Forum: Is Religious Freedom Seriously Threatened In America?

The Watcher’s Council

Every week on Monday morning, the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum with short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture or daily living. This week’s question: Is Religious Freedom Seriously Threatened In America?

The Razor: A year ago everyone was dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. Now they are making everyone cakes. I think this is a mass freakout by both sides – by the religious who believe that our culture is spiraling into the abyss, and by the liberals who want to punish people for their beliefs, but in a subtle way that makes headlines but poor case law. I consider myself an ally of the LGBTQWERTY or whatever acronym people use these days to identify their non-standard sexual preferences, but honestly, what is happening in Indian is not Selma, and Indiana Governor Mike Pence is not Bull Connor. Liberals love to wage Total Culture War, and Conservatives just can‘t seem to fight back. As Penn Jellett said in a recent CNN Crossfire on the topic, Indiana restaurant owners are not being forced to have gay sex. Likewise the Catholic Church is not being compelled to marry a pair of women, so I don’t see religion seriously threatened.

What I do see are religious people getting tired of a gay obsessed mass media. As an ally I’m sick of it too. Things would be much better for everyone’s sakes if people stopped talking about their sexuality all the time. But it took several months for the ice bucket thing to die down and I think the same thing will happen here.

Don Surber: Religious freedom died long ago along with free speech. Socialists killed it when they extended it to Wiccans and other weird religions. God does not like to be mocked. We had better step carefully.

Wolf Howling: If one defines religious freedom as the right to be left alone to live according to the dictates of one’s religion and the freedom to impart one’s religious values and morality to one’s children, than yes, religious freedom is today under mortal threat in America. The attack on religious freedom is a component of the left’s larger effort to do away with the Judeo-Christian religions in this country. To understand the threat to religious freedom, one needs to understand how the threat manifests within the context of this larger effort.

When socialism was born in the crucible of the French Revolution, its founders immediately began a brutal war on the Catholic Church and its clergy with the goal of eliminating the Judeo-Christian religion from their country. Denis Diderot, a hero of the Revolution, proposed to his fellow revolutionaries that they strangle the last priest with the “guts of the last king.” The left’s war on the Judeo-Christian religions had begun, and it has never ended since.

Simply put, the socialist left needs to eliminate the Judeo-Christian religions so that they can replace God with government as the final source of morality, laws and, indeed, approved thought.

In whatever nation they take root and at whatever historical period, the left’s playbook for attacking religion has always been the same, at least in those places where they could not simply ban the Judeo-Christian religions. Step one is to marginalize religion in society. Step two is to intercede in between the family and the child, to take over children’s education and impart left wing values. The third and final step is to use the police powers of the state to establish the primacy over religious conscience, in essence delegitimizing religious values and putting the final nail in its coffin.

In America, step one for the left began near a century ago, when the ACLU, an organization explicitly founded to advance socialism, began to bring cases before left leaning courts arguing that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause – That Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion – meant that there must be complete separation between church and state.

Even the most superficial look to our history will show that such was never the intent of our Founders. The sole purpose of the Establishment Clause was to prevent our government from giving preferential treatment to any Judeo-Christian religious sect, as was the custom in Europe. None-the-less, the ACLU argued, on the basis of a single phrase in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists, that the Establishment Clause in the modern era should be read to create a “wall of separation between Church and State.” Our Courts, the most dangerous branch of our government, reinterpreted the Establishment Clause and, ever since the 1947 decision in Everson, have been engaged in systematically removing all of the symbols, trappings and influence of the Judeo Christian religions from our schools and public institutions. This line of cases was taken to the radical extreme in the 2002 Lawrence v. Texas case, when the Supreme Court majority held that religion can no longer be viewed as providing a “rational basis” for our nation’s laws.

