Three Reasons Freedom of Religion Matters
by Tom Gilson*
Freedom of religion matters. It is unique from other freedoms. It wasn’t chosen ad hoc for inclusion in the Bill of Rights. Freedom of religion is not freedom-of-something-or-other.
I needed to say that when I saw urbanus’s comment today, in response to the statement that at least two people in the UK had lost their jobs for opposing gay marriage,
Okay, but that’s not the issue. If they lost their jobs for discriminating against people who are black, or disabled, or something, who would be crying about “freedom” then? (I wish I could refuse to do my job and not get sacked, on the basis of my freedom-of-something-or-other!)
Let me mention briefly — so we can set it aside and concentrate on the main point — that freedom of religion doesn’t mean always being able to claim one’s faith as a reason not to do one’s job. We need not explore all the ins and outs of that here. What I want to say instead as that freedom of religion differs from other freedoms in at least three fundamental aspects.
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1. Dethroning the state
Freedom of religion signifies the state’s recognition that it is not the highest power. That was the point of this freedom’s inception, as I understand American history. Even Benjamin Franklin, noted non-believer, assured the Continental Congress that “God rules in the affairs of men.”
This recognition is basic to all other human liberties. The state is (if I may state the obvious) the highest visible power; and as such, it is subject to all the temptations of power. Governments expand to fill the space available. There are only two effective checks upon their growth and ultimately their intrusion upon all subjects and citizens. The first such check is another competing human power: another state or their own citizenry. The second is the sober awareness that they are not the highest power after all; they answer to another, higher Power.
Totalitarianism tends to run shoulder-to-shoulder with institutionalized unbelief. The twentieth century is rife with examples. Squashing religion serves the authoritarian state’s interest: it’s called “eliminating competition for the throne.” The best defense against this illiberal outcome is freedom of religion…
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*Tom Gilson is the National Field Director for Ratio Christi, responsible for training and supporting the Regional and Chapter Directors. Tom was on staff with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) for over 30 years and has wide ranging experience as a ministry strategist, writer, teacher, HR leader, blogger, and apologist. He has a Masters degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Florida. He has served as a ministry strategist and writer for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, also known as BreakPoint; and has done strategic and organizational consulting work for Josh McDowell Ministry, the JESUS Film Project, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and other ministries as well as local churches.