The War on Religious Liberty

VI. How can we protect religious liberty?

Preservation of religious liberty is necessary to preserve our free republic. We must recognize the current war on religious liberty  and  take  action  to  preserve  it.  We  must  act  in  four spheres.

First, in our personal lives, we must be committed to the Judeo- Christian values that made this country great. We must put these principles into practice in our own private lives so that our conduct can be a witness for these values. Only by transforming ourselves can  we  transform  the  world  beyond ourselves.(150)  We  must  remember  the two   greatest   commandments.   First, we  must  love  God with  all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds. Second, we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.(151)   We  must  also  remember Christ’s command to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.(152)  This requires that we extend to others the same liberties we claim for ourselves.

Second,   we   must   place   greater  emphasis   on   the   moral education and the development of political virtue in our young people. As Attorney General Barr recently observed, education is not vocational training. It is leading our children to the recognition that  there  is  truth.  It  is  guiding  our  children  to  develop  the faculties to discern and love the truth. It is helping our children to develop the discipline to live by the truth.(153)

Third, we must resist efforts by Progressives to drive religious viewpoints from the public square. As Thomas Jefferson said, all truth is great, and truth has nothing to fear from the contest of ideas. Errors are not dangerous when men are free to contradict them, and truth will prevail so long as it is publicly proclaimed. We must, however, be willing and able advocates of the truth in the public square.

Fourth,  we  must  become  courageous  and  able  participants in  the  struggle  being  waged  against  religious  liberty  in  the legal arena. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Alliance Defending  Freedom,  and  the  First  Liberty  Institute  provide excellent  legal  representation,  at  no  charge,  to  people  of  all faiths. We must also be mindful that when we find ourselves in the midst of wolves, we need to be as innocent as doves but as shrewd as serpents.(154)

Six  legal  strategies  have  proven  their  ability  to  protect religious  liberty.  First,  the  First  Amendment requires  federal and state governments to accommodate the religious practices of  individuals.  Governments  must  also  recognize  the  right  of individuals to avoid practices that they consider contrary to their faith.(155)

Second, government may not unduly burden the free exercise of religion by individuals, businesses, or religious organizations, including educational institutions. As explained above, the U.S. Supreme Court removed constitutional strict scrutiny protection from  religious  liberty  in  Employment Division v. Smith,  494  U.S. 872  (1990). Congress,  however,  established  a  statutory  strict scrutiny  protection  for  religious  liberty  the  following  year  by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).(156) RFRA provides that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion,” unless it “is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and is the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”(157)

Third, government cannot engage in “viewpoint discrimination” against  Christian  activities.  The  First  Amendment  requires  that federal,  state,  and  local  governments  must  afford  the  same treatment to religious activities as they afford to secular activities.

If  a  school  board  permits  social,  civic, and   recreational   uses   of   its   school facilities outside of school hours, it must also  permit  religious  groups  equal  use of  those  facilities.  Once  a  government establishes an open forum, it must make that forum available to all.(158)

Fourth,  government  cannot  limit  the First Amendment free speech rights of Christians.  Teachers  and  students  do not  shed  their  right  to  free  speech  at the  schoolhouse  gate.159   This  includes the  right  to  voluntary  prayer,  “in  the cafeteria,   or  on   the   playing   field,   or on  the  campus.”  School  officials  have  no  authority  to  approve, edit  or  censor  student  speech  because  it  contains  a  religious component.(160)   Government  cannot  prohibit  religious  speech  in public forums, including streets and sidewalks.(161)

Fifth, Americans are free to honor traditions which have both historical and religious value. Americans are free to engage in public  prayer  in  public  proceedings,  including  city  councils162 and   state   legislatures.(163)     Americans   may   display   the   Ten Commandments(164)   and  war  memorials  with  religious  symbols on public lands, and maintain them at public expense.(165)

Sixth, the First Amendment guarantees the right of religious organizations  and  schools  to  choose  their  own  ministers  and teachers    without    government    interference.    Federal    laws and  regulations,  such  as  the  Americans  with  Disabilities  Act, cannot  govern  the  selection  of  religious  leaders  by  religious organizations.(166)

Endnotes

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