The attack on religious freedom by those professing Christian faith shows more clearly than anything else their fundamental departure from both Biblical Christianity and American ideals.
One of the most recent examples of this is clerical opposition to Georgia’s religious freedom bill, HB757. The proposed legislation would protect the liberty of conscience of marriage officials against having to perform same-sex ceremonies. As noted by Atlanta’s Channel 11 News, the bill states that it is:
“relating to marriage generally, so as to provide that religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion.”
Similar legislation being considered gives merchants protection against any requirements to participate in homosexual weddings.
The clerical opposition, Clergy Against Discrimination, claims most basically that the full exercise of religious freedom would allow believers to “harm or exclude others.” This is the perennial “right not to be offended” claim that is always heard from the cultural left on everything from school prayer to Christmas celebrations. To state what should be obvious, religious freedom means nothing if it can be set aside when someone is offended.
The group gave as their reasons for opposing the legislation:
- It puts religious beliefs above the “common good.”
- There would be costly lawsuits.
- Religious freedom is already protected in the federal and state constitutions.
- Religious Freedom Restoration Acts give business the right to discriminate on a religious basis.
Additional reasons given by opponents of the bill were the threat of business retaliation, which proved decisive in defeating religious freedom bills in Arizona and Indiana, and the claim that dissent from a liberal understanding of inclusivism is divisive.
It is likely that the threat of business retaliation is decisive in the opposition of Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, and that of the Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, which makes final enactment seem remote, and yet religious freedom is not an issue on which Christians or others committed to religious freedom can ever cease to advance.
“I don’t think we have to have anything that allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith … it is important that we protect fundamental religious beliefs but we don’t have to discriminate against other people in order to do that and that’s the compromise I’m looking for,” Governor Deal said. But no “compromise” is possible, because “people of faith” will either be required to violate their consciences, or they won’t, and only if their right to decline same-sex ceremonies is recognized in law will they have the legal protection they need. Essentially, he proposes that religious freedom, and apparently, Christian faith, should be altered to include acceptance of homosexuality. It is true, as the governor said, that Christian faith certainly mandates that Christians “reach out” to everyone, including “outcasts,” but not, as this writer has noted, to the extent of contributing to sinful actions. We should “reach out” with the gospel of salvation from sin and good works which do not contribute to sin (Matt. 18:7).
The response to the crisis of conscience by those seeking to deny religious freedom is to play on popular emotional reaction to rhetoric. Is “religious freedom” good? Then “discrimination” is bad, and they hope for a stronger emotional reaction to that word. But the meaning of the word “discrimination” is to pick one thing over another, which is the essence of freedom. If there is no discrimination at all, then there is no freedom. But perhaps one only means to condemn “invidious” discrimination. As noted above, that means freedom must be set aside if others are offended, which is no freedom at all.
To see where right and justice lies, another word should be heeded, namely “conscience.” It is wrong to require action in violation of conscience, and that is what “civil rights” that protects homosexual behavior (as distinct from homosexual persons) involves. No one should have their private behavior protected from adverse judgment; to do so amounts to a discrimination against viewpoints, as the Georgia bill’s advocates claim.
The first objection the clerical group cited, the “common good” argument, is the worst, and the one that most clearly shows ungodly character of this clerical opposition. Among the most basic truths taught in Scripture is that our first duty is to God and his commandments. This is clear in the cases of Abraham (Gen. 22:1-24), of Israel’s many apostasies and the faithful remnants who suffered (Exodus through II Chronicles), of Daniel’s three friends who faced death rather than acquiesce in idolatry (Dan. 3:8-18), of Peter and the apostles who refused to be silent about Jesus when so commanded (Act 5:17-29), and of Jesus himself who would not disown himself as God and Messiah (Matt. 26:63-67); (Mk. 14:60-64); (Lk. 22:67-71); (Jn. 18:33-37). This is quite sufficient for all followers of Christ, and also should be sufficient for all of God’s creatures. Both believers and unbelievers are, in terms of God’s absolute justice, required to obey God unconditionally (Rom 1:29-32).
Our American and constitutional heritage of religious freedom is not specifically Christian, but acknowledges religious duty as the supreme moral requirement of everyone. This is most notably clear in James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” in which he states that:
“It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance”.
Similarly, Madison’s proposed First Amendment to the United States Constitution of June 8, 1789, originally stated, said:
“The civil rights of none, shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.”
As noted by the present writer, American law gave approximately 3,000 exemptions to generally applicable law by the mid-1990s. It is nonsense to claim that protections for the religious conscience will lead to a religious state, or theocracy. While Christians do believe that a theocracy will prevail at the end of history, a regime of religious freedom precludes theocracy, since there can be no single religious system. What threatens is a secularism that denies liberty of conscience.
And denying liberty for the religious conscience is what secularists have in mind in the interest of their secularist utopia. In their utopia, opposition to their vision of the good life, which at the present time includes acceptance of consensual adult sexual activity and freedom from the fear of hellfire, is considered violence in itself, and cannot be tolerated. It is from this vision that social liberals determine what the “common good” should be for everyone, with any dissent labelled “divisive” or “discriminatory.”
Other objections, really threats, on the part of opponents of religious liberty include the possibility of lawsuits (by those trying to overturn the law in court, i.e., if we don’t get the legislative result we want, we’ll sue), and business retaliation against Georgia. Business retaliation did defeat religious freedom laws in Arizona and Indiana because Republicans in those states caved in, but not in North Carolina, where a similar law protecting the religious freedom of marriage officials was passed over the governor’s veto. Nor was religious freedom defeated in Houston, where a local sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) bill threatened to require access by both sexes to public rest rooms, and was overturned in a referendum.
Finally, although state and federal constitutions contain clauses which proclaim religious freedom, they are not effective in protecting liberty of conscience on sexual issues, because liberals use the belief/action distinction made by courts in some decisions against religious liberty (you can believe what you want, but you can’t act on it) to reduce religious liberty to a mere freedom to believe, no matter how sincere, important or intense the religious commitment is. Regrettably, the practicality of the current situation with respect to religious liberty is that these constitutional guarantees must be supplemented by laws protecting liberty of conscience against legal requirements.
Contrary to Georgia’s governor, legislators, and liberal clergy, both the Christian faith, which enjoins obedience to God, and the American liberal tradition, which supports conscience objection against what a citizen may consider immoral, mandate that marriage officials, as well as religious educational and social services, and, indeed, merchants providing goods and services to the public, be free to decline action which contributes to homosexual behavior. Legislators in Georgia, other states, and the United States Congress should respond to the crisis of conscience in sexual morality by enacting laws which protect people from being required to take actions they believe are immoral.Google+