The Left and Religious Freedom
By Kevin McCarthy 5/18/2020
At a 2017 Senate confirmation hearings for the White House Office of Management and Budget, President Trump’s nominee for Deputy-Director, Russell Vought was confronted by Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders, with all the faux drama of the Joe McCarthy hearings, produced an excerpt of an article written by Vought for the conservative website, The Resurgent.
In the piece, Vought wrote in defense of his alma mater, Wheaton College. At the time, Wheaton had been faced with criticism for having terminated political science professor, Larycia Hawkins. Professor Hawkins had expressed, in a post on Facebook, that she believed Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” Wheaton college, a strongly evangelical Christian college, took exception with her statement, viewing it as a breach of its core values, which led to her termination.
In his defense of Wheaton’s action against the professor, Vought had written the following:
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
Sander’s reaction to this excerpt was predictable. He said, “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world. This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”
It seems odd, that a mere expression of a Christian’s faith can invoke concern over the “insult to over a billion Muslims” while rarely do we hear of a similar concern from Sanders of the “insult” to Christians murdered by extremist terrorism in the name of Islam. That incongruence only accentuated the actual political motives at hand.
During the question and answer period of the hearing, Senator Sanders questioned Vought directly, asking him if he thought his statement of faith was “Islamophobic.” Vought strongly rejected the notion and asserted, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith.”
It’s not the first time we’ve seen government officials seeking oversight to determine what aspect of one’s faith is to be deemed socially acceptable. In 2016, President Obama’s Commission on Civil Rights did an assessment of the religious liberty claims of those seeking exemptions to newly proposed legislation that would, potentially, force them to perform acts against their conscience in violation of their faith.
The most prominent of those was the exemption sought for clergy. A growing number of clergy were concerned that they could be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or have their sermons checked for “hate speech” when they represented biblical teachings on the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman and thus, expose themselves to litigation or worst, criminal liability.
The Chairman of the commission, Martin R. Castro, was unsympathetic to their concerns. In his prepared statement, he more than suggested that there was a sinister motive behind such claims. He wrote: “The phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”
Such a statement by a government sanctioned Civil Rights Commission and the indignation expressed by Sanders toward Russell Vought are indicative of an increasingly bold, aggressive, and, what some would say, was a particularly anti-Christian hostility of the progressive Left. They feel, apparently, that it is the purview of government to not only assess the worthiness of various faith tenants but to also referee between the faiths under a government imposed “all faiths are the same and equal” mandate.
Contrary to their notion, however, the principle of religious freedom does not bar the religious from defining what is sin and to eschew behaviors deemed in their conscience to be sinful; nor does religious freedom prevent any person of any faith from promoting their own faith as superior to all others or to critique the theology of another faith and find it lacking. Isn’t that why anyone of any faith chooses their faith? Don’t most religions teach an exclusive path to everlasting life?
In truth, every religion has its own understanding of the divine and the duties one must embrace in order to enter into eternal glory. Any religion worth its salt would believe its path is the one true way. That’s not the problem. The challenge for civil society is, given the diversity of faiths, how can a common social compact be achieved so that we may live together in harmony in this world while we prepare for eternity in the next?
The founders of America were faced with that very challenge. Eight of the 13 colonies had established state churches. Within those states, the unique brand of theology and ecclesiastic authority was a functional component of the social contract. Fall out of line with the church doctrine and direct legal consequences would soon be imposed. It was certainly what drove Roger Williams and Anne Hutcherson from Massachusetts. It was an arrangement that made the Salem witch hunt possible. The Colonial history of America is fraught with similar sad stories of the religious persecution of Baptist, Quakers, Catholics, Jews and many more.
What were the founders of America to do? How does one establish a nation, a civil society that, on the one hand, is pleasing to God, but on the other hand, doesn’t establish a chosen religion or a particular religion’s dogma as the foundation of the social contract?
The founders were all aware that religion was essential to civil society and was necessary for freedom and the intended system of self-government. John Adams had said that “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.” But the founders were equally aware that the nature of religion to factionalize could quickly pull the nation apart.
James Madison eloquently voiced this concern in his classic essay, “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessment.” In it he stated, “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?
For this reason, the founders of America were careful not to establish a preferred religion as fundamental to the American social contract. However, neither were the founders seeking to establish a secular-only nation, as the progressive Left and other anti-religious proponents commonly assert.
Instead, the founders, wisely, put forth the notion of “self-evident truths” as the spiritual core of the American social contract rather than a particular religious dogma, be it, from the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Talmud or the Quran. Thus, “these truths” that were essential to civil society were self-evident and available to all.
Reverend Samuel Cooper in a sermon, given in 1780, before Governor John Hancock and the Massachusetts legislature on the occasion of the celebration of the new state Constitution, offered these clear words about the universal nature of “self-evident truths.”
“We want not, indeed, a special revelation from Heaven to teach us that men are born equal and free; that no man has a natural claim of dominion over his neighbors, nor one nation any such claim upon another; . . . These are the plain dictates of that reason and common sense with which the common parent of men has informed the human bosom.” Reverend Samuel Cooper
In other words: God has given us the conscience and common sense to know right from wrong, and that we are born “equal and free.” We do not need special revelations or a specific religious dogma to conduct ourselves in the practice of good citizenship and to construct a civil nation that would be pleasing to “the governor of the universe.”
It is religious freedom that makes that possible. People of all faiths, though disagreeing on life’s ultimate destination and the means to get there, can all agree upon and partner together in bolstering the common virtues essential to the realm of our presently shared location. Common values about honesty, loving my neighbor, strong families, self-control, frugality, work ethic, respecting the rule of law; these are the values that please God while we toil together in this realm.
It is around this common interest that diverse faiths can not only co-exist but can even partner together and depend on each other for support even as we compete and affirm our exclusive hold upon the ultimate truths. In this regard, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh or Hindu, we can form a common bond and social compact as “one nation under God.”
It appears that the Socialist Left, now dominate in the Democrat Party, find it hard to understand this and wrongly presume that government possesses the oversight authority to re-define the parameters of our God-given rights to religious freedom. It is this that should alarm people of all faiths.
When the secular Left crows about the need to “separate church from state,” know for certain that they mean to remove religiously rooted virtue from public life. The Left will not rest until the “wall of separation” can finally be closed around us on all four sides. They know that to end the influence of religion upon society, they must assault traditional morality and thus undermine the influence of religious institutions and people.
If the time is upon us that virtue is no longer self-evident, then virtue will be gone and with it, the freedom that is the gift of God will be gone as well. . .and once freedom is gone, a total dependency on a Godless State run by “experts” will be all that remains.