July, 2018

AMERICA'S FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT PROTECTED RIGHT

What is America's first-protected, most-important, and longest cherished, politically-protected right?  Recently, on a game show, the question required the contestants to put in the proper order, from most important to least important, three of the top most important rights we have in the United States.  The three were taken from a survey done by one of America's most well known news agencies.  The three they had to put in order were: freedom of speech; the right to vote; and the right to bear arms.  The number one, first, and most protected, and longest cherished right was not even mentioned by any of the thousands who responded to the survey.

What is this first and most important right which predates the Constitution, back to the very first settlers who came to this continent?  It is the "right of religious conscience."  You say, "Well, that is in the Constitution."  The right of religious conscience, up until this generation has always been understood to be wrapped up in the wording of the Constitution.  However, there is a big difference between religious conscience and religious freedom.  While religious freedom is a part of religious conscience, religious conscience goes a lot deeper.

The early colonists coming to America came for several reasons, one of them being the right of religious conscience.  In Europe, the governments consistently told them how to practice their faith, and punished them if they did not do what the government wanted.  However, the religiously-minded colonists believed that no one but God could tell them how to practice their faith.

The Pilgrims came to this continent in 1620 to escape the government sponsored persecution in Europe, as did more than 20,000 Puritans in the 1630's.  In 1632, government persecuted Catholics fled to America; in 1634 persecuted Jews from Portugal; in 1653, persecuted Quakers came here, as did persecuted Anabaptists from Germany in 1683.  Up to 400,000 persecuted Protestants from France crossed the ocean in 1685, and we could go on and on.  John Quincy Adams stated that, "The transcendent and overruling principle of the first settlers of New England was conscience." 

In 1776 when America separated from Great Britain, the rightes of religious conscience were once again promptly preserved in the new state constitutions, and then in the federal Constitution.  According to our founding fathers, this was one of the most important rights they protected.

"No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of  conscience.  Our rulers can have no authority over such natural rightes only as we have submitted to them.  The rights of conscience we never submitted.  It is inconsistent with the spirit of our laws and Constitution to force tender consciences" (Thomas Jefferson).

"Government is instituted to protect property of every sort..  Conscience is the most sacred of all property"      (James Madison, Signer of the Constitution).

"The rights of conscience and private judgment...are by nature subject to no control but that of Deity, and in that free situation they are now left" (John Jay, an author of the Federalist Papers and the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court).

"Consciences of men are not the objects of human legislation...  The state does not have any concern in the matter.  For in what matter doth it affect society...in what outward form we think it best to pay our adoration to God" (William Livingston, signer of the U.S. Constitution).

We could continue on with many more.  Because of this belief, we in the United Sates have always found a way to accommodate the beliefs of those which are different than the majority - until now.  Let me give you just a few examples:
  * Conscientious objectors are not forced (drafted) to 
     fight in time of war.
  * Jehovah's Witnesses were exempted from state laws 
     which required the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance
     in school each day
  * The Amish are not required to complete the standard 
     minimum state required educational process.
  * Christian Scientists are not forced to have their child-
     ren vaccinated or undergo medical procedures often
     required by state laws.
  * Seventh Day Adventists cannot be penalized for 
     refusing to work on Saturday.
  * Christian owned business cannot be forced to 
     purchase health insurance for their employees which 
     covers procedures and services which would violate
     their consciences.  President Obama found that out 
     when he tried to force the issue.
And the list goes on and on.  We, as Americans, are known for accomodating people whose beliefs are different than ours.  Not only is this right protected in our federal Constitution, but also in almost every one of the fifty states.  For instance, in the State of Washington, the Constitution states: "Absolute freedom of conscience in all matteers of religious sentiment, belief, and worship shall be guaranteed to every individual; and no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion..."  That could not be any clearer.  But recently the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against Baronelle Stutzman, a florist.  The court ruled that she was bound by state law to use her artistic talents to design floral arrangements to celebrate what she viewed as an immoral event - a gay wedding.  To do so would have caused her to sin against her God.  The pretext for overriding the florist's rightes to free speech and religious liberty was Washington's so-called "Public Accommodations Law," which required the owner, Barronelle Stutzman, to provide goods and services to customers regardless of their sexual orientaion (The National Review, February 16, 2017).  The florist was fined and coerced to use her talent and skills in a way that violates her sincerely held religions beliefs.  In other words, the government now has the right to determine which religious beliefs are legitimate, and which are not.

Let me share two other recent occurrences: First from Atlanta, Georgia.  The Atlanta Mayor recently fired his nationally known and renowned fire chief.  Why?  Because the chief, on his own time and at his own cost, prepared and printed a booklet for a study he was leading with his Sunday School class at church.  The mayor found its contents objectionable.  That is government sponsored religious persecution!

Allow me just one more please.  The Tulsa, Oklahoma Police Chief permanently demoted one of his lieutenants because he refused to go to a local Muslim Mosque on Friday (the Muslim holy day) and bow down and pray to Allah in order to show solidarity with the Muslim community.  The lieutenant said he could not pray to another god because that would be idolatry.  He appealed the demotion through the court system and was denied a hearing before the Supreme Court, allowing to stand the lower federal court ruling in favor of the chief.  Again, that is government sponsored religious persecution.  And that is just the beginning - there are many more.

I said earlier, let me share one more; but I feel I need to bring you still one more; this one with a glimmer of light.

The Denver, Colorado bakery owner who refused to design a wedding cake for a gay couple, did receive a semblance of victory from the U.S. Supreme Court.  The couple had been customers of his for years, with no problem.  The problem arose when the couple decided to get married, and ordered a wedding cake.  The baker had no problem baking the cake for them.  His problem was that he refused to design and decorate it in what he consider to be a vile, vulgar and sinful way.  He believe that to do that would cause him to sin against his God.  By the way, he would have refused to design a cake for a heterosexual couple if they wanted something on the cake that he considered would cause him to sin.  Even the Walmart bakery has limits as to what they will put on a cake (at least I know that to be a fact from the past).

The Supreme Court, in overruling the Colorado commission charged with enforcing the state's equal rights laws, did not address the matters of free speech or conscience.  The Court, instead, slapped the wrists of the commission mmbers for the rude, ugly, and demeaning manner in which they treated the bakery owner.  Of course that will not bring back the man's business nor his retirement savings spent in defending himself against bigotry.  Yes, "bigotry."  You see, the ones who cry the loudest for tolerance and inclusiveness are, at the same time the most intolerant and exclusive.  They support all who are as liberal or more liberal than themselves.  But they believe that people of conscience should be demeaned and demoted to second class citizens, losing rights they are given under the constitution.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I do not believe in discrimination.  I do not believe that we as Bible believing Christians have any right to deny the rights of anyone.  We are taught that we are to love everyone.  As a matter of fact, that love is to exceed human love and be godly love (Agape: in Greek).  At the same time, because we love sinners, we must warn them that the Bible says they will not go to Heaven.  Not to warn them would be hatred toward them.  But their refusal to accept God's Word does not give us the right to treat them any differently than we treat anyone else.  Remember, the Bible also says that gossipers will not go to Heaven.  God does not have degrees of sin - sin is sin!  The problem only comes when someone tries to force us to sin against our God.

The fact is that Christians have been losing their religious rights at an alarming rate.  However, more secular oriented Americans, by enlarge don't understand this.  The typical response to this from non-church goers or even those who go occasionally is that no one is preventing anyone from going to the church of their choice.  That is true.  But government regulations are now preventing some Christians from living out their Christian beliefs in their daily lives; and that is what biblical Christianity is all about; and that is what freedom of conscience is all about.
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