In the church and in politics, we often hear about the need to defend religious freedom. Still, many people wonder, is this happening now or is this a warning about what could happen in the future? Is our freedom of religion being taken away? If so, in what way is our religious freedom being impeded?
As an example of that train of thought, I point you to a video of Ben Shapiro having a debate with a man on religious liberty (go to the 2:00 mark to see it). The man, a college professor who goes unnamed in the video, says those of us who think freedom of religion is being taken away are paranoid. He says in America, you are free to join whatever religion you want or have no religion. He says, “move to Egypt, or Pakistan, or Saudio Arabia, and then you can complain about a lack of religious liberty but not in America.”
If you feel the same as that college professor, keep reading. There are voluminous, alarming instances of freedom of religion being taken away, in the US and abroad. Most big media outlets are quite secular and thus their editorial boards often don’t find the loss of religious liberty to be newsworthy. But it is happening all around us, sometimes overtly, and often times in subtle ways.
In this article I will highlight eight ways our freedom of religion is being taken away. Some of these instances are about laws or situations that affect every one of us. Others are instances that only directly affect one person. But all of these instances affect us, directly or indirectly. Even if it is someone else’s freedom being eroded and not our own, we must speak up. As the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller said after the holocaust:
They came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me (“First They Came” by Martin Niemöller)
Before I get to the eight points where we are losing freedom of religion, let’s review the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that first inalienable human right enumerated there. The Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Freedom of religion doesn’t just mean that you are free to believe what you want–it means you are free to exercise your religion. Having religious freedom means that people have the right to live, speak, and act according to their beliefs peacefully and publicly, without prohibition from the government.
Here are the eight ways, in no particular order, I have identified that our freedom of religion is being taken away:
- #1 We are forced to financially support abortion.
- #2 Employers are firing people over their religion.
- #3 Business owners are being forced to participate in LGBTQ weddings.
- #4 Adoption agencies’ freedom to place children with heterosexual couples is up in the air.
- #5 Churches’ worship services and religious practices are being cancelled by government.
- #6 People of faith are being prevented from participating in sports activities.
- #7 Schools are undermining parental rights on morality and sex education.
- #8 Some government institutions are banning God and religion.
#1 We Are Forced to Financially Support Abortion
Most Christian churches and other faiths are religiously opposed to abortion. My church teaches that it is sinful to “submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for” abortions. Yet, in our country today, we are forced to financially support it in two ways: 1) if you are an employer, you must pay for employees’ abortion coverage, and 2) our tax dollars are given to abortion providers.
The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, mandated that employers pay for medical insurance, including abortion coverage and abortion inducing drugs. As originally passed, this law had only very few exceptions for churches. For private companies with Christian values, there was no exception and the ACA (Obamacare) required them to pay for abortion coverage even if they have a religious objection to it. Companies owned by devout Christians like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A had no exemption.
For 10 years, religious people have been fighting that aspect of the ACA and we’ve recently made some headway. In July 2020, the Trump administration won a key victory in the US Supreme Court and broad exemptions to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate are now available, “ensuring that most moral and religious objectors to birth control will not be required to cover it in employee health plans.” (see Supreme Court upholds exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate, a victory for religious objectors) So thanks to God, and many good people fighting for it, this is a way religious liberty has been restored, at least a little.
The other way our freedom is restricted regarding abortion is when the government gives money, our taxes dollars, to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country. This is done on the federal level and by some state governments. “Planned Parenthood reported a record-high number of abortions and government funding for 2018-2019. …the annual report shows the group received $617 million in taxpayer funds for the fiscal year ending in June. That number represented roughly 37 percent of its overall funding and about a 9 percent increase from the previous year.” (see Planned Parenthood reports record-high abortions, taxpayer funding)
And another thing to consider for those religiously opposed to abortion is that the Hyde Amendment, which has prevented direct federal funding of abortion for 40 years, could be eliminated the next time a Democrat is elected. Repealing the Hyde Amendment has become a near universal plank of the Democrat party platform and the party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has pledged his support to repeal it (see Joe Biden Endorses Abortion ‘Under Any Circumstance’).