A second component to this initial step, to marginalize religion, has been to muzzle political speech by religious organizations through restrictions in the tax code. Throughout our history, our religious institutions were free to speak without limit in the political realm. And indeed, in 1776, the Congregationalist and Presbyterian sects in large measure drove our American Revolution on religious grounds, equating the concept of British liberty with biblical scripture. When Benjamin Franklin proposed a design for the Great Seal of the United States in 1776, he suggested that the motto adorning the seal be “Resistance To Tyrants Is Obedience To God.” That was a very pithy and accurate summation of religious thought in the colonies at the time of our Founding. And yet in 1954, the left, led by then Senator Lyndon Johnson, made changes to the tax code that allowed the IRS to strip any religious organization of its tax exempt status for overt political speech, thus circumscribing what church leaders could say from the pulpit and effectively dampening concerted action by congregations.

The second step in the war on religion in America could be termed a war on families. It has been an effort to put the state in place of the family, with the goal being to impart socialist values in place of the family’s own religious, moral and ethical values. When Hillary Clinton said many years ago that it “takes a village to raise a child,” that was a very pithy summation of the left’s mindset. An even clearer example came a few years ago from Prof. Melissa Harris Perry.

Once the left claims the children, what they teach them begins with sex. The social justice values that the left seeks to teach come later. It is sex that provides the bedrock foundation for the left’s efforts at supplanting the family and establishing the primacy of socialist values. It is not hard to see why.

Sex is a basic human instinct. Untamed, it is an animalistic instinct, devoid of emotional content or commitment and, while resulting in the greatest of physical pleasures, it is also an act that can have the most profound physical and emotional consequences. A major concern of the Judeo-Christian religions has always been to make sex only acceptable in relationships between a married couple, man and woman. This significantly eliminates the potential negative consequences of sex and places a greatest value on the basic building block of society, the family. So it has been since time immemorial, and that is why the left long ago opted to use sex as its primary tool in its effort to have the state stand in loco parentis. As Bookworm Room wrote a few years ago, “The state has driven a wedge into the family unit, using the most potent endorphin driver available to motivate and reorient young people.”

At law, the left has been successful in supplanting the family when it comes to sex. As a result of recent court decisions, a girl today of any age can walk into a pharmacy and purchase birth control and even abortifacients without parental knowledge. In NYC and in many other locales, birth control and abortifacients are made freely available through public school systems and a child or teenager may access them without any parental notification or approval. In California and many other states, a sixteen year old girl can “get birth control, get abortions, and get treated for sexually transmitted diseases, all without a parents’ knowledge.”

In a brilliant piece of analysis, Bookworm Room, in an article Sex and State Power, examines the relationship between sex, individuality and the goals of the left and other statists. Therein she gives numerous examples of how the left, often through our schools and under the ostensible guise of teaching tolerance, is seeking to normalize and promote values and mores concerning sexuality that are decoupled from and antithetical to religious morality. This is, she argues convincingly, a necessary step in moving the child towards socialism. Indeed, as Bookworm sums up:

[I]f you’re getting an itchy feeling between your shoulder blades when you contemplate your child’s hyper-sexualized reading list and gender-bending sex education curriculum, you need not fear that you have turned into a repressed, homophobic Victorian. Instead, there’s an excellent chance that you are someone with a deep respect for individual freedom who resents the Leftists’ efforts to co-opt your child’s body as a necessary sacrifice to the State.

And that brings us to the third and final stage of the assault on religion, using the police power of the state to establish the primacy of state approved thought and values, and to use that same police power to punish those who would stand by their religious values and conscience.

If you wonder how the “gay rights” movement has exploded so quickly onto our national stage, you need look no further than our Courts. Left wing judges have stood primed for the last century to move our nation ever father to the left. Laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman are being struck down left and right by judges using an utterly laughable interpretation of the Equal Rights clause of our 14th Amendment. No one can argue, with a straight face, that gay rights were in the contemplation of the people who drafted and passed the 14th Amendment in 1868. And yet our Courts have wholly at their whim reinterpreted that provision and now use this novel legal theory to uphold a newly found Constitutional right to gay marriage. That has set the stage for the “gay rights” movement to begin the final push, targeting Christians and Jews who refuse to violate their religious conscience by taking any action to validate “gay marriage.”

