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Another Turn of the Screw: The Court and Religious Freedom

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another Turn of the Screw: The Court and Religious Freedom

July 22, 2010

In late June, the Supreme Court, in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, issued a ruling with profound implications for the relationship of believers to the government.

The case involved the CLS chapter at the University of California's Hastings College of Law. CLS requires members to ascribe to its statement of faith and renounce "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle."

Claiming that this requirement violated its policy that all students be permitted to participate in organizations' activities, Hastings denied the CLS official recognition.

The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, rejected CLS' argument and decided in favor of Hastings.

The impact of this decision goes far beyond the Christian Legal Society. Groups like Intervarsity are rightly concerned about what the Court's imprimatur on Hastings' "all-comers" requirement means for them. Will they be able to exercise even basic discipline among their members? If anyone can belong and even become a leader, can they even remain a Christian organization?

Folks, these aren't theoretical questions. And listen to this: In his concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy (the "swing vote" in the five to four decision) struck a very ominous note. He compared the CLS' requirements to McCarthy-era "loyalty oaths" and pronounced that "the era of loyalty oaths is behind us."

Now what does that say about loyalty to creed, statements of faith—indeed, the Bible itself? The era of loyalty oaths is behind us? I guess the only oath we can take today is to secular liberalism, which confines religion to an increasingly tiny, private sphere. As I have noted elsewhere, religious freedom is more and more defined as the right to "worship," as long as that worship has no public dimension. You are free to think and feel as you wish, as long as you strive to keep it to yourself.

This has happened before, because in the absence of absolute standards of truth, decisions are made by whoever is in power. And those, like Christians, who lack power, are expected just to go along.

This decision forces us to confront the issue of whether—and at what point—we must disobey Caesar in order to obey God. Banning statements of faith would put us squarely in this position. We don't choose civil disobedience, but we're being forced to consider it ever more seriously.

This is why I have asked Dr. Timothy George, the Dean of Beeson Divinity School and the Chariman of the Board of BreakPoint, to address the issue head on. He's filmed a powerful message on believers and civil disobedience. I've made Dr. George's video a part of my Two Minute Warning this week. Please, visit Colson Center.org and watch the Two Minute Warning.

And then I want you to stand with organizations like CLS and InterVarsity by signing the Manhattan Declaration. It's a protest against the increasing tendency to "trample upon the freedom" of those who would "express their religious and moral commitments."

In a world where what's increasingly being required of Christians goes beyond "tolerance" to actual participation in activities contrary to God's law, we must be prepared to say "no."

Saying "no" has its costs, but at some point, it's no longer optional, at least if we're clear about where our loyalty lies.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.