FORT WASHINGTON, Md. (CNS) — The discussion on religious liberty is not the purview of a single denomination or faith tradition, but one that affects every U.S. citizen, said speakers on a panel looking at the issue.
And one key to thwarting state encroachments upon free exercise of religion is religious exercise itself, said panelist Tony Perkins, who is president and CEO of the Family Research Council.
“You make your home the way you want the world to look,” he said Feb. 28. “People say, ‘They won’t allow prayer in school anymore,’ then pray with your kids at home. They don’t allow the Ten Commandments in the courthouse anymore, but where are they in your house? That’s where it begins, but it shouldn’t be restricted to that.”
The panel discussion took place during the Conservative Political Action Conference, held at a convention center in a Maryland suburb of Washington.
Moderated by syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, the panel also included radio talk show host Dana Loesch and U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas.
The discussion covered topics from religious expression in schools and the workplace, economic disenfranchisement of those who espouse church teaching in the public square and nonreligious implications for threats to religious liberty in the United States.
Thomas cited the examples of a couple of bakers, a photographer and a florist who were sued, and in a couple of cases had to close their businesses, because they refused for religious reasons to provide their services to same-sex couples planning their wedding.
He also mentioned the federal mandate that most religious employers provide contraceptives even if they object to such coverage on moral grounds and what he described as “legions of Christian students” in public schools not allowed to invoke Christ’s name in speeches because they were told that it “violated the Constitution.”
“Had they used the name as a curse word, that same First Amendment presumably would have protected their right to do so,” he added.
“I’m not sure if religious liberty even exists anymore,” said Loesch, who recalled that as child, she and her elementary school classmates had to have signed permission slips to sing Christmas carols in a school play.
Loesch also stressed the responsibility of “living by example” that she said people of faith have.
“The biggest threat to religion (in the United States) is apathy,” she explained. “We as people of faith need to lead better by example, and to be more active in the community. Christians have always led in this regard … but I feel that over the past 10 to 15 years there’s been a great deal of apathy in the church.”
Perkins agreed, saying Americans “have lost religious freedom in this country because we have refused to exercise our religious freedom.”
Americans who are people of faith have failed to follow the mantra that “if you see something, say something,” and that silence has led to a loss of religious freedom.
He cited a recent Rasmussen poll in which that 82 percent of the respondents said they believe that Americans should not have to “quarantine their faith within the four walls of a church.”
Noting the much-anticipated oral arguments in four same-sex marriage cases the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear, Perkins said the same poll also showed that 61 percent of Americans believe that the court should not “impose same-sex marriage on the entire nation.”
“If the court does try to impose this on the whole nation, it won’t solve the issue,” said Perkins. “Rather, I think it will lure us into one of the most tumultuous cultural times this nation has ever seen.”
Loesch argued that “it’s time to make Christians a protected class.”
“You have group A who is offended if you worship Jesus, you’ve got group B who is offended if you want to hand out a Bible, and a mentality that says you have a right to get litigious if you get offended,” she said. “It is not fair and it is not equal that, in order to accommodate someone else, that you must be deprived of a right.”
Thomas asked her, “If you are living a life that would be pleasing to (God), shouldn’t you expect to be persecuted?” Loesch responded, “I think so and I think it’s a badge of honor.”
Perkins urged both believers and nonbelievers to coalesce on the issue.
“Whether you’re religious or nonreligious, religious freedom is the freedom upon which all other freedoms hinge,” he said, “and the future of our country is only as bright as our religious freedom is.”
Added Loesch, “You don’t have to be a Christian to be affected by a loss of religious liberty … because if one freedom can be taken away, all of them can be taken away.”
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website puts it, “If religious liberty is not properly understood, all people suffer and are deprived of the essential contribution to the common good — be it in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights and social services — that individuals make every day, both here at home and overseas.”