January 15, 2018
When Americans celebrate Religious Freedom Day tomorrow, not everyone will be happy about it. Liberals are already blasting the tradition that honors the 1786 signing of one of the most influential documents in American history: the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Now, more than 230 years into the tradition that sparked a revolution, the Left is ready to recast history.
In Salon, hardly the bastion of conservative thought, Paul Rosenberg tries to persuade readers that freedom is the oppression, insisting that when Christians talk about religious liberty, it's really just code for "theocratic supremacism of their own religious beliefs inscribed in government." Taking aim at FRC in particular, Rosenberg points to Frederick Clarkson, who insists that our Church Ministries team has been "empowered to advance a dangerous suite of theocratic and persecutory policies" (while producing absolutely zero evidence to the effect). Instead, he talks suspiciously about our Culture Impact Teams (CITs), our network of on-the-ground activists in churches across America. Operating under the authority of the church's leadership, CITs serve as the command center for a church's efforts to engage the culture.
As even Rosenberg admits, our manual for these teams "certainly played a role in ... 2016," "serv[ing] as the foot soldiers of a formidable political army." They are, he worries, "Exhibit A for showing -- not only that this ideology is shaping national policy, but it is directly related to how leading organizations of the Christian Right plan to continue building their base into the future." It's ironic. One minute the Left is rushing to write our obituary -- and the next, we're powerful enough to create a theocracy!
According to this far-Left fringe, evangelicals are dangerous because they're trafficking in lies about the core value that brought the founders here in the first place. It's a myth that America was founded as a Christian nation, Rosenberg argues, pointing to the third president as one who lacked "a Christian worldview." In fact, he goes on, "The religious supremacism inherent in Christian nationalism is repulsive to most people," he claims (wrongly). "I think if we got serious about taking Jefferson and Madison's foundational ideas of religious equality under the law into the 21st century, Christian nationalism would crumble." Our own Constitution closes with the words, "In the year of our Lord, 1787." That's a reference to Jesus! The signers not only embraced Christianity, they anchored our most important document in it.
Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, was so proud of writing the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom that it's included on his tombstone! Does that sound like someone who doesn't believe in expressions of faith? "No nation," he said, "has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be." That's a far cry from the Jefferson liberals are trying to invent, a man intent on divorcing government of all religion.
Before President Trump, Jefferson would barely recognize his country. The government, once the guardian of liberty, became the aggressor against it. The government trampled our consciences with health care mandates, silenced our chaplains with radical marriage policy, and expelled churchgoers from public service. In eight years, we became a people afraid to pray, teach, practice medicine, or even manage a business without fear of government backlash.
Yet still, in a bizarre twist, the same forces out to distort our First Freedom are capable of warning about its plight. "Religious freedom is not a lovely antique," Rosenberg closes out his long tirade, "a family heirloom or relic of a bygone era. It is a dynamic, progressive value that underlies every other constitutional freedom we have -- and it is under siege." Of course, he neglects to mention that it's under siege by his movement's own ideologues! His problem -- and the problem of the Left -- is that it misunderstands the concept. Their tolerance for religion stops at the church's front doors. That was never how the framers intended it.
"To those who cite the First Amendment as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and everyday life," Ronald Reagan argued, "may I just say: The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny." Thank goodness that we finally have a president who understands that -- even if the Left does not.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.