People of faith rightly treasure the protection of the First Amendment, which says,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It is central to the nature of our free country that we do not have a state religion. The other side of that coin has always been the understanding that the right to the “free exercise” of religion implied that the federal government is officially neutral toward all religion while protecting the existence and free exercise rights of all religions. It does not promote any religion and it does not oppress any religion. In the spirit of a neutral attitude, the federal government has historically honored the religious convictions of pacifists such as the Quakers and it has even honored the right of aggressive churches such as Westboro Baptist Church to practice their faith under the least restraint that preserves good public order. For the entire history of the nation, the neutral stance of the federal government toward religion of any sort has been a stance that promoted peace, civil discourse, and freedom of religion so precious that people from around the world flocked to this country for it.
In recent years, the federal government has begun a swing away from a commitment to the protection of and neutrality toward religion. It has begun to express in public statements, policies, and regulations, not a neutral stance toward religion, but rather a secular stance in opposition to religion. For example, the conscience exemption written into the Affordable Care Act does not exempt all citizens who hold religious convictions that abortion, contraception and sterilization are sin. To exempt citizens on that basis would mean that the government was neither aggressive against nor supportive toward any religion. Such an exemption would recognize that all religions promote teachings which adherents follow in daily life, and without endorsing the teachings the government would show its respect for those teachings by exempting adherents from participating personally or as a business owner in practices considered to be sin by the adherents.
Instead of a neutral exemption, the federal government has written an exemption that incorporates the secular concept of religion. The conscience exemption in the ACA is available to organizations that host worship and member education, activities generally housed in a building and administered by defined and licensed clergy. This exemption applies to organizations that fit an atheist definition of a church, that is, it provides “elements of church life that serve human needs … like the need to gather, the need to be together.” Atheism is a subset of secularism, and secularism is becoming the standard for the federal government’s worldview.
Another example is in the world of education. If the federal government held a neutral view toward religion, it would have no problem accommodating the issues parents have when their children are taught a godless version of cosmology and evolution. If it felt that religion played a valuable role in the society, it would act to protect the rights of free exercise, including the right of parents to teach their children the tenets of their faith. Christian parents have been the most outspoken in their objections to the practice of excluding all mention of the biblical story of creation, but then Christian parents are more numerous than Hindu or Sikh or even Muslim parents. Still, it doesn’t take much thought to recognize that most religions have convictions about the way the universe came to be and how humans appeared on the earth. The simple humble recognition that nobody was there to record what happened at that moment should be enough, even without the First Amendment, to lead the federal government to recognize that children could safely be allowed to express the religious truths they hold in the context of a discussion of the educated guesses scientists express in their own theories of origins and cosmology. However, the government is not neutral, asserting in most cases that only the science of cosmology and the scientific theory of evolution will be taught in the science classes of public schools. The government asserts a completely secular view of the matter. The assertion that the only source of truth about the world is science is a secular view, which is enhanced in secular writing by a corresponding scorn for the whole idea of spirits and spirituality, let alone religions.
The secular view of human beings leads to a secular form of sex education as well. In the secular view, humans are the most advanced animals in the evolutionary process, and humans themselves are constantly evolving into better and better beings. However, the improvement is measured solely against what humans deduce about the process, there being no legitimate reason to consider any revealed teaching or truth when examining human morality. Secular thinking does not find it bizarre to look to animal studies to learn about human behavior, such as homosexuality. Further, since no spiritual truth or revelation is accepted, secular thinking promotes the exploration of varieties of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity. None of this would matter to Christian parents if it were left in the homes of secular thinkers. It matters a great deal when the federal government abandons a respectful neutrality toward Christian moral teaching. The federal government, through its power administered by the Department of Education, promotes and enforces sex education which flies in the face of Christian moral teaching and refuses to accommodate parental objections on the grounds that the government has an obligation to be sure every child knows what the government wants that child to know, which means that the government wants every child to believe the secular view of human beings rather than the Christian view that humans are God’s highest creation, held to a higher standard of behavior than animals.
Secular thinking increasingly dominates the political agenda and the public rhetoric to a degree that is redefining the language of the First Amendment. It is obvious that some courts still interpret the Constitution and the First Amendment in the spirit of the words as written. Some businesses and individuals are successfully suing for exemptions from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act on the basis of their religious convictions. Evidently, there are judges in the court system who believe that the government should be neutral toward and protective of religion, not secular. There are certainly Senators and Representatives in Congress who believe the same thing, as evidenced in their efforts to assure that the right for an individual to exercise his faith in daily life is protected as the First Amendment intended. However, political and social activism of secular thinkers has produced rapid change over the past five years in the meaning of terms such as “religious liberty,” “bigotry,” and “tolerance.” It is becoming difficult for even public figures to express their religious convictions, because so often the public response is a barrage of name-calling and personal assault in the media.
The first and most important way a Christian can respond to this situation is to engage in fervent, faith-filled prayer. Christians who take the Bible seriously already take time to pray for government leaders at all levels and for the work of the Holy Spirit to protect and guide the nation. However, the recent almost rabid change in the attitude of government toward religion in general and Christianity in particular calls for more specific and focused prayer about this gigantic problem. In countries like China and Kazakhstan, where the government is completely secular and completely devoted to eradicating the influence of any religion in public life, constitutional language is coupled with legislative action to restrict and restrain and forcibly punish religious activity. Religion of any kind is considered subversive, a threat to the nation as a whole. It is not unrealistic to foresee that many trends in the government of the United States could result in laws similar to those in other aggressively secular nations that require churches and church members and church publications and church education and the construction of church buildings all to be registered and regulated and licensed and authorized and reported to the government, all in the name of “fairness” to all.
Christians in the USA used to believe that the USA was a nation dedicated to the principle of religious freedom. When the government took a stance that was simultaneously respectful and neutral toward religion, there was broad religious liberty. Today, the government is taking an increasingly secular and restrictive view toward religion, treating it more like a tolerated annoyance than a respected voice in the culture. Christians must not be apathetic about such changes. Secular thinking is not tolerant. It is aggressively dismissive of the value of faith. Christians must pray fervently for guidance to speak and act in ways that work to preserve the freedom to exercise faith in public for all Americans.
Another developing threat to Christians is pressure toward syncretism. Read how that works at http://tinyurl.com/axfs46x