Yearning to Be Free

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The Fourth of July - a day on which we celebrate our liberty - is a good time to ask, what is the state of religious freedom today?

Let's see. In New York last month, the owners of a private skating rink were warned by the state's Division of Human Rights to stop holding a Christian skating event on Sundays. It allegedly discriminated against non-Christians.

In Iowa, as part of his ruling against Prison Fellowship and the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a federal judged grossly mischaracterized the orthodox beliefs of evangelicals (such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus). He said these beliefs are hostile to "many Christians." Then he ordered the InnerChange program in Iowa shut down.

And in Boston, Catholic Charities was recently forced out of the adoption business because it would not, for doctrinal reasons, agree to place children with homosexuals.

This hostility towards religious practice would have shocked America's Founders. They understood that freedom is a gift of God, made possible only when societies recognize God's authority.

Two hundred and thirty years ago, our Founders bravely declared their independence in one of the most eloquent documents ever written, the Declaration of Independence. It was a ringing call to freedom - not only for the American colonists, but for people the world over. But what few remember is that our IN-dependence declared that day is predicated on our DE-pendence upon God.

The Declaration's first lines refer to "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God." The Founders also declared their "firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence." And in the most stirring lines of this document, they wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

But these truths are far from being self-evident to many elites today. For 50 years, they've tried to scrub religion out of public life. Even to speak of God's authority is deemed intolerant.

This is madness. Thomas Jefferson, himself a Deist, understood that political independence could rest only upon human dependence upon a higher authority, whatever one might call that authority - God, or Providence, or the Almighty.

Today we are engaged in a clash of civilizations and a noble mission in Iraq, not to conquer, but to liberate - to give Iraqis what President Bush calls "God's gift of human freedom." But we cannot export something we don't have. If we don't see freedom as God's gift, we will have great difficulty establishing free societies around the world - or, for that matter, hanging onto our own freedom. As Rodney Stark writes in his brilliant book, THE VICTORY OF REASON, our ideas about democracy and equality stem from the Christian understanding of man created in God's image.

And that's why freedom has flourished only in those societies where citizens have embraced Judeo-Christian understandings of human dignity and God-given rights.

We do have much to celebrate and be grateful for this Fourth of July. But we must also be vigilant and defend against attacks on religious freedom that could undermine the very liberty we celebrate.

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From BreakPoint®, July 4, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.