22 Jun Religious Freedom on Trial
June 22, 2011
Religious Freedom on Trial
Religious freedom issues have been brought to the forefront this year in the suburbs of San Antonio, Texas. There, a self-described agnostic couple filed a suit in federal district court claiming their son, a soon to graduate senior at a local public high school, would be irreparably harmed if the mention of anyone else’s faith or a related religious practice, in this instance prayer, should occur. A sympathetic judge ruled against the rights of religious expression and practice of the super-majority of graduating students, as well as the governor and attorney general of the state.
In his order, the judge listed things that could not be done, such as uttering a prayer. He also went further listing specific words and phrases that no one could say during the graduation exercises. His order promised incarceration for anyone who violated the order by sharing words of individual faith or practiced any religious rite. Fortunately, judicial officials who recognize and value the constitutionally protected right to religious expression and practice overturned this misguided overreach on appeal. But the threat to curtail religion lingers.
One of the foundational principles of United Families International (UFI) is the freedom of religion. As an organization, we realize that the concepts and principles that build and perpetuate the environment in which individual, familial, and societal success are best taught is within the family itself. Many-times, these principles are religious in origin. The freedom to pursue, or practice, a faith of one’s own choosing is vital to the success of the family.
Three Spheres of Religious Freedom
In the struggle to preserve and protect the natural right to follow the dictates of one’s own conscience and worship how one desires, it seems there are three spheres.
In one sphere, religion of all types is banned by totalitarian regimes intent on total subjugation of a nation’s citizens. Their propaganda states that religion, long used by despots to attempt control of a populace, is the metaphorical equivalent of an opiate, dulling the senses and diminishing freedom. As a consequence, those who wish to subjugate you now force “freedom from religion”. This despotic concept, in reality, is nothing more than an attempt to control the hearts and souls of other people to advance their own positions. It is more often than not enforced at the point of the bayonet.
The second sphere consists of nations where religion exists but is heavily regulated. A very large percentage of the global population and many of you reading this today, live in a nation within this sphere. Some nations in this sphere have an either legally established, or culturally dominate, “national religion”.
Other nations in this sphere may have a designated national religion, but they may also allow limited tolerance to practice other faiths via laws governing the official recognition of alternative sects. These alternative sects are thoroughly vetted to a government standard of expected conduct and then licensed to function. Leaders and teachers of these licensed entities are, in due course, licensed to preach and minister in a manner and scope determined by the controlling government. The range of this scope may be larger in some countries than in others, but there is ultimately a government enforced limit on religious practice.
In this same sphere, there are nations that have historically replaced a state-controlled religion with a “freedom from religion” concept, blended with the restrictive licensing and regulatory schemes described above. Their propaganda states: we are a modern, socialized, humanistic/atheist people who will deign to allow the weaker minded portion of our populace, which feels a need for religion, to practice in a heavily regulated environment. This malignant concept enforces limitations on faith using the police powers of the state.
In the third sphere, people recognize the natural right to religious self-determination. The people, being their own ultimate sovereign, pass laws and constitutions which limit the government’s ability to restrict the practice of religion. While differences in various faiths are recognized, tolerance of different faiths is accepted and socially encouraged–including a tolerance for the humanist, agnostic, or atheistic mindset. Citizens of these nations are free to worship, (or not) how, where, or what they may.
What is the state of religious freedom in your country?
Perhaps many UFI supporters misjudge the degree to which their own freedom of religion is limited by government. UFI attempts to highlight many instances of the erosion of religious liberty. The mass media consistently describes events and/or instances where laws are passed which limit freedom of religious practice or expression.
Two globally recognized examples of the limitations on religious freedom come from Sweden and Canada. In both examples, pastors of religion were charged, tried, and ultimately imprisoned or otherwise sanctioned. The heinous crime they were alleged to have committed: preaching scripturally based concepts viewing homosexuality as a “sin”. This religious principle conflicted with the politically correct, pop cultured-based but ultimately governmentally supported, radical homosexual ideology, which contends such beliefs are “hate crimes.”
In New Zealand, Christian videos were banned as “hate speech” because the videos questioned “safe sex” slogans. A parliamentary committee in New Zealand also attempted to have censorship laws changed so that all Christian videos critical of homosexuality would be banned. The Court of Appeal overturned the film board’s decision to ban the videos, maintaining that the documentaries were “essentially political tracts and could not be banned under censorship laws dealing with sex and violence.”
The Scottish Parliament has banned criticism of homosexuality by religious guest speakers during the four-minute slot in its proceedings called “A Time for Reflection,” in which representatives of different religions are invited to speak. In 2004, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Catholic Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, gave a Christmas message that included a vague mention of “sexual aberrations” as a form of human captivity. A Parliament member immediately proposed a motion to prohibit religious ministers from speaking against homosexuality during the reflection time. The motion passed.
In some nations, like the United States, freedom of conscience and religion, are being eroded, not by laws propagated through the legislative process but by judicial fiat. Judicial activism is a term describing judges who overreach their jurisdiction by creating laws from the bench that meet with their own personal bias, rather than merely interpreting the law as is their constitutionally prescribed role.
We are still watching cases such as the American Atheists v. Duncan where the U.S. Tenth Circuit held that the Establishment Clause bans the government from permitting crosses on public land, even if the crosses are paid for, erected, and maintained by private citizens. That case is still in play and possibly headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Or, the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, which will determine if churches in the U.S. have the right to dismiss employees who don’t comport with the church’s stated teachings.
One of the most widely watched and crucially important cases is the attempt to overturn California’s Prop 8. The plaintiffs in Perry v. Schwarzenegger have built a case – not on the merits of same-sex marriage vs. heterosexual marriage – but rather on the question of whether people of religious convictions have the right to express religious opinions in the public square and at the ballot box. Did the seven million voters who voted for Prop 8 have a right to let religious beliefs influence their vote?
UFI continues to work to identify threats and to preserve religious freedoms. We call on you to review your own commitment to preserve freedom of religion for yourself and your family by asking: In which of the three spheres of religious freedom will you find the nation in which you live? And what role will you play in enhancing this critical right to freedom of religion?
At United Families International we strongly believe that the freedom to pursue, or practice a faith of one’s own choosing is vital to the success of the family. We invite you to join us in protecting the existing laws, political structures, religions and cultural norms that preserve the family.
Vice-President of Domestic Policy
United Families International