At the Reagan presidential library last Thursday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal delivered a speech on “The Silent War on Religious Liberty.” Although some commentators have referenced the possibility of a presidential run for Jindal in 2016 and callously considered the speech an obvious pandering to social conservatives, Jindal deserves credit for passionately and persuasively bringing attention to the very real attacks on Americans’ free exercise of religion, which many call our first freedom.
Indeed, as believers in a robust Christian worldview, our religious convictions determine how we think, live, and act in every area of life. We are Christians in the sanctuary and in the workplace. Yet Jindal believes the Obama administration’s mistaken understanding of religious freedom will threaten any religious person’s freedom to act in accordance with his belief in the public square. The belief of the Obama administration, that Americans are free to worship as they want only in their private congregations rather than abiding by their beliefs in public as well, “threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square, and the endurance of our constitutional governance,” according to Jindal.
In his speech, Jindal describes the essence of this war on religion, its magnitude, and its manifestations.
After quoting Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few, but the universal right of all God’s children,” Jindal referenced the Declaration of Independence, in which Jefferson wrote that we are a people “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
Jindal continues, “Let me make this explicit: The source and justification for the very existence of the United States of America is and always has been contingent upon the understanding of man as a created being, with a Creator conferring his intrinsic rights — among [them] Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Obama administration has it backward, Jindal notes, when it acts as if the government gets to prescribe when and where religious activity is legitimate. Such a position directly contradicts the notion that our freedom of religion is granted by our Creator. “America does not sustain and create faith,” Jindal says, “faith created and sustains America.”
When he describes this silent war subtly perpetrated against people of all faiths — but particularly, as Jindal admits, against conservative Christians — Jindal notes just how important this struggle is, for a war against religion is a war against “the propositions in the Declaration of Independence,” “the spirit that motivated abolitionism,” “the faith that motivated the Civil Rights struggle,” “the soul of countless acts of charity,” “the conscience that drives social change,” and “the heart that binds our neighborhoods together.”
The serious threats against the moral and religious people who have always breathed life into America’s public life are being posed by every branch of government, in which “a group of like-minded elites [is] determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.”
As his first example of the silent war on religion, Gov. Bobby Jindal cites the case of Hobby Lobby, which would have been fined $1.3 million per day for failing to adhere to the contraception mandate. The Green family’s refusal to pay for abortion-inducing drugs for their employees is a result of their religious beliefs. But rather than allowing the Green family to act in accordance with their faith, the Obama administration is targeting them.
Faith for the Obama administration, it seems, is limited to what you do at your church on Sunday. Attorney General Eric Holder says, “Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.” So while it is acceptable for the faith of Hobby Lobby’s owners to lead them to pay their employees higher than the minimum wage, to offer them raises for four consecutive years during a recession, and to commit a large portion of their wealth to charity, it is unacceptable for the Green family to express their faith in any other way, namely, one of which the Obama administration disapproves.
Jindal then notes the extreme position of the Obama administration that schools, adoption agencies, and even synagogues and churches cannot hire or fire someone based on their difference of belief. According to the administration, “religious groups don’t even have the constitutionally protected right to select their own ministers or rabbis.” Although the Supreme Court has ruled against the administration’s position, if the administration had its way, an organization would have no way to ensure that everyone hired held the same worldview, which is imperative for any institution that wants to breed a certain image and create a shared culture. Jindal calls the administration’s position “offensive” and “frightening.”
In his last example, Jindal cites the florists, photographers, and bakers who have faced legal penalties because of their failure to serve at gay marriage ceremonies. Soon, Jindal predicts, churches and synagogues will be forced to recognize, bless, or at least host same-sex ceremonies. Failure to participate at all in gay marriages would likely be litigated under antidiscrimination laws and force churches to withdraw from the public square. Jindal anticipates a not-too-distant future in which “churches that do not host same-sex unions would essentially be barred from participating fully in civil society.”
“The President suggests that the right to worship and the right to evangelize and freely practice our faith are the same thing,” Jindal says. “They’re not, and they’re not what the First Amendment clearly protects: the freedom to practice our faith and protect our conscience, even if those activities don’t happen to occur inside the four walls of a church building. We have the right to practice our faith and protect our conscience no matter where we happen to be.”
In order to protect our freedom to exercise our deeply held religious beliefs, Jindal insists, “We must enshrine in our state laws strong legal protections for churches, religious organizations, and individual believers. No church or church-affiliated organization, or individual whose business is run in a manner consistent with their faith practices, should be required by the state to take steps in conflict with their religion.”
“We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:22-32).
Despite frequently being told by the Jewish leaders not to teach in the name of Jesus, the apostles did anyway. Regardless of whether they were persecuted, imprisoned, or punished, the apostles testified to the good news of Jesus Christ, for they felt deeply that it was their responsibility to witness to His truth. When they were brought before the high priests, the apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Of course, obedience to God does not occur solely in church (in one location) or on Sunday (on one day), but in every location, every day. It is impossible for the dedicated Christian not to live a life of faithful obedience in the public square.
Thankfully, in the United States of America, we are guaranteed the free exercise of religion. That means that we can obey God without fearing legal retribution. In most cases, we can be thankful that we don’t have the dilemma of obeying God rather than men. And that’s the ideal scenario — when man’s laws allow us to follow God’s laws.
But, as Gov. Jindal notes in his remarks, the time may soon come when individuals and businesses have to choose between following God’s law or man’s law. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter From Birmingham Jail that he is obligated to obey the eternal law of God rather than the law of men, so we too ought to abide by the higher law in all circumstances.
Still, for our sake and the sake of our children, we should actively seek to protect the free exercise of religion that allows the faithful to live freely, with dignity and without the fear of public retaliation.