Tag Archives: free exercise of religion

What is the big deal about the Supreme Court and marriage?

Last Friday night, the White House in Washington, DC, was bathed in the colors of the rainbow as the President of the USA expressed his delight with the decision of the Supreme Court in Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al. The decision ends with these words:

The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

The words “that right” refer to the alleged right of homosexuals to marriage, a right carved out of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The word them refers to the plaintiffs in the case, all of whom desire to be granted marriage licenses or the recognition of marriage licenses authorizing a union of homosexuals to be called a legal marriage. The judgment that is reversed is an appeals court’s determination that no such right existed.

The lights on the White House and the nationwide frenzy that followed the announcement of the decision celebrate the belief of many that this decision compels every state in the union to recognize and license a union of two gays as if it were a marriage.

Many activists who advocated for this outcome belittled those who pushed back against the whole idea that any union other than that of a man and a woman could be a marriage. Activists scornfully accused Christians of trying to force Christian views on other people when the Christians simply declined to be part of wedding ceremonies for homosexual couples. LGBTQ activists, many of whom are atheists, produced complex theological arguments to prove that Christian refusal to participate in a wedding ceremony for a gay couple was hate-powered unwillingness to be loving and Christlike. Blog posts and op-eds tried to equate sexual attraction with Christlike love which, they argued, was all they wanted. In the final paragraph of the decision, Justice Kennedy joined their mournful complaints, saying, “[The hope of the plaintiffs] is not to be con­demned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civiliza­tion’s oldest institutions.”

I respectfully submit that lonely homosexuals are not the only people who suffer loneliness and the desire to cure it with a bizarre sexual union. While we were all treated after the decision to photographs of ecstatic brides kissing brides or grooms kissing grooms, other people whose sexual orientation or gender struggles have not been included in the nationwide conversation were still all alone. If loneliness is the problem, and marriage is the solution, then it must be noted that there are many lonely people besides homosexuals. The trans community. Pedophiles. Polygamists, or wannabe polygamists. A father dating his eighteen-year-old daughter. All of these people are lonely, and every one of them believes that one or more companions in some relationship they want to call a “marriage” would rescue them from loneliness.

Writing the decision of the majority, Justice Kennedy pretends to throw the Constitution a bone carved out of the Fourteenth Amendment, but dissenting opinions by Justices Roberts and Scalia reveal the deceitfulness of that claim. Justice Roberts says:

Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the oppor­tunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

Justice Scalia says:

When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, every State limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so.

Scalia later says:

They have discovered in the Fourteenth Amend­ment a “fundamental right” overlooked by every person alive at the time of ratification, and almost everyone else in the time since.

Keep your eyes open. Blog posts and news reports already are airing complaints that this new cure for loneliness and new right to same-sex marriage is being applied too exclusively. The cry is simply, “If marriage is for homosexuals, why not for me?” How can you blame them? Where in the 33 pages of the court’s decision do you find any logical justification for denying marriage to any of these people, or to anyone else, for that matter? If marriage is by court decree the cure for loneliness, how can any lonely person be denied that consolation, in whatever form he finds most consoling at the moment?

What is the big deal about the Supreme Court and marriage? The big deal is that redefining marriage sends shock waves into every part of the culture. This decision will shred the fabric of the culture in a thousand different ways. It is hard to imagine anything that will not be touched by redefining the foundation of families.

For Christians, the problem lies in the way the culture perceives religions. The secular view is that a religion is about dealing with concepts labelled “religious” or “spiritual,” all of which secular thinkers confine to defined worship spaces. Christians do not confine their faith inside a church building. They live their faith all day every day wherever they are. For Christians, words and deeds are testimonies to their obedience to Christ. They rely on the Bible for guidance in word and deed. If the Bible tells them that something is a sin, they make diligent efforts to avoid it. Even though no human being is ever sinless, Christians believe that we all have an obligation to Christ to reject sin in our lives.

The big deal is that Christians believe the Bible is their guide for faith and life—life, daily life, not just church service. They read in the Bible that God ordained marriage as the union of one man and one woman. They read that the Bible calls homosexuality a sin. The Christian’s call to be Christlike mandates that a Christian not instigate or participate in a union of homosexuals. A Christian who believes and lives by the Bible cannot call a union of homosexuals a marriage.