#2 Employers are firing people over their religion
Over the past few years, there have been several high-profile cases of people being fired from their jobs because of their religious beliefs. Here is a sampling:
- In 2014, Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, the company that created the Firefox browser, was forced to resign because of his religious beliefs. Eich donated $1,000 in support of California Proposition 8, ballot initiative that successfully, yet temporarily, amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The resignation took place “under pressure after gay rights activists demanded that he step down or recant his support of traditional marriage laws” (see Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich forced to resign for supporting traditional marriage laws). “The company’s actions send the message that people are not entitled to hold their own beliefs, and said there was no evidence that Eich was trying to merge his beliefs with those of the company he led. Regardless of your views on marriage, any American who values the First Amendment should be deeply troubled that this man was essentially driven from his job because of his personal beliefs” (see Ouster of Mozilla CEO a ‘silencing of dissent,’ says lawmaker).
- Also in 2014, HGTV was set to air a new series called “Flip It Forward” starring conservative Christian twin brothers David and Jason Benham. However, when efforts surfaced to “seeking to paint their views as hateful”, HGTV quickly cancelled the series (see HGTV Cancels Reality Show Starring Christian Twin Brothers Who Oppose Abortion, Homosexuality, Divorce).
- In 2016, ESPN fired Curt Schilling for saying that biological men don’t belong in women’s bathrooms (see ESPN Has a Right to Fire Curt Schilling. What Rights Do People of Faith Have?).
- More recently, in 2019, and across the pond, a UK doctor was forced out of his job after refusing to identify clients by their chosen gender instead of their biological sex. “Dr David Mackereth, who had been an NHS A&E doctor for 26 years, was forced out of his job working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after refusing to use ‘transgender pronouns’.” He said: “I believe gender is defined by biology and genetics. And that as a Christian the Bible teaches us that God made humans male or female.” A perhaps even more disturbing aspect of this case is the language the judge used in ruling against him. The judge ruled that “belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals” (see Doctor’s Biblical belief ruled ‘incompatible with human dignity’).
- Earlier this year was a story of Reagan Escudé who was fired over her religion. She “posted on social media a message about how to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement with Christian principles in mind. Well, chaos ensued, and soon Reagan’s employer told her they were doing an investigation.” Ultimately she was fired (see Cancel Culture at Its Worst: Conservative FIRED for posting Christian message on ‘Black Lives Matter’)
- Just this week, it was reported that two Kroger workers were fired after refusing to wear an LGBTQ apron. “The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against supermarket chain Kroger on behalf of [the] two women.”
- And the following article is couched as a free speech issue, but I see it as a freedom of religion issue as well since we believe that God created “male and female” (Gen 1:27). Denver Post fires conservative columnist after he criticizes leftist notion that ‘there are more than two sexes’.
I could keep going. You may think these are isolated incidents that do not infringe on your personal religious liberty, but it certainly infringed on the religious liberty of those people. And if we don’t stand up and defend them when their rights are being trampled, what’s the likelihood anyone will be there to stand up for us when our freedom of religion is being violated.
#3 Business owners are being forced to participate in LGBTQ weddings
There have been numerous cases of wedding photographers, florists, and cake bakers who have been ordered to participate in gay and lesbian weddings or suffer the penalty of losing their businesses. Here are some of those:
- 2015: “A Washington grandmother and florist of 40 years who refused to service gay weddings because of her faith will now be forced to arrange flowers for gay ceremonies, a judge ruled. …Laws that are supposed to prohibit discrimination might sound good, but the government has begun to use these laws to hurt people – to force them to conform and to silence and punish them.” (see Judge Rules Against Grandma Florist For Refusing To Service Gay Wedding)
- Also in 2015: “The owners of an Oregon bakery who declined to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding celebration were found guilty last week of violating the state’s anti-discrimination law. …[and] will have to pay up to $150,000” (see Bakers Who Declined Service to Same-Sex Couple Found to Violate Anti-Discrimination Law).
- And here is a story from 2014 about other businesses penalized or otherwise being forced to participate in LGBTQ weddings–see Four Businesses Whose Owners Were Penalized for Their Religious Beliefs
#4 Adoption agencies’ freedom to place children with heterosexual couples is up in the air
Christian adoption agencies frequently exclude gay couples and unmarried people from receiving children based on their beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman and that such a family is the best situation in which children should be raised. However, that could all change depending on how the US Supreme Court rules on a case now before it.