This war on religious freedom is also at the heart of the Obamacare HHS mandate,discussed at length here, that all Americans purchase insurance policies that include, and that all employers provide coverage that includes, free birth control and abortifacients. This is a gross intrusion on the rights of religious conscience, and yet the Obama administration provided only a very narrow category of people and institutions who would be allowed to object. This could not be more of a fundamental attack on the freedom of religion. The final decision on whether this HHS mandate will stand and in what contexts still, in many ways, remains up in the air, though the Supreme Court, in a bare majority 5-4 decision, did rule in favor of one religious employer, Hobby Lobby, in their opposition to the mandate. The Beckett Fund is handling a significant number of these cases.

One would think that rights of religious conscience would be a final and effective bulwark against these attacks from the left on religious freedom. After all, immediately after the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the Free Exercise clause states that “Congress shall make no laws . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion.]” But whether our leftward bending Courts will uphold rights of religious conscience from attacks by the left looks doubtful. It was just last year that the Supreme Court refused to review a New Mexico decision punishing a wedding photographer for refusing to service a gay wedding. If that stands, then there is no longer any right to religious freedom in this country and the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause is a nullity.

So, is religious freedom under attack in America? Not only yes, but it’s been under continuous, sustained attack for the past century on multiple fronts, and now is fighting a rear guard action, perhaps on the final battlefield. This is a zero sum game for the left, and they will not stop their attacks until the Judeo-Christian religions have been delegitimized in this nation. It is quite literally a battle for the heart and soul of this nation, and if religion loses, the left will become permanently ascendent. Those who value religion need to understand the many battlefields on which the left is attacking religion in this nation and figure out ways to effectively fight back in each of them. Clearly though, one of those ways must be to demand reforms to our out of control Court system, where unelected judges make of themselves petty tyrants, taking questions of social policy with profound implications for our nation out of the hands of the people.

JoshuaPundit: Every year since I started paying attention, I’ve seen freedom in general attacked and reduced by government. I live in California you know, the trendsetter for this sort of thing. Part of it is simply economic, the New Feudalism as I call it, enriching our newly enthroned Ruling Class on the backs of the rest of us.

And remember Proposition 8? It was California’s own elected officials refusal to honor their oaths of office and defend the state’s laws that led to one openly homosexual judge cancelling out the votes of over 60% of California’s voters. And the subsequent cowardly decision by the US Supreme Court to punt on the matter because they claimed the state’s residents ‘had no standing’ is what led to the avalanche of lawfare and the current situation.

In my examination of the gay marriage issue, I set out a number of big picture reasons why I felt thatsame sex marriage was bad for the country that had nothing to do with my or anyone else’s religious beliefs, and the effects are gradually being felt.

The attack on religious rights is prog fascism 101, because after all, we can’t have people answering to a higher authority than the state, can we? Every totalitarian regime in modern times from Hitler to Stalin to Mao to the Kims has done this, proof that they’re really the same folks wearing slightly different hats at the same party. But the use of homosexuals as a wedge has certain subtexts that I think many people miss.

First, there is the massive amount of fundraising for the Democrat Party involved. As no less an informed political animal named Rahm Emanuel put it, “This is huge, Gays are going to be the new Jews when it comes to fundraising for Democrats.” He’s right, and creating a new, well to do victim class is a goldmine for the Democrats. It also potentially gives them a particularly vicious and unprincipled thug class to use. It’s not much remembered nowadays, but Ernst Röhm, Edmund Heines, Karl Ernst and a large contingent of Hitler’s most brutal SA men were all active homosexuals. So was Baldur von Schirach, leader of the Hitler Youth.

Second, aside from diminishing the moral authority of religion, the current campaign also severely weakens the family, another source of authority government doesn’t want people paying attention to. And the Left is already using the public schools to indoctrinate the coming generation. After all, if your pastor or your mom and dad can be portrayed as bigots and anti-American, why pay attention to them? In fact, why not turn ‘em in for that shiny new medal?