When Christians are asked to participate in any respect in the formation of such a union, they must decline because of their deeply held religious convictions. Among the things that constitute participation are things like providing flowers or music or wedding cakes or art or other elements that celebrate that union. When Christians decline to take part in a wedding ceremony for homosexuals, they are not trying to prevent the couple from marrying; they are simply declining to be part of that ceremony. They are exercising their faith, living by the principles of their faith, when they take this position. Many people act as if by declining, Christians are attempting to force the couple to join the Christian religion. That misconception creates serious problems with the refusal of Christians to participate in something that the court calls a right established by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Fourteenth Amendment was written to give former slaves all the rights of citizenship. Nothing in that amendment suggests that the Supreme Court is authorized to redefine the social structures of human society. Every citizen has the same privileges and immunities, the same right to due process and equal protection of the laws, according to that amendment. That amendment nowhere redefines marriage. When that amendment was passed, people all over the world agreed that marriage was the union of one man and one woman, and neither the authors of the amendment nor those who ratified it had any notion that within its words lay a new definition of marriage.

There is a huge threat inherent in the decision that extracts a right for homosexuals to marry from the rights in the Fourteenth Amendment. The rights in the Fourteenth Amendment are rights generally classified as Civil Rights. The threat is that while the First Amendment to the Constitution is supposed to protect citizens from state oppression when they act on their convictions, actions that limit or deny Civil Rights have been exempted from First Amendment protection in the past. By redefining marriage within the boundaries of the Fourteenth Amendment, the court’s decision threatens, rather than protects, the right of Christians to live by their faith principles—that is, to exercise their faith. John Roberts in his dissent says:

The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. Ante, at 27. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.

If the omission of the word “exercise” alarms John Roberts, it certainly alarms me.

The redefinition of marriage by the act of five justices on a court is cause for alarm. The potential changes now implied by the new definition will likely shock even the most avid advocate for same-sex marriage and will certainly horrify many citizens. The implied threat to people who have long held the religious conviction that the unions authorized by this court decision are immoral and sinful is seriously alarming.

That is the big deal about the Supreme Court and marriage.

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Free Exercise of Religion–What is it?

Despite immense cultural pressure on Christians to keep their faith hidden from sight, many Christians continue to obey Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations,” and to “hold fast” to their testimony. Recently, a young marine was court-martialed, because she refused to remove from her work area a piece of paper on which was written a Bible verse. The court-martial apparently based its decision on the findings of hearing that determined that a command to remove the verse from her workspace was a lawful command that she refused to obey.

The details can be found here and here. The story is simple. Marine Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling copied a verse from the Bible onto a strip of paper that she taped to her computer monitor. The verse said, “”No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” and was copied from Isaiah 54:17. The strip of paper contained only the words, however, not the reference. Most Christians would understand completely the reason a Marine might choose those words for both comfort and inspiration. Probably anyone would understand why this Marine chose those words, regardless of the source. In fact, people who saw the verse when they came to Lance Corporal Sterling’s desk might not even recognize the statement as a biblical quotation. They might very well think that these words are no more divine than “If you can dream it, you can do it,” a very common secular inspirational quotation. That fact makes it clear that the accusation that this verse constitutes a “divisive impact to good order and discipline” is a deliberate misrepresentation of the impact of the lance corporal’s little note on her computer monitor. Furthermore, it is hard to understand how the presence of this small strip of paper on a computer monitor constitutes being “festooned” as alleged by the court’s ruling.

Thoughtful readers may well wonder why the court chose to focus on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA) as the basis for deciding the future of the young Marine who stood firm on her right to display this verse as the exercise of her faith, a right protected by the US Constitution. The RFRA was never intended to be the basic guide for determining when someone’s exercise of faith is in conflict with the compelling interests of government. RFRA establishes the principle that such conflicts must be resolved in the manner least onerous to the free exercise of faith guaranteed by the Constitution.

