The Basics of Religious Liberty

REFRESHING OUR MEMORIES AND TAKING ACTION

In 2009 Chuck Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George drafted the Manhattan Declaration to affirm “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.”

At that time, nearly 10 years ago, most Christians had no trouble understanding why the sanctity of life and traditional marriage were clear biblical principles, and why they needed defending in the public square. But “religious liberty”? Many Christians could not (and still cannot) say plainly what it is, and why it matters. Is it really as important as life and marriage? And is it really in danger?

The answers to these questions then, and now, are “yes” and “yes.”

In 2009, critics of the Manhattan Declaration focused on its call for greater religious liberty protections. A Los Angeles Times editorial called stories of religious liberty infringements mere “anecdotes of the sort radio talk show hosts purvey.”

However, less than a decade later, we see the words of the Manhattan Declaration as prophetic. The ability of Christians to live out their beliefs in their vocations and in the public square is under assault. The legal cases are so many and so diverse that it would be irresponsible to call this groundswell merely the accumulation of “anecdotes.” Government mandates require insurance companies to provide abortion drugs as part of their insurance plans. The Supreme Court has effectively legalized so-called “same-sex marriage,” forcing Christians in the wedding industry to decide between following their conscience or saving their businesses and their jobs.

But I find that many Christians are still underinformed about these threats to religious liberty, and why they are important. So here are a few things you can do to help you understand what you read and hear in the news about these issues. These actions will also prepare you for conversations with your neighbors, and possibly even with conversations with your employer and colleagues, if you find yourself being forced to violate your conscience in your own workplace.

Read the Manhattan Declaration. It is still one of the best short statements on the importance of religious liberty. You can find it here.

Know the facts about religious liberty cases. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a great source for news and facts about religious liberty cases. They post almost daily updates on important religious liberty cases here.

Know the Jack Phillips case. It is especially important to know the facts of the Jack Phillips case. Jack Phillips is the Colorado cake baker whose case the Supreme Court will hear this fall, meaning that it will be a part of the public conversation for the next few months. He and his ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner recently appeared on the TV show “The View.” While I normally don’t recommend “The View,” I do suggest taking a look at this clip.

Get involved. Chuck Colson was fond of saying that “politics is downstream from culture.” Judges and elected officials are people, too. They read newspapers, watch television, and listen to the radio. They need to hear the voices of religious liberty advocates. So write letters to the editor, support organizations that protect religious liberty, and attend events that promote religious liberty in your community. The comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” He’s right. Showing up matters.

To summarize: Chuck Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George understood in 2009 that religious liberty is not merely a political issue. It is a gospel issue. It’s now time the rest of us understand that truth, too.

Image courtesy of DNY59 at iStock by Getty Images.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.


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  • Phoenix1977

    “The Supreme Court has effectively legalized so-called “same-sex marriage,””
    Actually, they ruled same-sex marriage was never illegal in the first place and all attempts to make it illegal were unconstitutional. Quite a difference.

    “But I find that many Christians are still underinformed about these threats to religious liberty, and why they are important.”
    Probably because the majority simply doesn’t care. Because, let’s face it, how many real cases have there been? I can think of 8 or 9, but that’s it. So that either means all other Christians not in the wedding industry have not been asked to host a same-sex wedding or bake a cake, make a floral arrangement or take photo’s or the other Christians in the wedding business simply don’t care and do their jobs while leaving their religions where it belongs: in the privacy of their homes.

    You cannot educate people who do not want to learn. Every teacher can tell you that. And it seems most Christians simply don’t care enough to learn more.

    • Steve

      Deeply held religious beliefs do not “belong in the privacy of their homes.” Just because someone’s beliefs differ with what you want doesn’t mean they should be banished.
      What if someone told you to leave your sexuality at home and don’t bring your issues regarding sexuality to the public square with gay marriage, LGBT rights etc.
      Imagine if William Wilberforce had left his religious beliefs at home and not fought to abolish the slave trade in Britain.
      What if the millions of missionaries who volunteer on medical and other missions around the world kept their beliefs at home.
      “You cannot educate people who don’t want to learn” is a very arrogant statement. It once again shows that you believe you possess the truth while at the same time you argue that there is no truth.
      Why can’t LGBT people just go to bakers, florists, etc who don’t care or are in support of gay marriage? Why do they have to go after Christians who don’t agree? Is it so important that LGBT activists force everyone to accept their practices? You yourself don’t want to be forced to be a Christian and no one is forcing you to do so. Why try to coerce others to embrace your belief?

      • Phoenix1977

        “Deeply held religious beliefs do not “belong in the privacy of their homes.” ”
        Religion should be a private matter. Something between you and your god. So it only belongs in the privacy of your home and in your church.

        “What if someone told you to leave your sexuality at home and don’t bring your issues regarding sexuality to the public square with gay marriage, LGBT rights etc.”
        Like Christians do every single time they discuss a gay pride festival, you mean? Or the fact that Christians managed to keep us locked in our closets for the better part of 2 millennia?

        “What if the millions of missionaries who volunteer on medical and other missions around the world kept their beliefs at home.”
        Please do. Health care is supposed to be handled by governments, not churches, especially not if, by doing so, you allow forced convertions and denying people of certain treatments. I would welcome religion’s withdrawal from medicine.

        “Why can’t LGBT people just go to bakers, florists, etc who don’t care or are in support of gay marriage?”
        We could, but why should we? Let’s take the Jack Philips case, for example.
        Jack Philips from Lakewood, Colorado, is recognized to be the best cake decorator in the Denver area. He even won some awards and pretty much every baker in and around Denver agrees Jack Philips is the best in his business.
        Now, by your statement you actually say: same-sex couples don’t deserve the best. They will have to settle for someone less good, simply because they are LGBT. And the LGBT community finds that unacceptable.
        Imagine you have to undergo ellective surgery. Nothing life threatening but you want it to be done by the best surgeon you can find. Only, that surgeon is an atheist, or even a Muslim, who refuses to treat Christians because of his believes. Would you be okay to be forced to settle for someone who is just not that good, simply because you are a Christian?

        “Why try to coerce others to embrace your belief?”
        Well, as I explained above, because it should not matter if your customer is LGBT or not. He or she buys a product or service and all you should care about is doing your best job and getting paid in full in time. That is business.
        And another reason is because we don’t want to have to think we can go there for this situation but not there because … etc. If you want to know what that feels like I suggest you go and find a black man or woman, aged between 75 and 80 years old. Someone who actively lived the racial segregation in the 1960s. Ask them how it felt to be sent away with good money in your pocket, ready to by food, groceries or gas but not being allowed to, simply because of who and what you are.
        My only regret is you will never get to experience what it truly feels like to be discriminated against every single minute of every single day. You have no idea what it means to be black, or Hispanic or LGBT.

    • jason taylor

      Being gay is not somehow a right to thievery any more then being religious. It was his property, his cake, and frankly I do care because I care what people think they can do in the name of fashionable ideology. I do not have a right to force you to pay tithe at my Church either. And if religion belongs in the privacy of people’s homes, why is it that you wish to invade said privacy of said people’s homes?

      • Phoenix1977

        It has nothing to do with thievery. And a business owner who runs a public business cannot call upon the privacy of one’s own property. That ship sailed the day they opened a business on that property.
        Being gay is not a “fashionable ideology”; it’s simply part of who we are, just as your heterosexuality is part of who you are. And, unlike religion, there is absolutely no choice involved there.