Don’t Back Away from Religious Freedom

We must reject antidiscrimination rhetoric used against religious freedom; conscience should be protected, not judged.

We must be sure that the general public understands clearly what they are rejecting when they reject religious freedom. They are requiring believers to take action which believers understand to be immoral and sinful. No one should have to pay for other people’s choices in contraceptives, abortifacients, or other goods and services that they believe to be sinful. They are not denying people access to contraceptives or abortifacients, but declining action they believe to be sinful. No one is discriminating against homosexual persons today, but against homosexual behavior.


The failure of religious liberty measures in Arizona in March 2014, Indiana in April 2015, Georgia in March 2016, the ongoing attempt by the Obama Administration and big business to coerce North Carolina and Mississippi into giving up their religious liberty measures, and the anti-religious freedom rhetoric of the mass media may incline Christians to abandon the rhetoric of religious liberty and seek other ways to live with a regime which will not tolerate Biblical morality, but none is possible. Obedience to God means that there can be no compromise with sin, and acceptance of sin in practice, and surely eventually in belief, is what the regime of social liberalism requires.

We need to emphasize over and over again, and regardless of victories or defeats in the struggle, the good and unchangeable reasons why we cannot comply with requirements that are sinful, and back that up by taking the penalty, not eventually acquiescing or compromising or rationalizing compliance with sinful requirements. Only in this way do we glorify God by putting him first in our lives, but we also show ourselves, those indifferent, and those opposed to religious liberty that obeying God is the most important thing in our lives, and cannot be changed regardless of pressure. This is only consistent with the logic of liberty of conscience, which is that one should never take an evil action, regardless of the penalty. If one can take a required action without sinning, then one certainly should, and not raise a conscience claim in the first place. We all have to do things that we don’t want to do. Conscientious objection is not raised against baking cakes, taking wedding pictures, or paying for abortion inducing drugs because these things are distasteful, or because we would rather not do them, but because they are sinful. God is offended, and we are finally answerable to him.

While the extent of Sabbath keeping or covetousness can be debated, murder, adultery, fornication, and sodomy clearly violate moral commands of Scripture, and Jesus is further clear that to contribute to sin is sin itself (Matt. 18:7). Christians are not “imposing their views on others” when they decline to contribute to immoral activities, but are being imposed on if they are required to engage in such activities. It is quite obviously the party of which action is required that is imposed on, not the party requesting action. Freedom means nothing if it is set aside when others are offended, and this is many times over true of religious freedom, since obeying God is for believers the most important thing in life, and also doubly true of liberty of conscience, since it is obviously wrong to require an action believed to be evil.

A great problem for Christians in advocating for religious freedom is that, to a large extent, social conservatives have allowed the Left to control the dialog. What can be said in the public arena is only within a rhetorical framework that the Left allows. Thus, in the wake of Indiana Republicans caving in to pressure and gutting Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act to exclude conscientious objection to homosexuality, religious freedom is placed in scare quotes (i.e., “religious freedom”). We should reject that and boldly insist that true religious freedom does not require people to take action against their consciences, however badly anyone is pained. Religious freedom has priority because there is no greater harm than taking an action believed to be evil.

We must reject antidiscrimination rhetoric used against religious freedom; conscience should be protected, not judged. Not only is obedience to God the first consideration in life for Christians, but the priority of obeying God was clearly recognized by James Madison,author of the First Amendment, in declaring that our allegiance to God precedes our duty to civil society. This consideration, and the very words of the First Amendment, “free exercise,” clearly speak of more than a mere right to believe, but also of religious conduct. Many conscience protections have been given in American law.

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