This is much more pervasive and serious than many people realize. It’s a battering ram being used to break down the gates to the fortress of rights we’ve enshrined for our entire national history and allow tyranny to storm in a destroy them.

We had better pay attention and be prepared to fight back. If America becomes a nation under the New Order rather then One Nation Under G-d as our Founders envisioned it, our decline will be swift and merciless.

GrEaT sAtAn”S gIrLfRiEnD: At the federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services recently decided that Catholic schools, charities, and hospitals are not “religious employers” that deserve religious freedom protection. As a result, these ministries will be forced to provide and pay for things that violate their moral and religious beliefs, as a part of the health insurance coverage they offer their employees.

At the state level, Alabama has passed legislation that would prevent Catholics from serving undocumented immigrants, even with basics like food, shelter, and medical services. And in Connecticut, legislators proposed a bill that would have forced the Catholic Church to change how it is structured and governed—allowing the State to remake the Church in its own image.

For all these serious threats and ominous trends here in the United States, the attacks on religious liberty around the world are far more severe—and also growing. Assassinations, the bombing of houses of worship, and the torching of orphanages out of hostility to religion are unfortunately still common in many countries. One recent study describes a “rising tide” of threats to religious liberty, with three quarters of the world’s population living in countries with high or Current Threats to Religious Liberty

The Glittering Eye: It’s a difficult and troubling question. Although I don’t think that religious freedom is being threatened now, I think there’s a very slippery slope ahead.

I presume this question was motivated by the overheated discussion of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act-style law that was contemplated and which has now, I believe, been enacted into law and signed by the governor. It’s actually much more lenient than similar laws in more progressive states so it’s hard to justify all of the hyperventilating.

The scenarios painted by opponents of the law are mostly silly–practically perfect examples of strawmen. It would not be possible to start your own religion with tenets of racial superiority for the express purpose of evading the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Such notions have already been fully litigated (particularly in the area of conscientious objectorship) and if presented with such a case the courts would recognize that for what it transparently was.

I think the entire discussion suggests a complete lack of understanding about what the free exercise clause of the First Amendment means, something that was fully explored in The Federalist before the Constitution was adopted. It was not a license for people to do whatever they wanted. It was a means of allowing people to do what they must, what they were obligated to do.

Having been a church musician for 30 years this is something of a sensitive subject for me. A Catholic surgeon may not in good conscience perform abortions, at least not without abandoning Catholicism. A Catholic priest may not officiate at the “marriage” of two men or two women. If it were demanded of me that I sing at such a “marriage” service, I guess I’d have to go to jail. That’s a very fine example of religious persecution. Given a choice between abandoning the teachings of my faith to honor someone else’s beliefs I would be obliged to honor the teachings of my own faith whatever the consequences to me.

Portraying the Catholic church as anti-gay is foolishness. It is neither anti-gay nor homophobic. It does not teach that homosexuality is evil. It teaches that homosexual inclinations are to be resisted, prescribing chastity for those who struggle with such inclinations. I can only speculate that’s too fine a distinction for a radical activist to appreciate. There are many worse fates than chastity but apparently that violates the beliefs of some of my fellow citizens. I can tolerate their religious beliefs why can’t they tolerate mine?

In a remarkably short time we have been asked to go from tolerating open homosexuality, which, since I’ve had homosexual friends and acquaintances since I was a young teenager, I have no problem with, to transforming the fundamental structures of our society in ways that will have implications for which no one can predict the effects. What was the position of the most progressive president of the United States in almost a century just a few years ago is now being lambasted as intolerant, homophobic, and primitive.

What I think we’re seeing right now are some very intolerant and totalitarian impulses being expressed by what I hope is a fairly small segment of the population. If they are granted free rein, religious freedom will in fact be threatened. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

Laura Rambeau Lee, Right Reason: While these manufactured “equal rights” and “discrimination” battles continue to hit the news cycle, the left gleefully calls for boycotts and incites its base in a campaign to vilify those who merely ask to be permitted to exercise their God given and constitutionally protected right to live their lives in accordance with their faith. Many of our ancestors came to this country because they could enjoy this most basic of freedoms.