By stating that RFRA did not permit the display of this verse in the workplace, the court-martial completely missed the point of RFRA. It was probably not in the lance corporal’s best interests that she represented herself in that trial. Currently, she has engaged a lawyer, Liberty Institute volunteer attorney Paul Clement, who successfully defended Hobby Lobby when the might of the federal government infringed on the free exercise of faith by Hobby Lobby’s owners. Liberty Institute’s Director of Military Affairs, Mike Berry, points out that “If a service member has a right to display a secular poster, put an atheist bumper sticker on their car, or get a Star of David tattoo, then Lance Cpl. Sterling has the right to display a small Bible verse on her computer monitor.”

Did Lance Corporal Sterling refuse to obey a lawful order? The answer is a resounding, “No.” She received an unlawful order, because the order required her to give up her right to exercise her religion without hindrance. Her refusal to obey was justified, because the order was unlawful.

There is a concerted effort in the US today to eradicate all evidence that the people who founded this country served God and trusted him for guidance in their daily lives. Secular thinkers pretend that commitment to secular ideas is a different thing from religion, and they even allege that the original colonists believed in a wall of separation between sacred and secular ideas and behaviors. This misconception about the way of life of the original colonists and the teaching they embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution must be resisted and defeated.

The truth is that the colonists who came to the shores of North America would find it appalling that a Marine Lance Corporal could be denied the right to express her faith. They believed in the Bible as a guide for faith and life, and they would naturally expect that every military person serving this country would find comfort and inspiration in the Bible.

The Bible is where Lance Corporal Sterling found her guidance for a way of life that is fulfilling and satisfying. In the Bible, she found comfort in words that reminded her of God’s love for her and his power to protect her. Her response to that blessing is a life that is a constant expression of her faith in God. When she posted the words of  a Bible verse on her computer monitor, she exercised her faith and showed that she lived according to the teaching in the Bible that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). The First Amendment to the Constitution protects her right to do exactly that.

Every Christian must pray that God go with her lawyer, Paul Clement, and with Lance Corporal Sterling through all the coming court proceedings. They stand on the front lines for all people of faith who want to live their faith under the protection of the US Constitution.

 

 

 

How Does Persecution Develop in a Free Country?

It is interesting to surf the web and look at the constitutions, laws and international treaties which establish the legal environment of countries around the world. People who read the news that an American citizen was arrested in some country because he was a Christian do not often realize what really happened. They believe that these countries have a law buried in their legal code which can be summarized as, “Get rid of the Christians.” Americans tend to believe that the idea of state persecution is antiquated and could not be real in this century. It is a misconception to believe that persecution is energized by laws specifically ordering persecution. While numerous nations do have state religions, persecution can be equally severe in a nation with no religion at all.

Jesus predicted the downward spiral persecution would take:

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man![1] Luke 6:22

The four steps on the path to persecution are

1)      opposition

2)      disinformation

3)      injustice, and

4)      mistreatment

Jesus said that these things would happen “on account of the Son of Man.”

In the US currently, the major threats to Christians and Christianity come from secularism. There are actually a number of countries where secularism is the source of the persecution. In the US the Freedom from Religion Foundation is one of the very active agents of secular restriction of Christianity. The cultural pressure to restrict Christians is energized by growing numbers of citizens who claim no religious connections and disavow any existence outside time and space. A pseudo-scientific agenda insists that “science has proved” things that science has never proved and insists on suppressing Christian thought, Christian practices, and even symbols of Christianity. This action in the culture, sometimes achieved by torturing logic in lawsuits alleging “establishment” infractions, is animated not only by outright atheists, but also by people who claim to be Christians. Such Christians support the notion that religion is a private matter that must not be brought into public forums in any form. Secularists and some progressive Christians claim that religious liberty is a thin disguise for religious privilege, while other progressive Christians completely deny the principles for which orthodox Christians are willing to die. In the US it is sometimes hard for orthodox Christians to know who their friends are.

