Religious liberty. We have it, we love it, but we don’t often think about it. After all, we live in America, right? Isn’t this the land of the free and the home of the brave? Has this not been often called a “Christian nation?”
Yes, we have religious liberty. Our First Amendment guarantees it and anyone who takes an honest look at the founding of our nation will recognize that our forefathers wholeheartedly supported it.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the day will soon come when religious liberty becomes nothing more than a distant fond memory, not unlike your first car or that fifth-grade girlfriend (whatever her name was).
The threat to religious liberty is much more than a mere scare tactic devised by the far right to monger fear in the hearts of uniformed Christians. This became clear to me a couple months ago as I read two news articles that had been posted one day apart. Both were prominently displayed at the top of Christianity Today’s website.
The first article described a new anti-terrorism law passed by the Russian Duma. Under the law, it became illegal to share one’s faith with anyone outside of a registered church, including in private homes or online. Even the simple act of inviting another person to church was prohibited. It is pretty easy to see the affect this would have on churches.
While such a law is disturbing, it is not altogether shocking that it would be instituted in Russia. Although the citizens of that country have enjoyed a measure of freedom for the past twenty-five years, we see signs that they are slipping back into their pre-1991 communist habits.
I don’t know about you, but I sure am glad that this could not happen in America.
Or could it?
Immediately after reading that article, another headline caught my eye. This article, entitled “Iowa Churches Can’t Discriminate During Services ‘Open to the Public,’” described an amendment added to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007 which prohibited discrimination in public accommodations based on such factors as sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Religious institutions, however, were exempt except from this statute when engaged in bona-fide religious activities.
In July of 2016, however, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission decided that childcare facilities at a church or church services that are open to the public should no longer receive this exemption.
Wait a minute. Church services that are open to the public are not “bona-fide” religious activities?
How many churches do you know that do not allow the public to attend? Unless you belong to a really strange church, you probably encourage folks in the community to show up on Sunday.
The end result is, of course, that Iowan churches cannot stipulate who uses which restrooms in its facilities. So much for the religious exemption.
At first glance, there may seem to be little connection between the Russian law and the decision of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. However, they are, in fact, eerily similar.
Fortunately, the law approved by the Russian Duma would never pass in the United States today. It is too blatantly anti-Christian to gain enough support, and would prove to be a political bombshell for any lawmaker who would dare to sponsor it. However, punishing churches for discrimination against the LGBT community will accomplish exactly the same purpose—silencing of Christians and interfering in their ability to do God’s work.
So, you tell me. Are we on track to lose our religious liberties?
Update on 10/26/16: A federal judge ruled that churches are not public accommodations, and therefore the government is unauthorized to determine which church activities are to be considered “religious” and which ones are not. Click here for more information.