The Battle for Religious Freedom: The Next Step

Brian Worley  


In America, we have had 222 years of the First Amendment…but we have not yet arrived at religious freedom. We’re still working on it. 

                             First Amendment – passed by the US congress in 1789, ratified 1791 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What is religious freedom? Does the First Amendment alone ensure it? 

To me, there are four things you must have in order to have religious freedom

 First, you must have the liberty to believe whatever you want to about the Divine, and to do so openly. This is the pluralism concept. 

Second, the flip side to the first point, you must have the liberty to disbelieve the concept of divinity and the subsequent coercion of religious practices of those that do; and to do so openly. This is the agnosticism/atheism concept.  

Third, you must have the liberty to evangelize - express your belief or disbelief. This clarifies the concept – that it isn’t merely contained to private thoughts (you can inhale & exhale). 

Before I reveal the next step, the fourth aspect of religious freedom, this American Constitution and Bill of Rights lover marvels at the foresight contained within the First Amendment. Our First Amendment works! Let’s not tinker with something that isn’t broken. 

Thus far, in principle, most believers and non-believers are in agreement with these three aspects. By no means are we agreed upon how we interpret the many questions that arise with the First Amendment’s presence. Rick Warren (whom I respect), I heard him speak several weeks ago at Georgetown University saying that we should be able to believe whatever we want to about the divine and that we must be able to convert. Essentially, we have said the same thing…we just express it differently. 

Freedom from Retaliation…The Next Step 

What I’ll call the next step, the fourth aspect of religious freedom, is to NOT be retaliated against for what you believe! This freedom from retaliation is especially necessary for the protection of those in a minority/subordinate status. Both religious and secular sides are subject to and have been guilty of retaliation! Some of the underlying motives are hard to detect but are nevertheless pernicious while others are easily detected and oh so hard to prove. 

The nature of retaliation is to punish, sabotage, damage, defame or destroy someone or something that is disliked or perceived to have harmed another. Retaliation goes both ways, it’s a two way street. First I’ll cover Christian against secular retaliation in the workplace. Afterwards, I want to break new ground upon secular retaliation seeking to destroy religion and it’s employment of blasphemy. 

Retaliation in the Workplace 

The first 3 points alone aren’t enough if you cannot make a living due to your belief. Most people cannot survive without employment. Do you really have religious freedom if a prospective boss or employer won’t hire you due to your belief? Do you really have religious freedom if your boss fires you for your beliefs? Allowing an individual to inhale religion is one thing, to retaliate against them for exhaling exposes the fact that we don’t really have religious freedom! 

I know of a case where an employer gave a deserving employee a raise and had never expressed verbally or in writing that they were ever unhappy with their work. That employee had by far the best financial numbers regionally, never called in sick; they had no customer service complaints…only compliments and had a perfect record with no miscues on orders. What if your boss discovers your beliefs, dislikes them, and now wants to find a reason to fire you? That raise just expressed satisfaction, and to that bigoted boss’ dismay there is nothing except prejudice based reasons to dismiss that employee. What if the owner of the company so disliked that outstanding employee beliefs that they went out of their way to avoid that employee before firing them because the “at will” laws will allow them to fire said employee without having to give that employee a reason? The “at will” laws are religious freedom loopholes. 

What if the workplace tradition to buy lunch and a cake for a fellow worker’s birthday gets hi-jacked by a “Christian” boss who instead instructs everyone to give that money to the foul mouthed, cheating, chain smoking, boss’ church instead? Should an employee be coerced in the workplace to give to a religious institution? What if someone objects and finds himself retaliated against? 

Retaliation towards Religion Due to Failed Conversions 

Religious freedom is not to be taken lightly; it’s one of the foremost freedoms of liberty.  As with anything worthy of retention, a little scrutiny and maintenance is in order to preserve religious freedom. If we are agreed upon the first three points, then why do we have so much religious friction? Is the friction inevitable or can we do something about it? 

If you believe that religion is or can be a good thing, as I do, then we must identify where much of the friction is generated. While there is no magic potion for human dilemmas, we can isolate and pinpoint specific aspects that are fixable. 

Secularists have their right to disbelieve (point 2) and to openly question the same (point 3) even to the extent of converting their own disciples…but should they be granted the right/freedom to retaliate against those that don’t convert? Should they also be granted the right/freedom to retaliate against the religion itself? Should anyone be granted the right/freedom to retaliate against another for his or her beliefs? 

It is the retaliation that upsets us; it shocks us, especially since we assume we have religious freedom liberty. The friction is largely due to the element of retaliation as punishment for not accepting/accommodating another’s belief. The method of retaliation manifests itself in a variety of ways. 

