Lawrence P. Grayson
The First Amendment to the Constitution was adopted to guarantee that all Americans can practice their faith as they see fit. The government is neither to establish a state religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof. This restraint on government, however, is being subverted, not only to constrain the free exercise of religion, but to force business owners and religious institutions to promote secularist doctrines.
In the guise of diversity, non-discrimination and separation of church and state, laws, regulations and policies are being passed that infringe on religious practice and the exercise of individual conscience throughout society, including business, education and the military. Aggressive secularism is inhibiting religious freedom.
The number of law suits brought against small businesses for not assisting at same-sex weddings is large and growing. In the last year alone, a 70-year old florist in Richland, WA, was found liable for refusing to create floral arrangements for a lesbian wedding. The owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, who manage celebratory events on their property and home in Schaghticoke, NY, were fined for not hosting a gay wedding. The owners of the Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, ID, who are ordained pastors, were threatened with fines of $1,000 per day, if they did not perform a same-sex wedding. And recently, immediately after the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Reformation Act, the owners of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, IN, were asked by a local TV station if they would cater a same-sex wedding if requested; they said their religious convictions would not allow them to do so. The backlash from the gay community, even though the owners had a right to refuse under Indiana law, was so vicious that they had to temporarily close their business.
These individuals have universally held that that they are willing to provide regular services to homosexuals without distinction, but are unwilling to contribute to ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs. The first is simply a business transaction, while the latter is a statement of endorsement of the wedding. Photographers, florists, bakers, owners of event facilities, wedding coordinators and others need protection because the goods and services they provide are inherently expressive. They do not offer standardized products, like canned goods in a supermarket, but use their talents to tailor messages according to the desires of their customers.
Constraints on religious freedom continue to grow. In Washington, DC, two laws have just been enacted that would coerce religious organizations to act against their religious beliefs. One bill, called the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, could, for example, force pro-life employers in the city from considering a job seeker’s views on abortion as a condition of employment. A second bill, called the Human Rights Amendment Act (HRAA), seeks to prohibit religious-affiliated schools from discriminating against gay and lesbian student groups. This policy could force a Catholic school to support an LGBT club or student-led gay pride event in opposition to the school’s stance on homosexuality.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently ruled that Mount de Sales Academy, a Catholic prep school in Macon, GA, discriminated against its homosexual band director when he was terminated for his impending marriage to another male. In arriving at its ruling, the EEOC interpreted the Civil Rights Act to include "discrimination based on gender identity, change of sex, and/or transgender status." Under this expansion, Catholic schools are forbidden to require their employees to live by the Catholic understanding of marriage.
At the collegiate-level, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled on the degree of religiosity of several religious colleges. Adjunct faculty members at Pacific Lutheran University, Seattle University, Saint Xavier University, and Manhattan College have appealed to the NLRB to allow them to unionize. The universities, citing a Supreme Court decree, claim that as religious institutions they are exempt from NLRB jurisdiction. Although initial rulings have gone against the universities, final judgements have not been made. The question arises as to who judges whether an institution that claims it is religious is religious enough.
It is not just in civilian life that religious belief and expression are being castigated. Military chaplains are being penalized for promoting their creeds. In March 2015, a highly-commended Navy chaplain was removed from his post for advocating celibacy outside of marriage in private counseling sessions. In December 2014, a chaplain for the 5th Ranger Training Battalion was reprimanded because he was perceived to advocate Christianity and referenced scripture in a mandatory suicide-prevention training session. In January 2013, soldiers in Afghanistan were ordered to take down a steeple and board-up the cross-shaped windows of a chapel at a remote forward operating base.
Although at least 80 percent of U.S. troops are Christian, chaplains are reprimanded if they use the name of Jesus in public events. Military guidelines instruct chaplains to use brief, nonsectarian prayers during military ceremonies. When references to God are generic and public prayers must be approved by a government authority, when a chaplain cannot express his religious beliefs if they conflict with current politically-correct views, when the government can punish a religious leader based on the state’s moral disapproval of a church’s teachings, the chaplain becomes an agent of the state.
This small sampling of attacks against religious freedom demonstrates the aggressiveness and hostility of secularist groups within American society. They are attempting to remove all references to God from public expression. The seminal principles of this nation – equality, human dignity, unalienable rights, limited government, rule of law – are rooted in Judeo- Christian teachings. Without religious underpinnings, the civic virtue and morality necessary for a government of and by the people cannot survive. There must be a counter-movement to bring God back into the public square. The government, as was the intent of the nation’s founders, must adhere to the First Amendment, not establish secularism as a state creed, nor prohibit the free exercise of religion.
Ora pro gente nostra – Pray for our nation.
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Published May 2015