In nations where secular thinking governs both the culture and the government to a greater degree than in the US today, it is possible to see what will come. If the pressure is not reduced by some means, the US will develop means of restricting and suppressing Christian faith just as other secular nations have done. In nations whose governments call themselves “secular” the constitution usually permits people to choose and belong to religions of their free choice, but there is no freedom that corresponds to the concept of “free exercise” that is included the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The US principle of “free exercise” is at the root of the deepest disputes with secularism. Below is a list of a few countries that currently feature prominently in any list of countries that persecute Christians. Since every country felt it necessary to create laws to restrain the influence of churches outside their worship spaces, and more laws to restrict the existence of worship spaces, it seems clear that these countries regard religion with all the enthusiasm hikers have for poison ivy.

    • Uzbekistan – the constitution guarantees separation of church and state, but the state enacts laws that define what a church is, and churches are required to document compliance with that definition. This process corresponds roughly to the US requirement that organizations requesting tax-exempt status must prove compliance with the law in a 501 c 3 application.

In Uzbekistan, police showed up at the home of a Christian woman and demanded to search her home. They confiscated literature, her computer and her passport. She is accused of possessing religious literature that is not on the approved list. Until recently, it would have been unthinkable that the US government intruded into the content of religious literature or private religious observance. However, it is now documented that the IRS asked some groups applying for 501 c 4 status to document the content of their prayers.

    • Tajikistan – the constitution states that the government is secular. The state enacts laws that define churches and specify restricted behaviors for the ostensible purpose of assuring that no religion achieves control of the state.

Tajikistan requires that education be completely secular. Children are forbidden to receive religious education before age 18. Both parents must approve if a child attends a worship service such as a funeral or wedding. The concept of state control of all education is similarly embodied in the German law that forbids even home schools to teach any curriculum counter to that of the state. The current demand by the federal government for all schools to teach federal Common Core curriculum is a step down that path. The recent refusal of the US Department of Justice to certify refugee status for a family that fled Germany over German law that forbids home schools to teach anything different than the government is an event with disturbing portent for American Christians who homeschool their children for the precise reason that they do not want their children to be taught what is taught in public schools.

In Tajikistan, the government confiscated two church buildings on the grounds that the buildings were not registered for religious meetings. In Marathon, Florida, when the city council invited local pastors to pray before council meetings, there was considerable public outcry at the notion of religious observance in a non-religious meeting place.

    • Turkmenistan – the constitution states that the government is secular. It makes laws that define churches and the laws list approved religious literature.

In Turkmenistan, a man was severely beaten for possessing an e-book version of the Bible, because it was not the version registered with the government for Christians to use.

    • Kazakhstan – The constitution states that Kazakhstan is a secular state, and the state makes laws to define churches, to register religious organizations and worship spaces, and to specify approved religious literature. It is illegal to entice or compel anyone to change his religion, although the constitution states that people may choose and change their religion at will.

In Kazakhstan a Christian man was dismissed from his job for mentioning his faith to fellow workers.

Each of these countries would tell anyone who asked that they have constitutional protection of religious liberty. Yet each of these countries feels the need to create laws to define and restrict all religious speech and activity, all under the guise of protecting religious liberty. These countries and others that have laws about registering religions and worship space and religious literature all have complex and lethargic bureaucracies that add another layer of restriction to religion, because some applications simply never quite make it through the process. US citizens should pay particular attention to the kinds of processes created as well as the bureaucratic structure created to administer the processes. Applicants who “got lost” in the process of applying for 501 c 4 status in the lead-up to the 2012 elections could testify to the ability of the federal government to restrict perfectly legal activity by creating a process and a bureaucratic snarl that effectively shuts the activity down. If the federal government in the US ever officially decides that unfettered religion is a danger to civil society, it already has a ready-made model which can be appropriated to address the “threat.”

