercive secular state in which the religious have no meaningful rights.

Erwin W. Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, tells about the ominous trends to curtail freedom of speech in North America and cites Dr. Charles H. McVety, president of Canada Christian College in Toronto, as an example. McVety’s television program was removed from the air because he had the audacity to preach a message on the sanctity of traditional, biblical marriage.

According to Lutzer, McVety was allowed back on television with one very significant caveat. He must now submit his [message] to the Canadian Broadcast Standard Council every Wednesday for review by censors on Thursday so that his messages can be approved before they are broadcast on Sunday.

Lutzer commented, “As far as I know this panel does not rule on programs that are immoral or violent, just on those that dare to be politically incorrect, such as a minister who believes the Bible and therefore opposes same sex marriage.”

“Beware if you live out your religion in the so-called public square, because you just might find yourself slapped with a lawsuit.”

Erwin W. Lutzer, pastor
Moody Church, Chicago

Lutzer continued, “Closer to home in our great United States, hate speech laws and recent court rulings seek to restrict our right to believe, preach, and practice one’s religious convictions (Hate speech, someone said, is simply whatever the leftists among us hate to hear!).

“The supposed line of ‘separation between church and state’ means that God must stay on His side of the line in our country’s education, politics, law, science, and workplaces. Beware if you live out your religion in the so-called public square, because you just might find yourself slapped with a lawsuit.”

The state of Georgia is not without its examples of religious liberty coming under fire. Last Thanksgiving Chaplain Joe Lawhorn was summoned to his commander’s office at Fort Benning in Columbus where Col. David Fivecoat reprimanded him over a suicide prevention training Lawhorn had led in which he dared to include faith as a resource for depression.

Some Georgia school districts have been told they will no longer be allowed to have prayers or songs with religious references at graduation ceremonies.

Although the decision was ultimately reversed, children have been told that Christmas songs with religious content cannot be sung to bless patients at our veterans’ hospitals. Last year the American Humanist Association demanded that the Chestatee High School football team coaches no longer join in team prayers and that they take out all references to the Bible and religious messages from team documents.

A Christian student group at Savannah State University, Commissioned II Love, was booted off the campus because university officials considered the group’s act of sharing the Gospel as “harassment” and the club’s practice of washing the feet of new members – as Jesus did with His disciples – as “hazing.’”

Of course, more recently there is the example of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran being terminated because of the book he wrote expressing his biblically based views on morality and traditional marriage.

It appears that even in Georgia, the buckle of the Bible belt, our religious liberty is in great jeopardy. You would think that the protections provided by the First Amendment would be sufficient to safeguard our religious freedom, but liberal interpretations seem to favor and protect the free speech of blasphemers and pornographers more than Christians who dare to share their faith in the marketplace.

Georgia’s legislature will be given the opportunity to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act during the current legislative session. It will likely be very much like the one passed by the U.S. Congress over 20 years ago during the administration of Bill Clinton.

Since that time, over 30 states – including all those contiguous to Georgia – have enacted similar measures or had the RFRA protections provided by judicial ruling. It should be noted when Barak Obama was a state senator in Illinois that he voted for Illinois’ religious freedom act.

Jane Robbins, an attorney and senior fellow at the American Principles Project, writes: “Opponents of the proposed Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act warn darkly that the legislation would usher in all manner of discrimination and outrages perpetuated in the name of religion. But in the 21 years such legislation has been on the books in federal law and in other states, such injustice has never – not once – occurred. Do the opponents really think Georgians are more likely than anyone else in the country to use their religious freedom for ill rather than good?

“The bill, similar to the federal statute, merely states that state or local governments may not infringe on a person’s exercise of faith without showing a compelling government interest for the infringement, and that there is no less restrictive way to advance that compelling interest. It restores the balancing test courts used for 200 years in analyzing First Amendment claims based on religious freedom.”

Are you as weary as I am of people who degrade the name of Jesus being honored with Oscars and Golden Globe Awards while Christians who lift up the name of Jesus are being terminated and denigrated with scorn and derision?

It is time to stand up for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints so that future generations can sleep peaceably at night and experience the religious freedom we have enjoyed for nearly a quarter of a millennium. Fervently urge your state representative or senator to support the Freedom of Religion Restoration Act.