NASHVILLE – Public policy experts at this year's National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville asserted that the government religious liberty and freedom issues facing Christians today are fundamentally and intrinsically tied to the future of culture in America.
Janet Parshall, host of the daily radio talk show "In the Market," moderated a panel on Tuesday that included Todd Starnes of Fox News, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, Pastor Rafael Cruz, father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and NRB Sr. VP and Chief Legal Counsel Craig Parshall.
Janet Parshall said finding the subject matter for this year's event was not difficult. "It took us about three nano-seconds to decide what we were going to discuss here today," joked Parshall. "It's the most important issue Christians are facing today."
The forum's primary theme centered around how government is undercutting the basic rights Americans have enjoyed since its founding, touching on the overreach of agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Communications Commission.
Craig Parshall, Janet's husband and an expert on religious liberty issues, pointed out the connection between social issues and how they tie into the loss of freedom many in our country have encountered in recent years. He made a particular reference to private for-profit companies who are refusing to comply with the HHS mandate handed down by the Obama administration last year that requires large employers to provide birth control for their employees.
"The Hobby Lobby issue is about abortion, but more importantly, it's about religious liberty," said Craig Parshall. "This is sophisticated warfare we are involved in."
The two agencies most often associated with generating the most controversial headlines on religious liberty issues in recent months have been the IRS and the FCC. In 2013 evidence was uncovered that IRS employees in the Cincinnati, Ohio office went too far in investigating and delaying the granting of non-profit status to groups aligned with the Tea Party movement. More recently, the FCC has made threats about investigating and ultimately controlling how journalists and media outlets investigate, write and report the news.
Sekulow, a Jewish born attorney who later converted to Christianity, is the founder and Chief Legal Counsel of the ACLJ. He is on the frontlines in the fight for religious liberty and has argued the issue multiple times in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, making the case that government overreach is not warranted in America.
"The government targeting anyone is wrong. Period," Sekulow said in referencing the IRS and FCC issues. "And to make matter worst, the Department of Justice investigating the IRS is a meaningless exercise. But we need to be concerned that they thought they could actually do this."
Sekulow issued a word of caution to conservative groups who hope the courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, will ultimately side with them in one or more of the high-profile cases that may come before them.
"Be careful what you wish for," Sekulow said. "One bad ruling could do significant damage to the same issues we are fighting for."
Starnes, who writes opinion columns and host a radio program on Fox News, commented that as a journalist that he would resist any attempts by the FCC to control how he performs his job.
"It will be a cold day in the butterbean patch before the FCC comes in and ask about how I cover my stories," noted Starnes.
Janet Parshall asked Starnes that as an unashamed follower of Jesus Christ what it was like to work at Fox News.
"I think one of the great things about Fox News is they welcome people of faith," said Starnes. "I serve alongside some other great Christians and for me being the best journalist I can be is doing my job as a Christian."
"I've found those who preach tolerance and diversity are many times the most intolerant. I love those opportunities when I can write a story how a life has been changed by the blood of Jesus Christ," he added.
Yet some of the more poignant comments came form a Cuban immigrant who in 1957 arrived in the U.S. with $100 sewn in his underwear and went on to become the father of a Senator from Texas.
"If I can blame anyone for our loss of religious liberty in America, I blame our pastors," said Cruz, himself a pastor and ministry leader. "They are hiding behind their pulpits and 501(c)(3)'s."
Cruz's comments came in reference to pastors and churches who seemingly relent to political pressure from outside groups - and at times their own members - who believe that pastors and churches are prohibited from discussing or promoting civic and government issues from the pulpit simply because they have a non-profit status.
"It's about time we become biblically correct instead of being politically correct," added Cruz. "I would rather go to jail than violate what God is telling me to do."
The panel ended the hour and a half session by offering words of encouragement and strategies to those who believe Christians are losing on the issues.
"If there is going to be a change in America, it must begin in our pulpits," said Starnes.
The elder Cruz agreed and challenged pastors to make preaching the gospel a top-priority.
'What I tell the pastors is they need to be faithful to the gospel," Cruz said. "We have too many churches in American who have diluted the gospel to fit the world. And when the world comes to them they see nothing different. Life is worthless unless you point it to doctrine."
But it was the power of prayer that Sekulow stressed to the 300 attendees.
"Praying for those in authority is easier to say than do. I understand that," Sekulow said to laughter. "You can fundamentally disagree with 99 percent of policies of our leaders and it's still okay for Christians to give thanks to God. The charge is to continue to be vigilant."