Possibly at no other time in America’s history has religious freedom been more in peril. We have a generation of young adults indoctrinated by the left that faith and religion are ancient superstitions and those who profess a belief in God or a Creator are to be mocked and ridiculed. As the left pushes its agenda they continue to attack the core precepts of our country’s founding.

The reason the faithful are being attacked so vociferously is because it is difficult to control a people who believe their rights are inherent and do not come from government. Therefore the faithful must be destroyed… or at the very least marginalized and humiliated.

Those being attacked by the left generally possess the most tolerant of attitudes towards others. Their faith is predicated on tolerance and love. If these attacks continue they will become less willing to speak out and defend others being targeted. And with no one willing to stand and defend our religious freedom the outcome looks increasingly bleak.

The Independent Sentinel : I’m not sure we have religious freedom at this point. The government can make us buy things, sell things, provide services that violate our rights to conscience. We’re still in transition but there’s almost no pushback and the future for our First Amendment is bleak.

Bill O’Reilly talks about the secular progressives war against religion in this country and I agree with him.

On Fox & Friends Thursday, he said ”the totalitarian left is pretty much out of control in America” and we have a media which “sympathizes with the Fascists.”

“The totalitarian left is pretty much out of control in America and that’s because the media, generally speaking, sympathizes with the Fascists, so if you’re against abortion, you’re not a person of conscience sticking up for the unborn, no, you’re against women, you’re declaring war on women’s reproductive rights. This is how the media spins it. If you’re against gay marriage because you believe in Scripture, it’s not that you’re a religious person, whose belief system should be respected, no, you’re a homophobe, you’re a bigot”.

“Now, this is put out there, distributed by the mainstream media so that the fanatics in the secular progressive community, and that includes a lot of entertainment figures, they know they can get their attacks unchallenged in the media. Unchallenged. And that puts a lot of pressure on the person being attacked…”

The really sad thing is it’s a minority of people abusing the majority.

Traditional America and our Constitution are based on Judeo-Christian beliefs. The Fascists want it destroyed.

They hate the founders and the Europeans who settled the land. They see them as evil.

Once religious values are relegated to theirs, there will be peace and safety in their view.

The Fascists are on the march. They’re in our colleges, in our government, in our media, in churches. They’re instilling their values in our youth but religion is an impediment. It’s in the way of their Utopia.

Rhymes With Right: This week’s Watcher’s Council Forum question asks if religious freedom is seriously threatened in America. Sadly, I believe it is, despite the clear promise of the Bill of Rights that free exercise of religion is a right guaranteed to every American. The reality is that this particular liberty has been under assault for some time, and that it will only get worse.

Who is leading the assault? Secular leftists and those ostensibly a part of religious communities (often in leadership positions) who have been co-opted by the siren call of progressive ideology. The Secular Left has long been contemptuous of people of faith. Want an example? Just look at the “bitter clinger” rhetoric of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Listen to entertainers like Bill Maher, John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. Consider the manner in which our elite institutions treat religious believers, especially Christians.

Sadly, though, the weapon they wield is one placed in their hands by a conservative man of faith — Justice Antonin Scalia. His opinion in Employment Division v. Smith overturned several decades of Free Exercise jurisprudence that had shown deference to freedom of conscience and required that government show a compelling interest before it burdens the free exercise of religion. The long history of both legislative and judicial accommodation of religious belief and conduct was therefore jettisoned in the name of what was deemed to be an originalist interpretation not particularly supported by either the text of the Constitution nor the writings of the Framers. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to speculate that Scalia’s decision was based more on an antipathy to drug use than fidelity to the text of the First Amendment or longstanding precedents.

Initially, religious believers of all stripes united to see that the customary religious protections were written into statutory law. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and later the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), were efforts designed to see that the law respected religious freedom. But when the principles of religious freedom the two sides agreed upon ran into the liberal desire to see gay marriage and government mandated health insurance become a part of America’s social landscape, the demand that traditional religious believers be free to opt out of participation in elements of both that offended their faith led the Left to reject Free Exercise outside of the confines of church buildings and the privacy of one’s home.