In June 2020, the Justice Department submitted a brief to the Supreme Court “arguing that a taxpayer-funded organization should be able to refuse to work with same-sex couples and others whom the group considers to be in violation of its religious beliefs.” (see Adoption agency should be able to reject gay couples, Trump administration argues)
This case is ongoing, so the ultimate outcome is still up in the air. See these other related stories:
- “A Syracuse Christian adoption agency says it doesn’t take gay or unmarried couples as adoptive parents because it’s not “in the best interests of children.” New York has said New Hope Family Services will face closure if it doesn’t comply with the state’s anti-discrimination law.” (see Can CNY Christian adoption agency exclude gays, unmarried couples? NY law faces high-profile court test)
- In 2013, “After Massachusetts redefined marriage to include same-sex relationships, Catholic Charities of Boston faced a mandate to place children with same-sex couples. Rather than go against its principles, Catholic Charities decided to get out of the adoption business.” (see Yes, Threats to Religious Liberty Happen Here)
#5 Churches’ worship services and religious practices are being cancelled by government
This issue has come up during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it reveals a much more deeply rooted problem of religious observations being trampled by the government. In June 2020, Elder David A. Bednar of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave several examples of the loss of religious freedom. He said: “we can no more disregard the valid claims of religious freedom in a time of crisis than we can disregard the valid claims of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. …religion should not be treated less favorably than analogous secular activities.” He continued…
“For example, the orders of one state barred Catholic priests from anointing a parishioner with holy oil in the performance of last rites—even if the person was not sick with COVID-19, even if the priest and parishioner were protected with masks and gloves, and even if the oil was applied with a swab. In the same state, my Church could not perform baptisms even under the safest of conditions. Protecting a person’s physical health from the coronavirus is, of course, important, but so is a person’s spiritual health. That same state allowed lawyers to meet with people to administer to their legal needs, allowed doctors to meet with people to administer to their health needs, and allowed caregivers to administer food to satisfy nutritional needs. But it did not allow a clergyperson to administer to a person’s religious needs, even when the risk of all these activities was essentially the same. This example and many more like it illustrate a profound devaluing of religion. We can and must do better.”
Here are some other recent examples of governments restricting the freedom of religion:
- June 2020: “New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dismissed a reporter’s question about why mass protests are allowed in New York City while COVID-19 is still present, but the mayor aggressively cracked down on religious gatherings.” (see Mayor de Blasio questioned for allowing protests but not church)
- July 2020: Mike Lee and nine other Republican senators sent a letter to Trump saying there are “reported cases of state and localities prohibiting [churches] from reopening safely despite compliance with safety precautions ..discriminatory behavior violates our Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom” (see GOP senators urge Trump to defend religious freedom)
- In April 2020, in Greenville, MS, “church congregants stayed in their cars with their windows rolled up while listening to Pastor Arthur Scott preach from inside the empty Go Church building.” Yet “police shut down its drive-in service this week in accordance with a city ban on the practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic” and “police officers reportedly issued $500 tickets to congregants who refused to leave a parking lot where a drive-in service was being conducted” (see Mississippi church sues police after congregants ticketed during drive-in service).
#6 People of faith are being prevented from participating in sports activities
In Aug 2016, “25 groups dedicated to advancing the LGBT rights’ movement have signed on to a letter urging the Big 12, which is considering a team expansion, to turn a blind eye on Brigham Young University (BYU).” Why do they want to exclude BYU from the Big 12? It is because of BYU’s religious standards that homosexual behavior is inappropriate. (see LGBTs vs. First Amendment: The Fight for Religious Freedom Ratchets)
In July 2019, Jaelene Hinkle was in the news because of her respectful but firm religious stance about LGBTQ issues. In this case, her faith seems to have cost her a spot on the U.S. national women’s soccer team. “Christian soccer player Jaelene Hinkle has withdrawn from the U.S. Soccer team just two weeks after the organization announced that members of both the men’s and women’s teams will be donning rainbow-colored jerseys in honor of LGBT pride month.” (see Christian soccer player withdraws as US team is set to wear LGBT pride jerseys)
#7 Schools Are Undermining Parental Rights on Morality and Sex Education
Again, the cases are numerous in which parents’ God-given rights and responsibilities to education their children about morality and sexual activity is being circumvented by government schools. Perhaps the most alarming is what is coming with what is called Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). In CSE, which has been adopted in many states in our country, “they’re teaching kids — as early as kindergarten — masturbation, anal sex, transgenderism, and abortion” (see The radical sex agenda corrupting your kid). Couple that with many teachers viewing parents as the enemy and doing their best to hide what is being taught, and you’ve got a school taking away parents’ rights (see Teachers Openly Fret That Might Hear Them Brainwashing Children, Call Parents ‘Dangerous’). One teacher said, ”I am most intrigued by the damage that helicopter parents can do in the conversations about gender/sexuality. And …conservative parents are my chief concern.”
