Every year a multitude of stories discuss the “war on Christmas,” the series of decisions by cities, school boards and companies that do things such as ban the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas,” don’t allow the performance of Christmas carols at school “winter concerts” (the phrase “Christmas concert” having also been banned), or forbid nativity scenes from being set up on public property such as town squares or public parks or, as ABC News reported on Dec. 18, the Navy was forced to remove nativity scenes from the dining hall at the Guantanamo Bay naval base.
This year’s tales of anti-Christmas policies include a Texas school district that made rules for a school “winter party” that forbade “reference to Christmas or any other religious holiday,” banned Christmas trees, and even disallowed the colors red and green according to Citizen Link. ESPN refused to air an ad for the Catholic Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation because it referred to “God's healing presence this Christmas” and “celebrate(s) the birth of Jesus and the season of giving.” Political grinches also attacked the longstanding tradition of the NORAD Santa Tracker according to the L.A. Times. In addition to the removal of the nativity scenes from Guantanamo, Pentagon lawyers forced the removal of a nativity scene from Shaw Air Force Base earlier this month. ESPN and the Texas school district reconsidered their policies, the Christian Science Monitor reported on Dec. 16, but the Santa Tracker is still under fire and the nativity scenes are still hidden where they can do no harm.
While the war on Christmas gets the most attention, it is merely one aspect of the larger war on the freedom of religion. Government encroachment on the freedom of religion has been increasing in the United States. John Stonestreet noted on Breakpoint that a Pew Forum study found that the United States “was one of sixteen nations whose scores for government and social restrictions [on religious freedom] jumped by more than a point.”
Attempts to force removal of religious monuments or displays on public property cause frequent skirmishes in the war against religion. One such incident was last week’s order by a federal judge forcing the removal of a cross that is part of a war memorial on California’s Mount Soledad. The cross is the third on the property and has stood atop the mountain near La Jolla for 59 years. The first memorial cross was placed there in 1918. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the order was stayed pending an almost certain appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Affordable Care Act has also become a vehicle of government assault on religious liberty. In 2012, the Obama Administration stirred controversy with its mandate that all employers provide their employees with coverage for abortion-inducing and contraceptive drugs. Many employers consider these types of drugs immoral. The president allowed a narrow exemption that did not include private employers, leading several companies to file suit. In June, a court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s claim that the mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act according to Examiner. The government is appealing the decision.
The past year also saw military chaplains decrying attempts to limit their religious freedom. In November, two Baptist military chaplains filed suit alleging that they were harassed and criticized for their faith while enrolled in a pastoral education course in San Diego. The Christian Post reports that the instructor of the course banned the men from praying the name of Jesus or quoting scripture verses while in the class.
Another Christian Post report detailed how Catholic chaplains were threatened with arrest during the October government shutdown. During the shutdown, military chapels were locked and the Obama Administration refused to let contract Catholic chaplains say mass. Many chaplains volunteered their services free of charge, but could have been arrested for doing so. Father Ray Leonard, a contract chaplain at King’s Bay Navy Base in Georgia filed suit and the government relented.
Military chaplains also face possible retribution for opposition to the Obama Administration’s policies on gay marriage. Both the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholic Archbishop for the Military Services have issued guidelines that do not permit chaplains from their denominations to take part in same-sex marriage ceremonies or “give the impression that the Church approves of same-sex ‘marital’ relationships.” Ron Crews, director of the Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty, told the Blaze that some chaplains have already been reassigned or forced to resign for their opposition to same-sex marriage.
In many cases, schools and colleges restrict the religious rights of students and teachers. In one shocking case from 2011, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court ruled that student religious organizations can be required can be required to admit voting members and officers who are not Christian and who are even hostile to Christianity. In 2010, Examiner reported that a Georgia woman faced mandatory re-education after her college found her belief that sexual behavior “is the result of accountable personal choice” and not a “state of being.”
One of the most egregious examples of government attacks on the freedom of religion is the IRS targeting of religious groups that oppose President Obama’s policies. USA Today reported last May that the IRS had audited the ministries of Billy Graham and his son Franklin Graham after the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had taken out national ads prior to the 2012 election that called upon Americans to “cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.” The Grahams also advertised in support of Colorado’s definition of marriage amendment in May 2012. Franklin Graham told USA Today that the ads were placed with funds given by “friends of our ministry for this purpose.” Several Catholic activists who opposed the Affordable Care Act and the abortion and contraception mandate also reported harassment by the IRS according to Crisis magazine.
The assault on religious freedom is often tied directly to gay rights and the same-sex marriage movement. A decision handed down by a Colorado judge in early December held that baker Jack Philips could be compelled to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple even though he objected to same-sex marriage on religious grounds. NPR noted that the case is similar to a New Mexico case in which the state supreme court ruled that wedding photographers do not have the right to refuse their services to gay commitment ceremonies under state law. Neither Colorado nor New Mexico has a state law permitting same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court has been petitioned to hear the New Mexico case. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson is only the latest Christian to be pilloried by the left for stating Biblical teachings on homosexuality.
The repression of religious views as a result of a conflict between homosexual activists seeking sexual freedoms and Americans who view homosexuality as immoral has been coming for years. In 2006, the Weekly Standard profiled Chai Feldblum, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown who later became one of President Obama’s appointees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Feldblum argued that the need to protect the dignity of gay people justifies burdening religious believers. Gay activists should respect religious beliefs, she argued, but “respect doesn't mean that the religious person should prevail in the right to discriminate--it just means demonstrating a respectful awareness of the religious position.” In spite of the fact that religious freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment, when sexual liberties and religious freedoms conflict, Feldblum said, “I'm having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”
“Sexual liberty should win in most cases,” she explained. “There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.”
The Weekly Standard also featured George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley whose predictions of conflict between liberal activists and religious groups was eerily prescient. Turley forecast that within a decade there could be a federal gay antidiscrimination law, a five to ten point swing in public opinion on gay marriage, and an IRS crackdown on the tax exempt status of groups with purposes that are “contrary to public policy.”
By the standards of the rest of the world, western Christians still have it good. They aren’t beaten, tortured or killed as they are in many Muslim countries or imprisoned like they are in China. Churches aren’t destroyed like they are in India. Nevertheless, there is a growing movement to stifle religious freedom in the West. Already, preachers in the United Kingdom and Canada have been arrested and fined for sharing the Bible’s teachings about homosexuality. It likely will not be long before these sorts of charges come to the United States as well if current trends continue.