Christians and adherents of countless religions have come to the United States for one central reason: religious freedom. In many countries around the world, only one religion is legal. In North Korea, in order for the government to control people even more completely, the government invented a religion that is the only authorized religion. In Bhutan, there is a state religion, but a few other religions, not including Christianity, have been authorized in the Religious Organizations Act. In many European countries, a state church receives money collected by taxing all citizens regardless of whether they believe. In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution has stood guard over the freedom of citizens to believe and practice any religion they choose. The First Amendment has also protected citizens from being required to support any state religion.
First Amendment protections have been prized by citizens and guarded by presidents for more than 200 years.
Over that same period, the bulk of the population of the USA has had some connection with Christianity. The original colonists came to the New World from England – some as emissaries of the state church and some as refugees from the state church. Even those who opposed England’s state church were predominantly Christian. A goodly number would likely have been classified by the faithful as nominal Christians, but in general, Christian ideas, Christian teachings, Bible imagery and Bible-based morality dominated the culture. Even though the country has always been a nation of immigrants, most immigrants assimilated the practices and etiquette of Christians whether or not they had the slightest interest in the faith. Blue laws enforced Sunday as a day of rest and a day to close the bars. Teachers felt free to read the Bible and pray in the classroom if they wanted to. Christians disputed the real presence and wrangled over baptismal forms in lunchrooms. Children played church as often as they played house. A Christmas pageant was the highlight of the school year. The dominance of Christians in the culture led Christians to believe that many cultural norms and practices were protected by the First Amendment.
Now things are changing. Christianity no longer dominates the culture. Some Christians will say that an opportunity to have a true Christian culture was squandered, but that discussion is irrelevant to the realities. People who worship Allah and Vishnu and nobody are numerous enough in the culture to bring considerable pressure to bear on Christians. Now the question is, what constitutes a protected expression of Christian faith and what is no more than a cultural practice? To what extent must the law protect adherents of all religions from cultural persecution? When is an act or word persecution, cultural shunning, or impolite behavior which adults don’t honor with outrage? For example, public schools have “always” had Christmas break. Now somebody wants to call it the “winter break.” Some people interpret that as persecution of Christians. Is it real persecution? Or is it cultural restriction? Or is it simply an accommodation that recognizes that a majority of the school population does not celebrate a religious festival called “Christmas?”
I have a lot of questions. Do you have questions? When Christians are persecuted, how do you believe we should react? How should we deal with the increasingly rapid shrinking of Christian influence in the culture? What is the difference between taking offense and managing the problem of persecution? How is a Christian supposed to live an culture where other religions and even atheistic humanism seem to be more highly respected than Christian?