Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision requiring government recognition of same-sex marriage, religious believers in wedding-related industries like bakers, florists, and photographers have increasingly faced challenges over their convictions about marriage.
The challenges are not limited to wedding vendors and creative professionals. Changing views of the foundational institution of marriage and shifting sexual mores in an increasingly pluralistic culture present a challenge generally to those who hold biblical views about these issues.
These conflicts are likely to confront Christians and other religious believers who sincerely seek to integrate their faith in everything they do. Protecting the common good includes protecting the freedom for religious believers to serve their neighbors in these and many other callings.
Religious Freedom Goes Hand in Hand with Other Freedoms
The religious freedom enjoyed in the United States is admired around the world. One of the ways that our country can advance religious freedom abroad is by making sure that this lamp of liberty still burns bright for the rest of the world to see.
Yet some U.S. leaders have in recent years been referring to “freedom of worship” rather than “religious freedom.” That might seem unimportant but it is actually very significant. The freedom to worship is the freedom to practice religion in one’s home or house of worship, privately.
But the free exercise of religion is the freedom to speak and to act in public on the basis of one’s beliefs. It is the freedom to share one’s faith and even to invite others to it. Free exercise means that we don’t have to leave our faith outside when we enter the schoolhouse or the workplace.
Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of association. These are fundamental liberties guaranteed by our U.S. Constitution… for all—majority and minority. By definition, most people will not agree with a minority viewpoint. But that doesn’t mean that government should be able to force people with a minority view to express the majority viewpoint—or to be silent. In too many cases, that has been exactly the choice government has presented religious believers.
Concern for Those in Need is Reason to Care about Religious Freedom
For countless Christian ministries serving the poor, providing food and shelter to the homeless, mentoring children, and restoring neighborhoods, their good works and their faith go hand-in-hand. Those seeking to help people overcome drug addiction emphasize that they rely on the transforming power of prayer and Scripture in their work. Those who serve in faith-based outreach to prisoners point to God’s work to set men and women spiritually free even as they remain behind bars. The Christian worldview lived out in these ministries defines who these groups are and what they do.
But new policies are being proposed that would undermine that religious identity. These policies would not allow Christian ministries seeking social justice by serving those at risk to live according to their biblical understanding of the truth about marriage and sexuality.
Concern for fighting poverty and helping victims of abuse should give us all reason to stand for religious liberty. Religious freedom matters for the needs of our neighbors and for the common good of the communities in which we live.
Religious Freedom is about True Tolerance for Diversity
The mere fact of one’s own existence presents each human being with questions of ultimate significance. We must be free to pursue answers to those deepest questions, and free to live by the answers that we find. That’s what religious freedom is all about. The fact that these fundamental, existential questions confront every human being shows why religious freedom is not a special-interest demand but an essential freedom for all.
One of the most important ways that we can treat each other with dignity and respect despite our deep differences is through religious freedom. Religious freedom is about true tolerance for diversity, in view of the existential reality we all face and the ultimate questions that confront everyone. As citizens, we need to engage each other reason as we seek to pursue the common good. Incivility denies the dignity of those directly involved and of the surrounding community.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Set Free: Restoring Religious Freedom for All (Abilene Christian University Press, 2019). Save $10, while supplies last! Order here.