By H. Lynn Gardner
As a child, Dr. Garland Bare lived in Tibet until Communists forced his family’s departure. He spent 23 years as a missionary and doctor in Thailand. He observed stages in the loss of religious freedom. First, a political correctness defined and controlled acceptable speech. Second, officials favored and protected certain classes, never including Christians. Third, anything stated against the protected classes was hate speech. Fourth, speech considered hate speech received penalties, fines, and execution. Fifth, outright persecution of Christians followed.
After World War I the Allies imposed a republican form of government on Germany, even though they lacked the necessary prerequisites for an effective republic. A weak, ineffective government and economic depression created uncertainty in the German people. Scientific naturalism and theological liberalism had undermined confidence in truth, morality, God, Christ, and the Bible. Fearful of the Communist threat, the wealthy and the majority wanted a strong leader.
A strong-willed Adolph Hitler with rhetoric and political maneuvering used the ineffective democratic government to gain dictatorial power. He deceitfully claimed religious beliefs while undermining religion’s vitality. He assumed total power by persuading the weak president to nullify the constitution and cause the legislative body to dissolve itself. The German people lost freedom of religion and all true freedom.
These case studies should warn us to give our best thought and action to preserving America’s freedom.
The Revolutionary War won freedom for Americans and the founders ordered freedom by basic documents: Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. These documents viewed freedom of speech and religion as inherent rights of individuals created by God. Since our freedoms are rights granted by God, government can only affirm or deny what God has given.
Both the French and Russian revolutions failed to win or order freedom for their people. They lacked constitutional guarantees and they rejected God as a moral authority shaping the character of their people to make freedom a reality.
Our founding fathers realized every human being is capable of evil, so they built into the Constitution a separation of powers with checks and balances to protect against the abuse of power.
A free society must have constitutional guarantees and moral citizens. Os Guinness said the framers of the Constitution believed “freedom requires virtue, which requires faith.” In his book A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, Guiness concluded: “Sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution, which is the foundational law of the land, should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry which comprises its moral constitution, or habits of the heart.”
Without moral character in both the ruler and the ruled, basic trust will not exist.
The following beliefs are essential to a free society:
• the dignity and worth of every individual
• all individuals are subject to the law
• respect for the authority of God as creator and moral authority
• acknowledgement of objective truth and transcendent moral law
Building on these beliefs, a society can extend freedom of thought, conscience, belief, and religion to all.
In his address to the military in 1798, John Adams stated, “Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Ben Franklin wrote in a letter, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”
The Challenge of a Cultural Revolution
The moral fiber of many Americans has been compromised by a cultural revolution. Belief in God as creator and moral lawgiver has been replaced by an evolutionary, pragmatic, and relativistic view of morality.
• Disrespect for life is seen in the prevalence of abortion, infanticide, doctor-assisted suicide; employers are being forced to fund insurance for abortions and morning-after pills for employees.
• Cultural pundits and government officials consider any disapproval of the homosexual/lesbian lifestyle as hate speech; military chaplains are required to perform same-sex marriages. Loose heterosexual morals destabilize marriages, families, and society.
• Universities are “derecognizing” Christian organizations that require leaders to hold biblical beliefs.
A shift has occurred from freedom of religion to freedom from religion in the public arena. Instead of freedom of religion including practicing your religious values in daily life, government is restricting this freedom to freedom of worship. Freedom of religion is gone when defined as only freedom of worship. Even the oppressive communist Romania allowed freedom of worship.
With no acknowledged objective truth or transcendent moral law, truth becomes relative and subjective, “My truth is what is true for me.” A shift has occurred from the rule and authority of law, “what the law says and means,” to interpretation of law by officials, “what the law means to me.” Rule by persons not subject to law leads to the loss of freedom.
Philosopher William Lane Craig said the university is “the single most important institution shaping Western culture.” Universities have led the charge in rejecting transcendent moral standards. The majority of university administrators and faculty reject a biblical worldview in favor of a humanistic, relativistic view of the world and life.
Leaders in politics, media, press, entertainment, technology, religion, and many Americans have adopted secular, human-centered thinking, even if they are nominally religious. Many Americans no longer hold to the basic beliefs and moral values essential to a free society.
Sustaining America’s Religious Freedom
The Constitution and Bill of Rights cannot guarantee our freedom. If a majority of citizens and government officials reject objective truth and morality, they will interpret these documents as they believe and want, regardless of what the documents originally meant. Sustaining a free society depends on the moral character of people committed to the cultural values and self-government essential to freedom.
America’s founders did not make Christianity the state religion. Those who forged the constitutional approach to freedom of religion included orthodox Christians, unorthodox Christians, and deists. However, these founders believed in a Creator God whose providence shaped their lives. They feared an established state religion because they saw the persecution by established religions in Europe and America. They believed in the value of the free exercise of religion as essential to the preservation of the republic.
A cultural battle wages between those who accept transcendent cultural values and moral virtues based on a moral Creator and those viewing morality as relative to human preference and opinion. The victor in this battle will determine if America can remain a free society. We must defend the worldview that affirms God as our maker and our foundation for transcendent truth and moral authority.
Religious liberty is the essential freedom. Without freedom of conscience and belief (religious or non-religious), the free society we have experienced in America will not exist. William Wilberforce and John Wesley led a deteriorating England to a renewal of morality. America’s hope for preserving our freedom of conscience and belief lies in a renewal brought about by winning people to faith in God and his rule in their lives.
H. Lynn Gardner is a freelance writer in Carl Junction, Missouri.