Religious liberty is one of the most important yet misunderstood issues in America. The term often appears in conversations surrounding LGBT rights and the push to normalize same-sex marriage. Advocates for strong religious liberty protections are often described as intolerant and labeled “bigots.” For those familiar with the history of religious liberty in the United States, this recent phenomenon is alarming, because religious liberty, until recently, was uncontroversial and embraced by an overwhelming majority of Americans.
Because of the growing perception that religious liberty advocacy is a pretense for codifying prejudice and bigotry into law, Christians need to articulate with greater clarity and persuasiveness why we support religious liberty and why we believe all people are served when everyone’s religious beliefs and practices are protected.
In this publication, it will be argued that the Bible supports an expansive view of religious liberty. This is seen in the Bible’s use of persuasion, not coercion, as the means of drawing followers to Christ. Moreover, the Bible presents faith as a spiritual reality that cannot be forced on people if it is to be genuine. This is why the Bible envisions a society where religious liberty is respected and individuals make their own choices when it comes to religion.
These ideas will be unpacked in two primary areas: (1) key biblical texts that support a broad understanding of religious freedom, and (2) key theological arguments based on those texts—specifically those made by Roger Williams, which help illustrate how Christians applied the Bible’s teaching on religious liberty during an era when this freedom was denied to religious minorities in the American colonies and around the world.