A national survey conducted by McLaughlin & Associates-Summit.org found 75% of Americans believe the government does not have the right to force people to participate in practices that violate their religious beliefs. Sixty percent say that religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine should be protected. Only 27% disagreed.
Americans of all political parties and religious beliefs are increasingly concerned that the government is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine religious liberty. From forcing churches to remain closed while casinos reopened, to threatening the jobs of those objecting to the COVID-19 shot, people of faith no longer have the luxury of remaining passive.
Religious liberty is the first freedom protected in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. It is a freedom nearly all Americans hold dear. Yet the Biden administration seems out of touch. How many Blue states will turn Red before the administration realizes that Americans’ concerns over COVID-19 do not trump their love of freedom and the rule of law?
Consider this example. In September, just days after Biden’s mandate announcement, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy promised the federal government would “monitor” religious exemption claims. If you are looking for scientific proof that the small number of people claiming religious exemptions are a danger to the public, you’ll almost certainly come up empty-handed. The Biden mandate seems more like a cynical power play than a medical imperative.
During the Clinton administration, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by a nearly unanimous vote. President Clinton signed it into law. RFRA states that the government must prove that any action or regulation they pursue does not place an undue burden on Americans’ practice of their religion. Yet the Biden administration’s overarching mandate makes little sense given less burdensome alternatives such as assessments of natural immunity and regular COVID-19 testing.
American people of faith are now in the unfamiliar position of having to stand against their own government to uphold their basic liberties. Many Christians are uncomfortable with this. Some say that biblical passages such as Romans 13 insist that we do whatever our government demands.
But our government authority is not the Roman Empire or a Caesar. It is the Constitution and our representative republic. As Abraham Lincoln famously stated, the United States is government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Bureaucrats are not the government, weare.
In this country, if you want to obey the governmental authorities as the Bible says, you must be an involved citizen.
Christian involvement with government isn’t just an American imperative, however. A millennium and a half ago Augustine of Hippo argued that citizens of the kingdom of Heaven are the best citizens in the kingdoms of humanity because they have an allegiance to a truth that is higher than the state. Government is not God.
During World War II, Corrie ten Boom’s faith inspired her defiance of Nazi rule as she smuggled Jews to safety. And Martin Luther King Jr.’s appeal to God’s authority as the moral foundation for the civil rights movement cemented his legacy despite laws mandating segregation based on race.
Pushing back against government overreach sometimes requires civil disobedience. This is to be sharply distinguished from un-civil disobedience such as rioting.
In the McLaughlin/Summit.org poll, 57% of Americans who expressed an opinion said that civil disobedience is an appropriate response when the government oversteps its legal authority or engages in immoral behavior against its citizens.
Peaceful but firm resistance does carry a cost. People of faith have often faced persecution for simply putting their faith ahead of government mandates. The Apostle Paul himself insisted on obeying God rather than man and shared openly about suffering at the hands of Jewish and Roman authorities for proclaiming the Gospel.
Instead of retreating from the public sphere, Christians have an obligation to engage, especially when guaranteed rights are threatened by unjust overreach.
The McLaughlin/Summit.org poll shows that Americans are seriously concerned about such overreach. Some 73% percent of those who expressed an opinion believe that “our rights are given to us by our Creator and not by the government.” But will they follow through when that belief costs them something?
Regardless of our personal views on vaccines, Christians are obligated to stand up for constitutional freedoms such as religious liberty, and to find ways to support those who are harmed by standing firm for their religious beliefs.
A government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have. People of faith are a bulwark against those who insist on swearing allegiance to the government rather than to God.
Jeff Myers, PhD, has become one of America’s most respected authorities on Christian worldview, apologetics, and leadership development. He is the author of several books, including The Secret Battle of Ideas about God and Unquestioned Answers, and is president of Summit Ministries. Jeff and his family live in Colorado.
For over fifty years, Summit Ministries has equipped and supported rising generations to embrace God’s truth and champion a biblical worldview. Find out more at summit.org.