Reflections on Religious Freedom in America


Note: the below article was recently written by club member, Carl Crider. We appreciate your comments and thoughts to spur civil discourse on this issue. Feel free to post a comment below.

I think two things need to be kept in mind when discussing religious freedom in the USA.

First, faith communities have the right to establish their own rules for who can join, who can lead, who can be married, and who can be buried without government interference. That’s religious freedom.

Second, the First Amendment also guarantees that the government cannot impose one faith community’s religious rules on the rest of the country. “There shall be no establishment of religion.” I think our Founding Fathers were adequately experienced with the fusion of the Church of England and the UK government to see the pitfalls of a theocracy.

I urge you to read today’s political headlines invoking religious freedom in light of these simple principles, for example:

(1) The Pastoral Protection Act recently passed in Texas and Kansas (and proposed in other states) provides nothing new legally. Those protections for pastors are already in place at the Federal level. (See above.)

It is legal for marriage licenses to be issued to divorced people, people of mixed religions, people of mixed races, and people of the same sex. Clergy, Priests, Rabbis, Imams and other Elder-types are not required to marry any of these people if their faith guidelines prohibit it or if they cannot do so in good conscience. For instance, I have refused to marry a college couple I did not know who wanted to elope. I require pre-marital counseling before performing a wedding. There was nothing illegal about my decision. They could be married by someone else.

I see this legislation as political grandstanding to reinforce a longstanding prejudice. These politicians are either ignorant of the Constitution or don’t care, because they see the opportunity for political headlines playing on people’s fears; fears based on lack of information. True leaders would provide solid information as well as state their preferences for how their constituents can protect their religious practices and still abide the Constitution.

(2) Jake Philips owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver and has refused to bake a wedding cake for same-sex couples because of his religious beliefs. He has been quoted as saying: “The Constitution guarantees me the right to practice my faith, my religion anywhere, anytime. There are no restrictions on it.” Sorry, Jake. That is not what the constitution says. (See above.) And the appellate court made this clear.

Your religious practices cannot be imposed on someone else or be used to violate their rights.

(3) Kim Davis, Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky refuses to issue marriage licenses, although her job requires her to uphold the law, because she is acting “outside Federal law” “under God’s authority.” Her refusal means that she is no longer qualified to hold her current job, if she refuses to fulfill its responsibilities. “Government officials are free to disagree with the law, but not disobey it,” U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey said.

Quakers could not hold certain government positions in states that required a loyalty oath, because taking an oath is against their religion. Conscientious objectors may serve in non-combat roles or may refuse to serve in the military. If you cannot lift 40 lbs., you cannot drive a delivery truck.

Jobs have requirements. If you can’t fulfill them, you have to take a different job. The responsible thing for Ms. Davis to do is resign. At this writing, she is being held in contempt.

I remember when County officials denied black citizens the right to vote, because they were black. I remember when churches created private, white-only schools following the Supreme Court’s desegregation ruling to avoid “mixing the races” because it was against their religious beliefs. They can refuse to “mix races” within their faith community; however, they cannot impose that belief system on the public they serve, whether as a public servant or through a business enterprise. Ms Davis’ actions fit in this same category.

And despite Mike Huckabee’s headline grabbing assertion that Ms. Davis’s arrest represents the “criminalization of Christianity”, I contend that she does not represent the majority of Christians in this country. Certainly not the ones I worship with.

(4) In spite of it being completely outside our Constitution (See above.) and not good for the diversity of even Christian groups, many espouse that America should be a Christian nation. For those who think this, I say be careful what you wish for. If the government begins to dictate our religious practices, then which Christian group gets to make the rules for the rest of us? Most of the Supreme Court were raised Catholic. Do they get to decide? Our current president was raised Baptist. Does he get to decide?

If it is up to Congress, the Tea Party Evangelicals may block any decision they can’t agree with completely. Let’s face it: No two Christian groups agree with each other on everything as it is. As a former United Methodist pastor, I can attest that not all Methodists agree on all matters of faith.

Would other faiths be outlawed, or would they just be assigned a lesser legal standing?

I stand with my opinion: Let’s keep the status quo. Diversity of religious faiths is preferable and is already protected.

The First Amendment undergirds and protects America’s religious diversity. Let’s all be thankful for the collective wisdom of our forefathers, and let’s renew our commitment to protecting the freedoms they have blessed us with.