An important mark of a free society is the willingness of its citizens to respect those with different religious beliefs, even if they deeply disagree with them.
It’s a right Americans have protected, albeit imperfectly, since our founding. But now, this right is being trampled on, by judges, mayors, and college administrators. Astonishingly—for America—we are now going a step further: We are, in effect, facing a demand that citizens worship false gods—or pay a high price.
One of the people most concerned about this is former Congressman Frank Wolf, now the senior distinguished fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. Wolf recently gave a speech at Harvard University outlining the loss of religious liberty in America.
For many Americans, Wolf notes, “Our most deeply held religious values … are generally what inform our conscience and our behavior.” The story of the Pilgrims is “a narrative which upholds the preeminence of religious freedom as the cornerstone of all other human rights,” Wolf adds.
It was a right so important that even during the American Revolution—a time of great national peril—the Continental Congress protected the right of religious pacifists to refuse to bear arms. In so doing, Wolf explains, the Congress properly recognized “the role of the state as it relates to conscience.”
“Quite simply,” he adds, “our conscience is not ultimately allegiant to the state, but to something, and for many people, Someone, higher.”
Yet “today,” Wolf warns, “the authority claims of civil society, or of the state…are expanding well beyond what Americans have historically accepted.” He labels it “an insidious trend.”
Wolf is of course not the only leader to recognize this. Two years ago the late Cardinal Francis George wrote: “We should be concerned … about the State overreaching its proper authority which is limited to the civil order.” And George explained where this tendency for the state to claim more and more authority over our lives comes from. “It flows,” he wrote, “from the secularization of our culture.”
“If God cannot be part of public life,” he warned, “then the state itself plays God.”
He’s right, and this is why we recently saw the state attempt to force Hobby Lobby’s Christian owners and the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for abortion-causing contraceptives. It’s why our military chaplains are being disciplined for preaching the biblical view of sexuality and marriage instead of the new-and-improved view we’re all supposed to go along with.
How do we respond to the demands of the new state religion?
First, we refuse to abandon the public square. We continue to make the case for freedom of conscience, and make sure our children understand this debate, as well. We must teach them that, as Martin Luther King put it, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey an unjust law,” because “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Second, when we’re attacked, we respond and help fellow Christians do the same—folks like Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who the government says must sacrifice his First Amendment religious rights to the demand of a homosexual couple that he bake them a “wedding cake.”
And finally, pray for our country—especially for our churches to rise up in defense of the truth. As Chuck Colson and others put it in the Manhattan Declaration, we must fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.