This past week we saw this matter come to fruition, as activists in two states forced changes into state RFRAs that will guarantee that Christian (and Muslim and even some Jewish) businesspeople choose between honoring their faith and honoring the law. Nobody is talking about banning members of any protected class from their businesses — they are simply seeking to opt out of participation in specific events that offend their religion. But in the name of non-discrimination, those who believe as a matter of faith that homosexual marriage is an abomination before God will be forced to participate despite the fact that they view doing so as endangering their immortal soul — and failure to do so could cost them their businesses and their life savings, and perhaps even result in their incarceration.

Unfortunately, the same “civil rights” laws that require these people of faith to accommodate sin are not reciprocal. Just last week, in the midst of the dispute over RFRAs in Indiana and Arkansas, the state of Colorado ruled that it was not an act of unlawful discrimination for a baker to refuse to provide a cake expressing traditional Christian beliefs on marriage.

Now we all know that the state would not have accepted the argument that a baker would not serve anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, who sought a cake for a same sex wedding. The reality is that the agency is allowing someone a way out of complying with non-discrimination law that they would allow in no other situation. Thus there is no longer equal protection of the law when it comes to matter of non-discrimination law, and the deck is stacked against believers.

We know what is coming next. Ross Douhat asked a series of questions about how far conformity should be enforced on matters of gay marriage. Should people be denied employment or lose employment for holding the wrong view? Should religious institutions that reject gay marriage be legally disadvantaged for that belief? Should attempting to pass on traditional views on sexual morality be deemed child abuse and result in the loss of parental rights? In other words, should the holding of religious beliefs that were mainstream and consistent with the law a mere two decades ago become an offense under the law? Sadly, many of the commenters on his piece were supportive of undercutting religious freedom.

The more I’ve looked at this matter over the last week, the more I have come to realize that for Christians the future may come to look very much like the situation that faced the first followers of Christ in the decades following the crucifixion until the time of Constantine.


And sadly, the same will be true of our Torah-believing Jewish brethren — the days of Antiochus Epiphanes will be revisited upon them by the Progressives, cheered on by the their secular Jewish cousins. But this will not, I would suspect, be the case for the followers of Islam, which has come under the special protection progressives due their shared value of anti-Americanism.

The Right Planet: I think freedom itself is seriously threatened in America. When the term “political correctness” entered the lexicon, it signaled a move away from the freedom of expression toward censorship; lest one find themselves at odds with the capricious will of the mob. The First Amendment couldn’t be any clearer when it comes to the right of the individual to freely worship and practice their faith as they see fit: “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

As far as the recent controversy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is concerned, I think there is more at play here than meet’s the eye. What I see is the forced acceptance of a certain “lifestyle.” One must accept, and even embrace, gay marriage, for example. If one does not embrace gay marriage, and the gay “lifestyle” in general, it is called “hate” and “discrimination” by the militant forces who are attempting to ram their “morals” down the throats of those may not agree with them. Funny, coming from those who constantly rail against anybody ramming their morals down their throats. To me, it is all about the freedom of association; and whether or not I, as an individual, have the right to associate with those I choose to associate with.

What really angers me about the recent controversy over religious freedom are the methods being deployed against those of faith. Take the case of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, for example. Following a reporter asking one of the owners of the small pizza shop whether they would cater a gay wedding, and the owner responding that it violated their religious convictions (despite the fact the owners did not refuse to serve gay customers), all hell broke loose. They were deluged with death threats and a torrent of hate that was just off the charts.

The First Amendment grants Americans the right to peacefully protest; but it does not grant the right to violently protest, or harass people, or create a public nuisance, or file false charges, or threaten arson, and so on. Perhaps it’s people of faith who should be given “protected class” status. But that’s a whole ‘nuther can of worms.

Well, there you have it!

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