by Tim O'Hearn
One of the foundations of the United States of America is freedom of religion. Granted, lately it seems the courts think that should be freedom from religion; but the original idea was that everyone was free to choose whatever religion they wanted. I will even grant that some of those founding fathers may have considered that to be freedom of Christian religion, but other religions have practiced in America for as long as anybody. I am glad my country grants freedom of religion. Nevertheless, there are certain dangers in granting such freedom.
One of those dangers is the aforementioned freedom from religion. When this country decided that it would not force one religion on its citizens, it opened the way for those “whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame.” (Phil 3:19) While the original intent of the constitution did not include discrimination against those who do not believe in any God, it also did not intend for those who refuse to believe in God to be able to discriminate against those who do. And yet that is what seems to have come about. The courts have seemed to make atheism the state religion, in violation of the supreme law of the land. I have no objection to removing the Ten Commandments from public land. Nor do I have any objection to letting them stay in a public building, as long as other scriptures, including Christian scriptures, are allowed to be displayed as well. Freedom of religion makes it easy to ignore God. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” (Rom 1:28)
A similar danger of freedom of religion is that it allows people to think that they can change God’s word to fit whatever their choice of doctrine might be. Because the American government says you can believe anything you want, you don’t have to follow God’s word, even if you claim to be a Christian or a Jew. If a woman wants to preach in her own congregation, that is allowed, because freedom of religion trumps Paul’s clear prohibition. A person can commit adultery openly, and not suffer the biblical consequences of a congregation choosing to publicly limit fellowship with that person. After all, freedom of religion allows me to follow a religion only when it is convenient for me. The problem is that most of us think that freedom of religion means freedom to make everyone else follow our religion. And if we want to claim association with a group that doesn’t believe as we do, rather than find someone who does agree with us, we try to force others to accept us.
Perhaps the most hazardous aspect of the cult of freedom of religion is that people begin to believe that since it doesn’t matter to the government what you believe, it must not matter to God either. This is different from the idea of freedom from religion. There someone is trying to force religious people not to be religious. This is more the idea that you can have your religion and I can have mine and even if I claim to believe in God he has to grant me my freedom. With most people, hearing the gospel leads to a choice between obeying and not obeying. If they don’t obey, they are choosing that option. To others, though, freedom or religion says they don’t have to make a choice. God has to accept them as they are, because that is their constitutional right. The concept is that God is bound by the American constitutional provision of freedom of religion.
Throughout this article I have used the phrase “freedom of religion.” Actually, the American constitution does not guarantee freedom of religion. It only guarantees freedom from government interference in religion. There is a difference. Everyone is always free to choose their religion. They are free to choose to accept God, or reject him. The problem is that some people begin to believe that since the government cannot tell them what to believe, neither can God. That is the real danger; that someone will try to tell God he has no right to punish their disobedience, because that is a violation of their freedom of religion. God grants people the right to choose. But he reserves the right to punish or reward that choice. And no government can take that away from Him.