It may come as a shock to you, but freedom of religion is pretty important. Now sure, some of you might be godless heathens (I jest :P), so you might not understand why this is so important. Regardless of your theological views, there is a reason why the United States so vehemently protects religious freedom.
And there is a reason why it’s so terrible when people or groups try to violate it.
Let’s jump back a few centuries, before the founding of the United States. The leading nations of the world, largely in Europe, were monarchies. Kings and queens governed societies. Their whims and desires established the law. The people were subject to often radical changes and demands, based on the decisions of a precious few.
Some of the worst decisions came in the form of religious decrees. Kings and rulers would use religion as a way to control or persecute the masses. If a ruler felt that one group was becoming a threat, they’d pass laws that would open the door to incredible attacks against them. This happened quite a bit to Jewish people, over the course of many generations, as well as other groups (re: The Spanish Inquisition, etc.).
Kings could change religion and require everyone else to follow suit, simply so they could get out of a sticky marriage. An entire nation would be forced to betray their deeply-held convictions because one guy wanted to bed a new wife. The human rights of millions of people were denied, because of the cruel intentions of far too powerful individuals.
Enter: The Bill of Rights. The very first amendment to the Constitution prevents the government from both favoring and prohibiting religion. At the time of its writing, it was ground-breaking. No nation had adopted such a wildly progressive and liberating view.
After all, that denies the government a lot of power. It would be far easier to reserve the right for the federal government to restrict religious observances, if they feel it would preserve their authority.
But the founders of the United States understood that this nation—if it were to survive—had to put the people first. The entire Bill of Rights lists power reserved to the people and the states over the federal government (like the right to bear arms, or protection from home invasion). It’s no accident that religious freedom came first, followed by speech, press, peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government. All rights that were historically restricted by other countries.
Today precious few nations protect these freedoms like the United States. I’ve written on numerous occasions how even allies of the U.S. restrict fundamental freedoms like religion and speech. The U.K. outlaws certain forms of expression. Canada has laws that undermine religious freedom and speech. Throughout Europe, it is much the same. And forget about Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
I don’t write that to criticize other countries, but to reinforce how rare complete freedom for citizens is. Often in the United States, we take it for granted that we can say whatever we want and not worry about the government stomping into our homes and dragging us off to jail. Nor do we have to worry about holding religious services in secret—as many Christians do around the world—because otherwise we’d be jailed and killed.
Today, there are forces in our country that want to do that very thing. It’s clear that liberal activists who push the idea of “hate speech” are out for free speech. Because if you can determine certain statements are “hateful” and thus outlaw them, where does it end? And who makes the decision this speech is hateful, but that speech is not? Clearly “hate speech” is just a ruse to establish restrictions on how people can express their opinions.
It seems like for every freedom protected by the Bill of Rights, there is some soulless group seeking to destroy it. If it weren’t for independent outlets online, there’d be no free press. The media giants have sought to monopolize it for decades. Even now they work to discredit anyone that challenges their narratives and agenda. The concept of “fake news” was created by a liberal professor seeking to ban conservative news sites from Google. That really backfired.
Things like peaceful assembly are undermined by Antifa, who regularly look to inflict harm through their riots and demonstrations. They even show up at conservative marches and rallies to assault peaceful gatherings. In time that behavior will only lead to stricter measures by government forces attempting to “keep the peace.” In reality, our ability to march and organize will be eroded.
Religious freedom is far more important than all the others. Why? Because a person’s right to believe as they see fit—free from the tyranny of a biased government—provides a moral backbone for a nation free from politics, cultural trends, and the opinion of a small few. If not for the hard-working, honest, religiously-minded people of America, we’d have no country. Do you really think those godless hippies are making this nation a better place?
I may sound biased, because I am one of the simpletons who believe in God, but the principle remains the same. Without the freedom to form our own beliefs—be they in favor of a God or not—we lose our ability to govern our own lives.
