The Single Greatest Civil Rights Threat of Our Time

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We live in a time where the very freedom to express our respective faith values stands threatened – a road we have never been down before. From the HHS mandate requiring religious organizations to sacrifice conviction on the altar of political expediency to the failed attempt by Uncle Sam to require businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, to abandon conscience or suffer the consequences of continued litigation, our freedom to worship stands threatened.

This violation of religious liberty is the core and quintessential civil rights issue of the 21st century. Dr. Martin Luther King opined, "The church must be reminded that it is not the master nor the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool."

The recent outrageous legal demand by city officials in Houston ordering pastors, two of whom are pastors on the NHCLC board, who opposed a recent measure to surrender any sermons addressing homosexuality, gender identity or Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly lesbian mayor of a large city, exemplifies with absolute certainty that freedom of religion in America can best be characterized in the year 2014 as nothing other than an "endangered species." While the Mayor later backed off, saying that the subpoena of the pastor's sermons was too broad, the question remains, if it weren't for the uproar that was caused, would she have pulled back on her own?

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For that matter, we must embrace one simple truth; silence is not an option. For with conviction and compassion we understand that a posture of complacency today will result in a position of captivity tomorrow. Thus, for the sake of our children and our children's children, I issue a clarion call to all people of faith to our fellow Americans that this nation birthed out of the seminal principle of religious liberty.

From the womb of religious freedom our Founding Fathers relinquished the shackles of political tyranny by vociferously declaring that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

From the womb of religious freedom, Abraham Lincoln confronted the sin of slavery, framed the optics of emancipation and then offered a reconciliatory prescription by declaring, "With malice towards none and charity towards all."

From the womb of religious freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brought an end to segregation and laid out a vision for America, where the day would come where we would be judged not by the color of our skin but rather by the content of our character.

To silence faith is to silence the moral conscience of our nation. To obstruct religious liberty is to obstruct the forces that reconcile righteousness with justice; covenant with community, sanctification with service, and faith with action. To oppress religious freedom is to deny the prophetic, while granting amnesty to the pathetic.

Our Founding Fathers, whether Deists or Christians, inscribed a faith narrative that cannot be denied. From the beginning, faith, spirituality, and the actual practice of religion have affected public discourse, elections, politics, and foreign affairs – not usually as the centerpiece of policy, but almost always as one of the elements that shapes the norms and mores by which policy is written. One cannot extract from our ethos the spiritual thread woven into the American genome.

While France and other European nations treat religion as an historical artifact and have stripped even the vestiges of spirituality from public life, and while Iran and a score of other countries actively persecute religious minorities, our nation thrives through religious pluralism and tolerance.

Consequently, our greatest export may not be technology, popular culture, or our brand of democracy, but rather a commitment to religious pluralism, diversity, and tolerance. That commitment stems directly from our Judeo-Christian value system, which encourages us to propose, while prohibiting us from imposing, our religious worldview.

For at the end of the day, religious freedom and freedom of conscience serve as the facilitative platform by which all other liberties flow. This is what truly makes America exceptional. We are not exceptional because of our military prowess, economic wherewithal or political fortitude. American exceptionalism stems from the revolutionary idea that Marc Nuttle once explained to me is best described as, "God over man and man over government. "

In other words, our freedoms stem not from the legislative, executive or judicial branches, but rather from our Creator from whom all blessings flow. Moreover, our nation's greatest gift to the world lies embedded in a 200 year demonstration of two simple truths: the antidote to religious totalitarianism is religious pluralism and religious freedom serves as the proverbial firewall against secular tyranny.

Our relationship with God demands constant vigilance, as from the beginning, we have been worrying about our potential to fall away from the very beginning. After acknowledging the "Divine interposition" in American affairs, George Washington said of his fellow citizens, "I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our Revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them."

If America deviates from the premise that God is over man and man is over government, we will not last long as a nation. The rejection of this foundational framework will surely result in chaos, angst, and the potential termination of our noble experiment.

This week, #HoustonWeHaveaProblem trended heavily on Twitter, and I agree. That problem will be solved when all Americans understand that Uncle Sam may be our uncle, but he will never be our Heavenly Father.

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