At the beginning of this month we celebrated our nation’s independence on the 4th of July as we do every year. I hope that as part of our annual celebration we took some time to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States of America. Many people around the world do not enjoy the freedoms we do in the US.
It is easy for us to take our freedoms for granted and not realize how important they are and how many of our ancestors made very real sacrifices to ensure our freedoms. Many have given their lives in their defense.
One of the freedoms we enjoy in this country is “religious liberty” or “freedom of religion.” This precious liberty is part of our 1st Amendment rights. The 1st Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Amendment then goes on to speak of freedom of speech, of the press, and the right to peaceably assemble.
As our country’s culture has become more and more secular in recent years, many people’s understanding of religious liberty has changed. I think it is fair to say that there are more voices in today’s society that advocate for a much narrower definition of “freedom of religion.” These voices suggest an impoverished version of religious liberty that is limited to “freedom of worship.”
In this narrow view, religious liberty is confined to the right to worship as one chooses. While freedom of worship is important, it can be used to confine people of faith to what they do in their houses of worship. Freedom of religion is much more than freedom of worship. It includes the right to live according to one’s religious beliefs. This has many implications in wider society.
Some recent Supreme Court decisions have affirmed and protected religious liberty in the face of attempts to force people of faith to conform to the prevailing views of our more secular culture. The First Amendment protects a person’s right to live according to the teachings of their religion, not just a person’s right to worship freely.
As we rightly celebrate our nation’s independence, I invite you to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy, especially freedom of religion. As our culture continues to become more secular (less tied to Judeo Christian principles) there will be more challenges to religious liberty. I encourage you to educate yourself more about religious liberty and to be ready to defend this precious and important freedom.