Here are some more articles over the past few years about schools undermining parents’ God-given rights to oversee their children’s education, particularly sex education:
- Several years ago, the state of California passed “a bill that would make the state the first requiring public schools to include the contributions of gays and lesbians in social studies curriculum…It also would prohibit material that reflects adversely on gays…Republicans called it a well-intentioned but ill-conceived bill and raised concerns that it would indoctrinate children to accept homosexuality.” (see Bill Mandating Gay History in Schools Goes to Calif. Governor)
- Over the years, several states have followed the lead from CA. In Aug 2019, Illinois became “the latest state to expand its definition of American history. …Illinois the fourth state to requiring public schools to teach LGBT history.” (see These States Require Schools to Teach LGBT History)
- 2013: “Girls dress as boys and boys dress as girls. Gender switching is what a group of young school children are learning at one Milwaukee school” (see ‘Gender Bender Day’ at school)
- In Colorado in 2020: “Among the most controversial laws that passed last year was the comprehensive human sexuality education mandate which ripped local control away from your neighborhood school board. Now if your school district wants to teach even basic sex ed, the teacher must also teach the “health needs” of LGBT individuals. Among the most controversial laws that passed last year was the comprehensive human sexuality education mandate which ripped local control away from your neighborhood school board. Now if your school district wants to teach even basic sex ed, the teacher must also teach the “health needs” of LGBT individuals.” (see Colorado Dems should let sun shine on their hospital fees and sex-ed curriculum)
- This and the follow article are from Great Britain, so this should be a warning that similar issues could reach our shores soon. In 2017, a book explaining sex changes and gender diversity given to to UK primary school children sparked a fury.
- And in 2009 in the UK was this headline: Parents lose right over sex education. “Sex education will be compulsory in all schools, it was announced today, as thousands of parents lose the right to opt their children out of the lessons.”
#8 Some government institutions are banning God and religion
In 2015, “a student at Yulee High School said ‘God bless America, keep us safe’ at the end of the school announcements.” Two offended atheist students “sent a lengthy email …demanding the school not say ‘God bless America’ again. That student was called into the principal’s office, and now the phrase is banned in morning announcements.” (see Florida School Bans ‘God Bless America’ From Announcements)
Also in 2015, in Kentucky, the government requires religious volunteers to sign a document promising not to say the homosexuality is a sin. Basically, Christians need not apply to help youth in prison. When one chaplain refused to sign the paper, “the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice revoked his volunteer credentials as an ordained minister – ending 13 years of ministry to underage inmates at the Warren County Regional Juvenile Detention Center” (see The Christian purge has begun: Chaplains banned from preaching that homosexuality is a sin).
I could go on and on, but I think this gives a good sampling of what we are up against. Our society is becoming more and more hostile to religion.
Critics may argue and disagree with my assessment that our freedom of religion is being taken away. They might say that many of these cases do not apply to everyone, and in a way, I see their perspective. But when one person’s freedom of religion is taken away, doesn’t that affect us all? Doesn’t it set a precedent? Doesn’t the preponderance of evidence point to the eroding of our first amendment right to free exercise of our religious faith?
To quote David A. Bednar again, the encroachment on our freedom of religion displayed during the COVID-19 pandemic should be wake up call to all of us.
“The COVID-19 crisis has presented us with a unique opportunity to reaffirm and shore up religious freedom. We have witnessed the government’s swift, well-intentioned, but often dangerous breaching of the boundaries that protect the free exercise of religion. Do we hear the buzzer on the alarm clock? This is a wake-up call for all of us. Those fundamental boundaries and protections must be healed, renewed, and fortified. While believers and their religious organizations must be good citizens in a time of crisis, never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential. Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”
I pray that we will all wake up, realize the severity of the situation in our country today with religious freedom, and take steps to restore and strengthen our right to worship God in word and deed.