By Deacon Keith Fournier
The trend is obvious and ominous. How will the Christian community respond? Will we withdraw from the public square? Will we build new ghettos and adopt a victim mentality? Will we continue to splinter and turn against one another? Or, will we come together across confessional lines and resist this assault on the fundamental right to religious freedom? How far will an increasingly secularist State go in asserting its police power over our practice of the Christian faith outside of the doors of our church buildings? What will we do in response? Are we entering the twilight of Religious Liberty in America? Or, is this an invitation for collaboration between Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, charismatic.. and all of the hyphenated versions of Christianity which have emerged since divisions began in the Body of Christ?
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) – Prior to what is called the Edict of Milan, the Christians of the first three centuries in ancient Rome had to avoid participating in certain occupations and even refrain from serving in public office. The reason? To do so would require that they apostatize, or abandon their faith, and bend the knee to a Roman Caesar who was usurping the place of God.
Is this what lies ahead for Christians as an increasingly secularist regime moves the United States away from the American founders’ vision of a robust freedom for religious faith, speech and expression?
In 1992, after the incomprehensible Supreme Court opinion in a case called Lee v Weisman, I wrote a law review article entitled “In the Wake of Weisman: The Lemon Test is Still a lemon but the Psycho-coercion Test is more bitter Still”. At the time, I served as the founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a public interest law firm.
In that article, I traced the history of the judicial interpretation of the Establishment clause, found in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. I then predicted what would follow from efforts to apply the so called “Lemon Rule” (named after the Courts 1971 opinion in Lemon v Kurtzman) and it’s ever expanding interpretations and permutations. My prediction, reduced to its simplest explanation, was judicial insanity.
Judicial insanity is precisely what did occur.
We now have incomprehensible judicial opinions, requiring a showing that religious symbols have a “secular” purpose if they are displayed on public property. Or, that religious expressions in public ceremonies be made so generic that they are unrecognizable. Both approaches are propelled by the mistaken notion that that religion and the common good are mutually exclusive!
In reality, the Establishment Clause was meant to be an “anti-establishment” clause. It was intended to prohibit the “establishment” of one particular religion – in the sense of a Federal or State sponsored Church – which mandated adherence from unwilling citizens. The American founders fled coercive approaches to religion which compelled adherence to a particular sect.
They were not against religious symbols or religious expression. In fact, American history is filled with both. Or, more accurately, it was.
Religious symbols are no longer honored and seen as a part of the rich history of the West and the American founding. Rather they are viewed as a threat to the secularist order. When they are allowed, they must be demonstrated to have been somehow rendered “secular” and thus somehow “acceptable” in the new twisted jurisprudence which amounted to what I called in a 1993 pamphlet, a form of “Religious cleansing in the American Republic.”
The First amendment begins with these words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The expression “Free Exercise” of religion is an extremely important part of the Bill of Rights. It speaks to the active expression of faith, across the full panorama of daily life. The American founders did not use the expression “freedom of worship” because they meant something much more robust.
The term Free Exercise of Religion was more than semantics; it spoke to the founders’ view of the Right to Religious Freedom. It protects the right of a citizen to freely live their faith across the spectrum of daily life. That includes engaging in commerce, participating in politics, and pursuing liberty and happiness.
We have accepted the mistaken notion that the anti-religious spin to interpreting to our founding documents was what the American founders intended. That is historically untrue. We also accept the idea that a bloated agency of the Federal Government, which has become inebriated on its own expanding power, the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S), is the arbiter of interpreting the meaning of the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise Clause.
We must remember that the current structure of corporate law, including the distinction between a corporation being considered nonprofit or for profit, did not exist at the time of the American founding. This Free Exercise right of the First Amendment was meant to prevent citizens from being compelled to surrender their deeply held moral and religious beliefs outside of the walls of their chosen church or place of worship by the secular government.
The American Revolution was fought, among other things, over the abuse of the taxing authority. When the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution was enacted there was no Internal Revenue Service. The first income tax was assessed in 1862 and Congress established a Commissioner of Revenue. It was repealed ten years later. In 1894, Congress revived it, only to have the U.S. Supreme Court find it to be unconstitutional.
It was only after the 16th amendment was ratified in 1913 that the income tax was established and the Commission vested with oversight for its collection. Now, it has become a behemoth agency, devouring any who dare question its authority, which seems to know no bounds.
With the accelerating disregard for religious freedom the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed in 1993. It has since been used whenever a legal issue concerning the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights is at issue. The Act presumes the primacy of the Free Exercise of Religion as a fundamental Constitutional Right. Now, however, even the protection the legislation intends is being tossed aside by a growing governmental hostility toward religion, the religious citizen and religious institutions.
This is particularly evident in the treatment of faithful, classical Christians, whether they are Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox. This is demonstrated when such egregious acts as the effort to force the Catholic Church in California to pay for abortions and the governmental coercion aimed at forcing faithful evangelical Protestant Christians out of certain businesses and professions if they refuse to deny their fundamental religious convictions, become common. That is occurring!
The trend is obvious and ominous. How will the Christian community respond? Will we withdraw from the public square? Will we build new ghettos and adopt a victim mentality? Will we continue to splinter and turn against one another? Or, will we come together across confessional lines and resist this assault on the fundamental right to religious freedom?
It is time to ask the important questions.
How far will an increasingly secularist State go in asserting its police power over our practice of the Christian faith outside of the doors of our church buildings? What will we do in response? Are we entering the twilight of Religious Liberty in America? Or, is this an invitation for collaboration between Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, charismatic.. and all of the hyphenated versions of Christianity which have emerged since divisions began in the Body of Christ?
The choice is ours. We must Stand Together, or we will fall apart!