The fight for religious liberty

Religious Liberty
by D.C. Innes

Posted on Monday, January 26, 2015, at 1:45 pm

Many of those who govern us view religious liberty the same way they view gun rights: a holdover from the frontier republic and the buggy days of unenlightened barbarity. So they don’t view these rights as “counting,” especially when compared to more progressive rights that we have somehow discovered in the Constitution: the rights to abortion, same-sex marriage, and every means of sexual self-expression. They reduce gun rights to hunting privileges, and they tolerate religion only as a closeted ritual conducted by people whose opinions must, of course, be kept private.

But religious liberty is a hard-won freedom that has brought peace and civil decency to the Western world. We no longer have the oppression of religions and churches by an established religious entity, shaming itself and denying God’s grace. Nor do we have states suppressing religion in favor of nationalism, drowsy consumerism, or vain moralism. But a legal and cultural war on religion will return us to strife and suffering.

Religious liberty is essential to the respect we show for one another as human beings. Thomas Hobbes believed religion is just the “fear of things invisible” that disappears with the advance of natural learning. Our ruling class today in government, education, and the media agrees with him. But there is what John Calvin called a sensus divinitatis that is part of our humanity, an innate awareness of God’s ultimate reality, albeit often distorted and misdirected by sin. Alexis de Tocqueville called it the soul’s “sublime instincts.” He said, “Man may hinder and distort them, but he cannot destroy them.” Suppress the stable forms of these instincts and they will emerge in radicalized, destructive ones. Our great French interpreter adds a warning. “The soul has needs which must be satisfied. Whatever pains are taken to distract it from itself, it soon grows bored, restless, and anxious amid the pleasures of the senses.”

Members of the anti-Christian establishment (yes, Christianity angers and offends them; other religions do not) are not trying to replace a Christian America with a stolidly secular one focused on commerce and the bourgeois virtues that support it—thrift, honesty, and disciplined hard work. Instead, they celebrate the opposite, reaching hopelessly for the divine through ever more bizarre sexual license and other forms of novelty and unrestraint.

President Obama has made himself the national advocate for this new civil religion. In his State of the Union address, he boasted of defending not only political dissidents and religious minorities but also “people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.” In the name of this publicly approved spirituality, the government has opposed Christian pleas to be spared having to provide abortifacients for their employees. Hobby Lobby won its case before the Supreme Court. The Little Sisters of the Poor’s case is still in litigation. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission forced a Christian baker to provide business services celebrating homosexual weddings contrary to what he explained were his religious scruples.

Whether someone believes in the true God, no god, or 10 gods, he is no patriot who does not treasure religious liberty. Making this case will be the great battle of the 21st century.

D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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