A Reflection on Religious Freedom in America

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Wednesday, January 18, 2023
A Reflection on Religious Freedom in America

A Reflection on Religious Freedom in America


In 2021, LGBTQ students filed a class-action lawsuit that would force religious schools to choose between abandoning their biblical beliefs or losing students who would be denied federal financial assistance.

The so-called Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) claims to represent LGBTQ students at “more than two hundred taxpayer-funded religious schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” In their view, a school that upholds biblical sexuality illegally discriminates against those who disagree.

Since the schools in question receive federal funds, REAP claims that such funding should stop. As I noted in The Coming Tsunami, the schools in question received $4.2 billion in federal student aid in 2018.

Now, in excellent news for religious freedom in America, a federal judge in Oregon has dismissed REAP’s lawsuit.

David Cortman with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the group that represented the Christian schools, applauded the ruling: “A federal district court today rightly rejected an unfounded assault on the religious freedom of faith-based educational institutions. Title IX, which applies to schools receiving federal financial assistance, explicitly protects the freedom of religious schools to live out their deeply and sincerely held convictions.”

Professor dismissed after Muslim student’s objection

In other religious liberty news, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by an evangelical Christian former mail carrier in Pennsylvania.

Gerald Groff accused the US Postal Service (USPS) of religious bias after he was reprimanded for refusing to deliver packages on Sundays. He claimed that the USPS violated federal anti-discrimination law by refusing to exempt him from working on Sundays, when he observes the Sabbath.

The case relates to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Under the law, employers must reasonably accommodate a worker’s religious observance or practice unless doing so would cause the business “undue hardship,” which is what the USPS claimed in response to Groff’s lawsuit.

Let’s consider one more news item on our theme: Hamline University in Minnesota recently dismissed a professor for including depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in a world art course.

The course syllabus warned students that they would view images of religious figures, including the Prophet Muhammad, and included an offer to work with students uncomfortable with viewing those images. The teacher also warned the class immediately before showing the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.

Nonetheless, a Muslim student complained to the university that the image violated her faith. The professor’s contract was not renewed following the fall semester. Now the university is under fire from those critical of its decision.

Protecting the "right to be wrong"

These cases illustrate the fact that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion.

I am deeply grateful for the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. But I also recognize that our culture is becoming ever more secularized. As a result, religious beliefs and speech that contradict social norms will become increasingly the minority view and will become increasingly objectionable to the post-Christian majority. And the right of a growing irreligious demographic to be free from such beliefs and speech will gain in popularity.

This is the view of LGBTQ students who claim to be the victims of discrimination at Christian schools. It is the position of the USPS in claiming to protect its workers from the imposition of a single employee’s religious beliefs on his fellow workers. And it is the stance of those who are protesting Hamline University’s decision to dismiss a professor over the religious objections of a single student.

When Christian morality was the majority view, the First Amendment protected our “right to be right.” Now that the opposite is true, the First Amendment is viewed as protecting our “right to be wrong.” But as our society increasingly views us as discriminatory and even dangerous, we can expect our “right to be wrong” to come under increasing attack.

My resolution for this year

Today’s conversation highlights this biblical fact: Christians must not depend on the government to do our work for us.

Whether the courts defend our religious freedoms or not, you and I are instructed to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NKJV). When the Apostles were called before the Supreme Court of their day and forbidden legally from preaching the gospel, they responded: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

Christians in Cuba face some of the most intense persecution of any nation in the world. However, I have experienced personally the amazing vitality of their churches and the sacrificial depth of their faith. I often say that visiting Cuban churches is like “walking around in the Book of Acts.”

Of the top ten countries where Christians face the most persecution, nine are Muslim. And yet a spiritual awakening in the Muslim world is bringing more Muslims to Jesus than ever before.

It is vital that Christians in America do what we can to protect and promote our constitutional freedoms. But it is also vital that Christians utilize these freedoms while we have them to lead those we influence to the One who promised, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

My resolution for this new year is simple: to know Christ and make him known.

Will you join me?

Publication date: January 18, 2023

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/boonchai wedmakawand 

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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