The doorway to persecution in the USA is being pushed open by both cultural and political forces. The activists of persecution are pouring through the doorway. Many are busy about the work of opposition. Some are already in the business of disinformation. The courts in general still provide a bulwark against injustice, although secular thinkers increasingly allege that Christians who claim the right of “free exercise” of religion in opposition to government mandates amounts to demands for religious privilege. To date, Christians in the US have not been subject to mistreatment—arrest, torture or execution. It is still possible to enjoy religious liberty in the US, but that liberty is threatened on every hand. Both cultural and political pressure is increasing in the direction of restricting and suppressing any expression of Christian faith in daily life. It needs to be repeated that the pressure is increasing. It is bearable today, and egregious behavior that severely restricts Christians who try to live their faith has so far been stopped by courts faithful to the Constitution’s protection for religious liberty. Nevertheless, if Christians wish to continue to enjoy religious liberty in the USA, prayerful vigilance, and vigilant prayers will be required.

On March 25 and 26, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on two cases that grow out of the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act. This case will be a crucial case for religious liberty. Regardless of anyone’s personal convictions about the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirements for health insurance policies, everyone’s personal convictions about the free exercise of religion are at stake. The federal government’s argument on these cases to date has been to say that when someone opens his doors to conduct business, he has no right to exercise his religious convictions in the course of business transactions. The government is, therefore, attempting to create a barrier against free exercise of religion in public business. The government is saying that the human being who operates a business is not a person with the human right to free exercise of religion. The logic is the same logic by which an unborn human baby is declared not to be a person with the inalienable human right to life.

This Supreme Court case has profound implications for Christians with regard to their right to free exercise of faith. Jesus taught that his followers would live and act in relationship with him at all times and in all contexts—work, play, family, and so forth. The federal government is trying to create a box around business that forbids a Christian from acting on Christian principles when doing business. Christians must engage in prayerful vigilance and vigilant prayers for God’s will to be done in the Supreme Court as a consequence of the oral arguments on March 25 and March 26.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Luke 6:22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The Not-So-Universal Human Rights

In the USA, people who are committed to living according to the teachings of their faith are protected from persecution and discrimination by the First Amendment to the Constitution. They are also protected by the fact that the US signed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is a large body of legal precedent that supports the rights of citizens to put their obligations to God ahead of a variety of demands by government.

Interestingly, despite having a state church, the UK also has a body of legal precedent that protects religious liberty. When someone in the UK refers to the British “constitution,” it actually references a number of documents on which court decisions are based.

In November, 2012, Humanist Life reported on four cases in the UK in which Christians claimed that their religious liberty was being infringed. It is of value for US Christians to know about these cases because of the language issues. Christians say that the people in these cases simply wanted to exercise their right to religious liberty; secular thinkers say that the people in these cases actually want religious privilege. The problems brought out in these cases are quite similar to problems that have arisen in recent years in the US. The article ridicules the protest of US Catholic Bishops against the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act, and vilifies parents who circumcise babies in obedience to their faith. This article shows how easy it is to use language to change the terms of a conversation.

Christians in the US quickly find common ground with the Christians in the UK as reported in this article. Continue reading The Not-So-Universal Human Rights

A Hymn for Meditation

hymnalOh, that the Lord Would Guide My Ways

Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways
To keep his statutes still!
Oh, that my God would grant me grace
To know and do his will!

Order my footsteps by your Word
And make my heart sincere;
Let sin have no dominion, Lord,
But keep my conscience clear.

Assist my soul, too apt to stray, A
stricter watch to keep;
If ever I forget your way, R
estore your wandering sheep.

Make me to walk in your commands,
A most delightful road;
Nor let my head or heart or hands
Offend against my god.

By Isaac Watts

  •  This hymn is a prayer for guidance. What Bible verses come to mind when you read the words, “guide my ways to keep his statutes?”
  • If you order your footsteps according to biblical teaching and keep your personal integrity intact by refusing to sell out your values, you know that it will keep your conscience clear. The federal government, however, has declared repeatedly in federal court that someone who engages in business for profit has no right to assert his religious beliefs in the context of his business. How can you keep your conscience clear if the government tells you not to exercise your beliefs?
  • None of us can stay the course of faithful living without fail. Moses couldn’t, Noah couldn’t, David couldn’t, and you can’t, either. God’s perfect righteousness demands that he destroy unrighteousness. What is the hymn writer’s solution to this problem?
  • Ultimately, Isaac Watts confessed to his inability to do the right thing every time. How does he gain the courage to keep going forward?