Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Freedom of Religion - I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

One day long ago in my high school cafeteria, I was approached by several of my peers who asked if I would like to pray with them before lunch. To be completely honest, I didn't want to. I knew it would draw attention to me, and at that time in my life, that was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. But in support of my friends and because of my belief that prayer is always a good thing, I put my reservations aside and agreed to participate.

We held hands in a circle while one of my friends led the short prayer, and then we began to return to our seats. A group of students a couple of tables over was eyeing us as though we'd just slaughtered a calf in the middle of the lunchroom. “Separation of church and state!” one of them called out.

I had it on the tip of my tongue to retort “FREE EXERCISE THEREOF”, but as I was accustomed to doing, I remained silent.

I'm not quite as content to remain silent as I used to be.

That was my first memorable experience with anti-Christian zealots, but there have been numerous encounters since. In college we argued over whether or not a student organization should be allowed to put up a Christmas tree in the student center. Of course it should, I said. That isn't infringing on anyone's rights. A girl responded, Oh, yeah? How about I go on down there and light a Menorah?

Go ahead, I said.
See, I'm all for other religions having rights too. That's the great thing about freedom – it allows you to live by the principles that you choose to follow rather than allowing someone else to make those choices for you. This includes running a company that you own according to your personal values – like giving employees Sundays off, paying them significantly more than the minimum wage, or not providing them with benefits that you believe to be immoral.
Ah yes, Hobby Lobby. Corporations are not humans, you say. They don't have rights. I'm sure the thousands of business owners who have shed blood, sweat, and tears over their life's work would disagree with you. The court made the right call on this one. Women have not been denied birth control, and real-life, soul-carrying human beings, who also happen to own companies, have not been denied moral autonomy.

But this is the problem that arises when you start creating more and more laws, more and more restrictions, more and more mandates. You have to start figuring out where to draw the lines. And you end up with lines drawn all over the sand until the tide inevitably comes in and washes them all away.

Religious freedom is so important that it is the first amendment to our Constitution. It is a right that our founding fathers saw fit to put first, but too many people misunderstand it when they cry 'separation of church and state!' That separation not only ensures that you can not be forced to practice a religion, but also guarantees the rights of those who do.

Even so, there are plenty of people who don't think I should have that right and work tirelessly to ensure that I am denied it, little by little, with each passing year. Every June I hear the same story – another graduate who 'shocked' people by deviating from his pre-approved commencement speech. What was so scandalous about his drafts that didn't make the cut? Why, because Christian ideology is taboo, of course. Quote Gandhi all you want, but Jesus Christ? No way. Sure, you can reference Buddha, but those red letters in the New Testament? Sorry pal, that's offensive.

Keep it in your churches, they say. I have the right to not have to see/hear it, they say. Idiots who believe in a thousands-year-old book of fairy tales, they imply, and sometimes go ahead and say.

There is no respect for beliefs in those comments, no understanding of basic rights. But they have the right to think them and say them. They have as much of a right to shout their words from the rooftops as I do to say 'Christ is Lord'.

(And if you think that getting rid of proselytizing sounds like a good idea, try living in a country where it's outlawed.)
I am a Christian, and I have no power to force you to become one too. And I wouldn't want to because I value freedom in your life as well. But if you seek to pass laws that will impede my ability to live according to what I believe is right, then you must ask yourself – which side of freedom are you really on?

Not all Christians agree with Hobby Lobby's stance on contraceptives. Not everyone agrees with the words of a Christian high school student's speech. But as Thomas Jefferson pointed out, we can agree that 'religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship'.
If we are denied the right to run our businesses according to our consciences or prohibited from freely speaking about our faith, then to whom are we actually being held accountable?
I stay silent no more, because I worry about what someone will say to my kids in their high school cafeteria. Or worse yet, I worry that they will never have the opportunity for someone to say something to them at all.