In the search for solutions, great scrutiny should be brought upon the “evangelism” of religious subject matter themes. I’m not suggesting we restrict evangelism, just that we need to clearly define it's boundaries. Particularly, what is rightfully to be considered evangelism and what to do when the boundary lines are crossed?  

The opportunity to evangelize should be viewed as a freedom as well as a boundary. Evangelism’s realm is one of persuasion…not retaliation. Persuasion is a highly desirable tool. Some users have great skills and are successful while others don’t have persuasion skills and often get frustrated by their inability to convert mankind

The boundaries of “evangelism” haven’t been clearly drawn for many. For others the lines are so blurred that they see no distinction between evangelism and retaliation for failed conversions. In effect, they think that since you' re not going to accept the God I’m pitching…I’m going to disrespect and try to take your God out of the equation. 

People should have the right to evangelize; they don’t have the right to retaliate! 

Retaliation towards Religion & the choice of Blasphemy 

There is a major misperception about blasphemy that should be pointed out. The most common blasphemy is interfaith blasphemy between rival religious factions. Few people recognize the pervasiveness of interfaith blasphemy and tend to only pay attention to non-faith blasphemy dished out by secularists. If it is wrong for secularists to blaspheme…it is just as wrong for people of faith to blaspheme their rivals God.  

Atheists have “one up” on everyone else when it comes to blasphemy. With atheism there isn’t a God to blaspheme. That is probably why some atheists aren’t sensitive to the issue. They haven’t felt the sting of what it feels like for another to take disrespectful, mean spirited shots against an entity that to theists is very real and to be esteemed above all mortals. Question is should they be able to do so with impunity  

We should view attempts to "debunk" religious belief as agnostic evangelism. Secularism must have that right as long as evangelism is a viable tenant of religious freedom. Blasphemy crosses the boundary lines of evangelism though. It's one thing to be conversationally clumsy, however, one's choice of inflammatory words usually show the intent of the heart. It seems to me that there must be some animosity or malice within the heart to blaspheme. I’d have to classify blasphemy as retaliation.

Retaliation begets Retaliation 

Freedom from retaliation is a major factor in the preservation of wholesome religion. You’ve heard the saying; “Love makes the world go round” haven’t you? It has been my observation that “Retaliation makes the atheist movement go round”. It is human nature for someone that has been wronged to want justice. If they cannot get it, or afford it, the weapon of retaliation is usually within reach. 

From a secular skeptic point of view, many don’t esteem religion. Many of the cherished beliefs that people of religion hold dear are met with skepticism. Fair to say, some think that these beliefs are fiction, myths, legend and folklore. If we were to compare skeptical reaction to other societal forms of fictions such as comics, TV drama or Hollywood have you noticed any atheist newsmakers causing a commotion over these fictions? I haven’t. 

Epistemology battles over truth “dwarfs” or is “small potatoes” when compared to retaliation. Retaliation, whether its justifiable or not, is the root of destructive secularism. 

As I sift through the activities of the secular movement searching for what they’re real motives are and why anyone would want to destroy the Christian church are…they strongly point towards retaliation. One must look at who or what groups have been done wrong by religion and there you will find the populous of secularism that is diligently working for the destruction of religion. 

No doubt that religious people have done people wrong. But in proportion, religion has helped way more people than they have harmed. This writer was once a clergyman, while a clergyman I couldn’t help but notice how others put me up on a pedestal. In my mind, I was always mindful of myself…an imperfect man serving a perfect God. At some point mankind has to come to grips with mortals leading the church and allow them to be human. Clergymen, lay people, and parishioners will all make mistakes; such high expectations are unrealistic. 

The tide needs to turn; the pendulum needs to swing back the other way with religion. Look, this writer has his grievances as well. But somewhere along the way religion crafts some disciplines that prepare us for reality. One of those disciplines is forgiveness and the need to move on towards constructive endeavors. Retaliation becomes a vicious cycle without end. Retaliation breeds’ retaliation, ultimately it hurts society. 

Some seem to think that religion is “too big to fail” or that it will always somehow manage to survive. They’re wrong. This writer has seen it fail in Eastern Europe and I see it in trouble now. The retaliation movement…I mean the secular movement isn’t thinking straight with their destructive course. Some people cannot help themselves though. If spiritual disciplines were exercised further action to deal with retaliation would be unnecessary. The absences of these disciplines ultimately leave this problem at the feet of those that govern. 

When something good (like marriage) goes bad (divorce), one institution (courts) set boundaries to limit the repercussions and prevent potential retaliation. I strongly believe that the institution of religion needs similar protection. The next step we should take is to assimilate protection from retaliation into our thinking when we define freedom of religion


Brian Worley      March 22, 2013    All rights reserved.


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