“The liberty to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will is a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.” - Thomas Jefferson
Often called America’s “first freedom,” religious freedom was key to our founding. In fact, it’s no accident that the Founders listed it as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. It was the reason the Pilgrims made the treacherous journey across the Atlantic—to escape persecution and establish a haven of religious freedom.
In both their public and private lives, the American Founders were not shy about expressing their faith. But today, there is a growing movement to silence the religious expression of public officials, particularly Christians. On Easter Sunday, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a born-again Christian, posted John 11:25 on his government social media accounts. The verse reads, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.’” Next to the picture was the caption “He is risen! Have a happy and blessed Easter!” The Arizona Republic quickly denounced the post as a violation of the separation of church and state, arguing that Gov. Ducey cannot use his government social media accounts to promote a particular religion. Yet when former President Obama wished everyone a “Happy Ramadan” in 2013 and 2015 from his official White House account, he was never criticized for endorsing Islam.
But Gov. Ducey isn’t the only public official who has faced such unfair scrutiny. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was attacked a few days prior for his comments about a Christian ministry. At a fundraiser for Capitol Ministries, an organization whose sole mission is to reach every public servant with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Bridenstine gave a few words of praise for the ministry: “I love what Ralph said earlier: We’re not trying to Christianize the US government. We believe in an institutional separation, but we also believe in influence. And that’s a big distinction and an important distinction, and that’s why I love this ministry.” Once again, leftist groups were quick to denounce Bridenstine’s comments, claiming that he used his government position to endorse a religion and violated the Establishment Clause. Yet these groups were strangely silent when former President Obama spoke at fundraisers for Planned Parenthood and even called for God’s blessing on the abortion giant.
The Left won’t even leave the Second Lady alone. In January, Karen Pence was lambasted for teaching at a Christian school that holds to a biblical view of sexuality, meaning that individuals who identify as LGBT are prohibited from working at the school. Apparently, the Left believes any association with Christianity by a public official is tantamount to violating the Establishment Clause.
It seems the Left is intent on silencing Christians who hold public office from expressing their faith. However, they seem to conveniently forget that our nation was founded on freedom of religious expression and that our Founding Fathers actively exercised that freedom while holding public office. In fact, as President, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all called for national days of prayer. In the states, many governors including Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, Caleb Strong, and Jonathan Trumbull all called for days of prayer and repentance.
Furthermore, the First Amendment is clear that there should be “no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This was directly in reference to the Church of England, which the former British colonies were required to support and attend. Under the new Constitution, Americans were free to support or not support the religion of their choice without any fear of government repercussion—and they don’t forfeit this right just because they serve in public office. It is just silly to claim that the comments and actions of Gov. Ducey, Jim Bridenstine, and the Second Lady “established” a religion.
One doesn’t leave their religion behind when they are elected or appointed to a government office. Yes, public officials are rightfully held to a higher standard. But one’s faith remains just as much a part of him or her as it was before, and we remain free to express it while holding public office.
Gov. Ducey was quick to respond to his critics and showed no intentions of backing down: “We won’t be removing this post. Ever. Nor will we be removing our posts for Christmas, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Palm Sunday, Passover, or any other religious holiday. We support the First Amendment and are happy to provide copies of the Constitution to anyone who hasn’t read it.” Responding to The Arizona Republic, Ducey said: “With respect to your ‘experts,’ people don’t lose the right to free speech when they run for office. So, no, we STILL won’t be taking the post down. Not now, not ever.”
Gov. Ducey is right—it might do the Left some good to read the Constitution. They’ll be surprised to find that “separation of church and state,” which they are so quick to espouse, is found nowhere in the Constitution. In fact, it is from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1801 to a Baptist church congregation from Danbury, Connecticut—and the letter states just the opposite of what the Left calls for today. A committee from the church had written a letter to President-elect Jefferson, congratulating him on his election and urging him to protect religious freedom. President Jefferson wrote “that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God.” Jefferson assured the Danbury Baptists of his commitment to protecting the freedom of religion. He went on to quote the establishment clause and that it had built “a wall of separation between church and state.” Jefferson still made public expressions of faith as president but never came close to establishing a religion as defined by the First Amendment.
The Left’s double standard is unbelievable. While advocating for tolerance, they demand that every public official submit to their agenda. Those that do not face a complete sabotage of their career. Because of this, attacks like the ones on Gov. Ducey, Jim Bridenstine, and Karen Pence will continue to escalate on Christians in public office. Like Gov. Ducey, we must be ready with swift responses. The key to preserving our freedoms—including religious freedom for public officials—lies in exercising them. If we don’t exercise those rights, we will lose them. But as long as we keep fighting, religious liberty will remain alive and well.