The battle for religious liberty is never-ending. Every chapter of history records stories of citizens in many nations who have been denied the basic human right to worship as they choose. Most who were denied this right were Christians. But other religious groups have been robbed of their freedoms, also. For 400 years the Hebrew people were robbed of their liberties and forced into cruel slavery under the tyrannical rule of Egyptian pharaohs.
Christians were model citizens in the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. But their presence was a threat to the insecure caesars. The Roman contribution to history was a record of bloody persecution against Christians through their “games” of torture.
Men like William Tyndale and John Huss paid the ultimate price of faith with the sacrifice of their lives. They only wanted the freedom to believe and distribute the Bible.
Large populations such as the Waldensians suffered mercilessly at the hands of leaders who promised religious freedom, but proved to be deceivers. The Jews under Hitler’s rule are likely the most horrific example of the denial of human and religious rights.
Baptist history in the United States is filled with examples of men and women who were persecuted for their biblical convictions. The record shows that many of our constitutional protections of liberty were born out of Baptists’ conflicts with a state church.
In every nation where communism has gained control, Christians have been tortured, harassed and killed. They were guilty of the crime of being believers.
The atheistic roots of communism insist that all who believe in God must be silenced or eliminated. The most profound examples are obvious through the oppressive regimes of China, Russia and North Korea. Christian missionaries were thrown out of China in the 1940s. Other countries that do not have Christian roots have exercised the same rejection of missionaries and the denial of religious liberty.
Only those who belonged to a state-controlled “orthodox church” were granted favor – although minimal – in the former USSR. In most of those nations today there is still no religious freedom.
News reports tell of the genocide of whole towns and people groups in Africa and the Middle East every year. Some of those are based in conflicts of ethnicity. Many are the result of the faith of those who are being eliminated.
I have engaged some of my overseas friends in conversations about the practice of religious liberties in the countries where they live. In many of those nations there is neither allowance nor tolerance for religious liberty.
In his address at the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 6, President Barack Obama devoted most of his time to naming people imprisoned for their beliefs and identifying nations that are the worst offenders of religious liberties.
This was a first. I am not aware of any time he has addressed the subject in a public address in the five years of his presidency. It was not a campaign promise; not even a suggestion.
He said, “We pray for Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who’s been held in North Korea for 15 months, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, … We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini. He’s been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges relating to his Christian beliefs.”
While the words were welcomed, given the president’s record the speech was shocking to many.
The record of his silence on religious liberties and his failure to take action on the examples he addressed raises questions as to the sincerity of the speech. Was it another political ploy or will Americans begin to see the president devote some serious attention to this subject?
The burden of proof rests on the president’s shoulders. His policies have been contrary to his speech at the prayer gathering.
There are countless religious objections to the Obamacare legislation. The Department of Health and Human Services added a contraceptive mandate to the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act.
The rule requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including ones that can cause early abortions, or face potentially massive penalties.
Little Sisters of the Poor in Denver, Colo., and other Catholic organizations have filed suit to prevent enforcement of the added mandates. They say it violates their religious freedoms and rights. The Department of Justice has urged U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor to reject the nuns’ request. Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has told the U.S. Supreme Court that the administration’s contraception mandate violates a federal law protecting the religious freedom of for-profit corporations and their owners. They joined over 50 other organizations, including seminaries and colleges, in filing friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the Hobby Lobby case.
Here in North Carolina, Mooresville High School football Coach Hal Capps is under fire for praying with his football players.
A Wisconsin-based atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote a letter to the school complaining about his prayers and the fact that he discussed his faith with students.
On these battles the president has been on the wrong side of American history and on the wrong side of religious liberty. We hope he is “evolving” to the right side.
R.R. Reno is the editor of First Things, a journal of religion in public life. He is a professor of theology at Creighton University and holds a Ph.D. from Yale University.
In a speech delivered at a Hillsdale College National Leadership seminar last year he said, “Our secular establishment wants to reduce the autonomy of religious institutions and limit the influence of faith in the public square. The reason is not hard to grasp.
“In America, ‘religion’ largely means Christianity, and today our secular culture views orthodox Christian churches as troublesome, retrograde, and reactionary forces. They’re seen as anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-women – which is to say anti-progress as the Left defines progress. Not surprisingly, then, the Left believes society will be best served if Christians are limited in their influence on public life.”
I believe Reno is right on target. He says the pressure that is being applied to Christians is designed to keep religion strictly religious and to keep it out of public and political arenas. The secularists want religious people to practice their faith in a small box, out of sight. That is not possible.