One of the greatest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the attacks on religious liberty. In too many instances political leaders have used public safety as an excuse – and ultimately a weapon – against churches services and faith-based gatherings. They have often done so while allowing certain types of businesses to remain open.
One of the most egregious violations of religious liberty has been perpetrated against nursing homes. Too often pastors have not been allowed to visit members of their flock, even when on their death beds – without family or friends present. Religious freedom is protected by law as stipulated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There is no pandemic exception.
Barely noticed, but each year since 1993, U.S. presidents have declared Jan. 16 to be Religious Freedom Day. It calls upon Americans to observe Jan. 16 through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools and places of worship. “Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our Republic, a core principle of our Constitution, and a fundamental human right,” said President George W. Bush in issuing the proclamation in 2002.
Sadly, too many of our churches do not observe this important day. The liberal news media ignore it. Public schools do not teach it. As a result, the attacks on our religious freedom have intensified.
Christian business owners are dragged into court and face fines because they refuse to run their businesses contrary to God’s Word. Teachers cannot lead their students in prayer. Some teachers are not allowed to even leave their Bibles sitting on their desks.
In his book, Free to Believe, religious freedom attorney Luke Goodrich writes, “Religious freedom means the government, within reasonable limits, leaves religion alone as much as possible – to make room for people to exercise their religion as freely as possible.” He goes on to offer three reasons religious freedom is important for everyone – even those who are not religious:
1. Religious freedom benefits society. It promotes good works, protects the right of dissent and reduces social tension.
2. Religious freedom protects our other rights. It establishes limits on what government can do, which is the foundation of all other rights.
3. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Freedom of conscience is rooted in human nature and, like other human rights, is worth protecting for its own sake.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that God created us to be free in our thinking. God is all-powerful but He chose not to force us to obey Him. Throughout history there have been people who have attempted to coerce people to believe a certain way about God. Often times this has led to people being forced to believe what the ruler believed even if it was not true. We do not want that.
It also isn’t right to force people to give money to religions that they don’t believe. It is best to let people support the religion they believe is the best one. The government should not force people to support the religion they do believe is right. Each person should be free to support his religion in the way he thinks is best.
Baptists have always been leaders in defending religious freedom. Indeed the U.S. Constitution and the republic might not have been ratified if Baptist preacher John Leland had not convinced James Madison to include religious freedom in the Bill of Rights. To this day it remains a strong belief among Baptists and is contained in the Southern Baptist Convention’s confessional statement, The Baptist Faith and Message.
It states: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”
I promise that religious freedom will remain among my highest priorities as your public policy advisor to our elected officials.