Regularly we learn about groups that seek to undermine the religious sovereignty of Americans. Gay groups have attacked private businesses, in mob-like hits, in order to erode their religious convictions. Buzzfeed attacked universally beloved Johanna and Chip Gaines over the beliefs of their pastor. We have people like Bill Maher, who have built careers out of attacking people of faith, highlighting the negatives of religion, while blatantly ignoring the positives. The end goal is obvious: to ostracize and vilifying people of faith so that our impact and influence on this country is insignificant.
We cannot prevent legislators and leaders from marching to the tune of these radical activists. Sure, we can vote for people who promise to protect our values, but once in office, they can do as they please. The surest way we can protect our First Amendment rights is through the courts. Why? Because the rulings of judges are not easily overturned. They set precedents that are rarely challenged. More than that, their interpretation of our laws helps the rest of society understand and enforce them.
That is why the recent ruling by the Supreme Court on Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer is so important.
The Supreme Court of the United States held Monday that prohibiting churches from participating in non-religious state benefit programs violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
In a 7-2 ruling, the court held in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer that states cannot prohibit churches from receiving otherwise generally available benefits based purely on their being a religious institution. (Breitbart)
You might not care about the particulars of this case. Honestly, it’s about a school participating in a state program that provides recycled tires as material used in playgrounds. Seriously? Can I find a more boring issue to bring up?
But you better believe that every case brought to the Supreme Court is serious. And the rulings they make will affect everyone in the country.
And “little” issues like this can have powerful ramifications. Recently I wrote about the Supreme Court decision that upheld free speech. The case? Bickering at the patent office over a band’s name. Who cares, right? Except that had the patent office denied this band the right to register the name The Slants, it would open the door for other government agencies to do the same. Soon precedent would be set that an agency can deny a person’s right to speech based on spurious grounds, even an individual employee’s personal opinions. That’s very bad.
So, in the case of the recycled tires, the fight was over how much the government can prohibit the free exercise of religion. The issue was over the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, “prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” of religion. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources refused to let this school participate in the program, because it was associated with a church. They claimed providing funds (in the form of material) was the government sponsoring a religion.
But this had nothing to do with religious teachings, doctrine, or the state endorsing a religious view. It was about the government denying a school resources, simply on the grounds that it was a church.
The program here had no relationship to religious activity and, therefore, discriminated against Trinity Lutheran Church. Since the church would have otherwise qualified, the state’s decision was held to violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on interference with the free exercise of religion.
An earlier case Locke v. Davey, the court upheld a decision to deny state scholarships for theological degrees. That’s a clear-cut example of state funds helping a religious purpose. That would violate the first part of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from “respecting” an establishment of religion.
The concept of separation of church and state is a sticky business. And in many ways, it’s impossible. It would be nice for the government to completely ignore religion; just let people worship and get on with their lives. But the very fact that the Supreme Court had to rule on this issue proves that the state and church will forever be linked. Ensuring religious freedom to all, while preventing the government from controlling religion, is more like a tightrope walk than anything else. It takes deliberate choices to keep the whole thing from plummeting into oblivion.
What if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer? It would have set a precedent that states can deny churches benefits otherwise permissible, on the grounds that they are churches. It could lead to further legislation and decisions by government agencies to restrict the purchase of land, deny religious people positions or jobs, or even outright banning certain practices. Again, much like in the case of free speech, once a precedent is set, it’s all downhill from there.
So why should you care? Even if you’re a religious person, you might not care about Trinity Lutheran Church and their school’s ability to get affordable material for their playground. But you should care. Because religious freedom also means freedom not to be religious. It reserves your right to believe anything you want, about God, life, the afterlife, even the government.
It means you can make decisions based on your deeply-held beliefs, even if they conflict with the pervading ideology of the government or society. When institutions like Trinity Lutheran Church are validated by the Supreme Court, it means the rest don’t have to worry about similar injustices happening to us.
This case once again reaffirms our country’s commitment to protecting the people’s rights. But, with each new generation, we must fight to protect those rights. There might come a time when our leaders fail us, when even the courts refuse to protect the people.
Our only remedy, regardless of the time, is to know our rights and to know why we need them.