Issues relating to religious liberty vary around the world from country to country and region to region. There are still many countries with state-supported religions, and some of these see incidences of violence against minority religions on a regular basis. Many developed nations, on the other hand, have become highly secularized, and there is a tendency to view all religions and religiously-minded people as backward, illogical, and judgmental. This is the trend in Europe and the United States. The trend is manifest in attitudes on the street, in the press, in institutions of higher learning, in state and federal government, and in the courts. The interaction between these various entities complicates issues of religious freedom.
The United States started out with a marked Judeo-Christian ethic and a mostly European immigrant population. Higher governmental positions were mostly populated by members of large and traditional Protestant churches. There was a general consensus in the population about what defined moral behavior. There was also consensus on what defined “family.” Especially during the Victorian era of the mid and late 1800′s, family roles were firmly delineated. Parents who taught Christian or even Jewish values in the home were upheld in the schools, in the workplace, and in the public square. Politicians invoked the name of God without discomfort, as did shop-keepers and judges.
Several trends have overlapped to simultaneously bring about confusion and disintegration of family roles, the devaluation of religious ideas, and an emphasis on diversity and secularism. It is difficult for a believing person to separate these from the moral degeneration evident in modern times. A few of these trends are as follows:
- The establishment of families for other reasons than bearing children – The invention of reliable birth control gave husbands and wives the choice not to have children. A redefinition of marriage inevitably followed. Each person deserved a soul-mate, and that requirement became the top priority. No fault divorce meant that if a person didn’t turn out to be that soul-mate after all, an easy divorce could follow. Co-habitation provided a seeming way to test compatibility before marriage and an easy-out if the relationship was difficult. The availability of abortion meant mistakes could be righted and responsibilities lessened with fewer or no children involved. With such a fluid definition of what a household is, it began to look possible for anyone to form one, and the family began to shape-shift. The idea of gay marriage throws out the window the idea of traditional family and all traditional religions. Although gay activists seem not to see it, it is the greatest enemy of religious freedom in the developed world right now.
- In America, the view of the U.S. Constitution as an ever-evolving document instead of an inspired document – The Founding Fathers were all religious in their own way. The original colonists having fled religious oppression in Europe imposed by state religions, the constitution was fashioned in such a way as to make sure this would not happen in America. The Bill of Rights has as its first amendment a guarantee of religious freedom. It says the state will not impose any certain religion upon the population but will guarantee freedom of worship. The First Amendment was never intended to separate church and state in such a way that religion would be completely banned from the public square, but that is how modern secularist judges see it. By banning all expressions of religion from the public square, secularists have confined it to within church walls. In the voting box, at the workplace, in schools, religion and its sister — freedom of conscience — have been demonized. One now hears that the only sin is to perceive someone else as a sinner. It seems everything is acceptable except religious conscience.
- An appreciation of diversity — At first glance, this looks highly desirable — a wonderful ideal. We are slowly learning not to be racist, not to degrade women, not to judge people who choose to live differently than we do. But if we open our arms wide enough without discriminating, we invite in all sorts of behaviors that can doom us. Not all lifestyles are safe or good for society. Religion historically has given us guidance in this area, although its history is blackened by harsh judgment and prejudice. There is a middle road, and it consists of following religious principles better. In the past, where religious bodies have become persecutors, they have forgotten the religious principles of forgiveness and charity. We can be loving but keep our standards.
As secularism grows in strength, patterns in society change. Religious clubs are banned from college campuses. Wedding photographers can’t refuse services to gay couples. Nativity scenes must be removed from public parks. School children must be trained to accept alternative sexual lifestyles and to value them. People of conscience can be fired from their jobs or their businesses banished from city centers for trying to uphold Christian standards. Thus those who claim to be the most enlightened, open, and non-judgmental, in calling religious people “haters” because of their standards, become blind haters instead, but never see it.
Creeping secularism is the enemy of religious freedom that faces developed countries. This website covers the ways in which it rears it head and threatens religious practice and religious conscience.