By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
I am thoroughly dumbfounded.
There is so much talk about religious freedom, and so much chatter coming from the administration about religious freedom being under attack, and I am confused. Their statements indicate that it is Christians are under attack, all over the world, for sure, but especially in these United States.
In a recent speech given at the University of Notre Dame Law School, US Attorney General William Barr lashed out against “secularists and so-called progressives,” blaming them for “wreaking havoc on American society,” as reported by MotherJone.com.
Specifically, Barr said, “This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”
He continued by describing what he called a “moral upheaval,” saying, “Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground. Along with the wreckage of the family we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and the deadly drug epidemic.”
Ground zero for attacks on religion, are public schools, said Barr.
He and others pushing their understanding of religious freedom blame “progressive Christianity,” pitting it against “Biblical Christianity,” which, they believe, is the “right” religion for all. Progressive Christianity, this line of thought goes, practice “secularism.”
I am not quite sure what he is talking about. A definition of “secularism” is “a belief system that rejects religion, or the belief that religion should not be part of the affairs of the state or part of public education.” The writers of the Constitution were not particularly religious and rejected the notion of this being called a “Christian” nation, according to the Huffington Post.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States established the separation of church and state that “prohibited the federal government from making any law respecting an establishment of religion.” It also prohibits the government, in most cases, from interfering with a person’s religious beliefs or practices,” according to History.com.
It seems that in the history of this country, this insistence of protecting the plurality of religions and religious practices has been part of what has made America a model of democracy.
In recent time, however, the evangelical right has railed against what they say is an assault on religious freedom. Muslims have been castigated; the president sought to ban all Muslims from this country at the very beginning of his presidency. Just last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “80 percent of the world lives in areas where people are denied religious freedom.” He referred to his “Christian leadership” and said that the Islamic Republican Iran is an “aggressor, not a victim.” He also singled out China for holding Muslims in internment camps and Iran for its “persecution of Christians,” according to The Washington Post.
Pompeo did not mention the attempts of the religious right to curtail the religious freedom of Muslims in this country, nor did he mention that evangelical Americans support the internment of immigrants in this country.
In September of this year, the president earned the praise of evangelicals when he decided to address the subject of religious freedom at the United Nations, skipping a session on climate change. Robert Jeffress, an evangelical pastor and supporter of the president, praised the words issued by the president.
Jeffress noted in a Fox News report that the president “… said religious freedom is not granted by the government; it is gifted to us by God and the president believes that…The Democrats believes the great human right that transcends all others is the right to kill your own babies through abortion and the previous administration supported that for the world. This president says no, it’s not the murder of babies that is a basic human right, it is religious liberty that is granted by our creator.”
Making America “great” again seems to mean, to many evangelicals, re-establishing the false moral standards practiced by fundamentalists, standards that have supported the discrimination of people, including black people, women, and Muslims. Their interpretation of the Scriptures has made them feel a false sense of moral superiority which they have used to keep people “in their place.”
Religious freedom means that “we the people” do not have to be oppressed by one religious ideology. We can believe (as we already do) as we want and need to believe, or we can choose not to believe at all. Because we are all different and come to the Scriptures from different cultures and belief systems, there is no one way to interpret those same scriptures.
Evangelical Christians in this country and around the world have had a way of pushing their belief system on everyone as the one and only way to believe, and perhaps that is part of the reason the world, the Christian world, is in such disarray. The God of the oppressed is different from the God of the oppressor.
That is simply the truth, and religious freedom in this democracy means that we are obliged to let people believe as they choose to believe.