Religious Persecution: The Continuing Attacks on the First Amendment

The unprecedented attacks on our First Amendment rights are accelerating. Honest, hard-working Americans and various religious groups are having to expend enormous amounts of resources to defend themselves against a government which is supposed to protect them.

As lawsuits mount, many Americans are oblivious to the fact that we are seeing the rapid and perilous erosion of the liberties concerning which our founders declared: “With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

One of the most pernicious tactics being used by many in government to curtail religious liberty is to redefine what “religion” is. Such phrases as “freedom of worship” are subtly being substituted to limit the scope of our freedoms. We quoted syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer in our Spring 2012 issue of Redeeming the Time, who stated that government officials, using “secularist assumption[s],” define “religion [as] what happens on Sunday under some Gothic spire.”

This is NOT what our Founders had in mind. Christianity is a part of EVERY ASPECT of a believer’s life. No government bureaucrat, judge, legislator or administrator has the right to define the limits of a person’s faith. In doing so, they are usurping the right held by God alone!

Following are just a few examples of cases before the courts:

Attack on Christian Chaplains

The Conservative Baptist Association of America has filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (a position in President Obama’s cabinet), after two of its chaplains were drummed out of a program because of their Christian faith.

When Chaplains Dan Klender and Steven Firtko used Scripture in answering theological questions in an official Veterans Affairs / Department of Defense training course, instructor Nancy Dietsch ordered them: “Do not quote Scripture in this class!” and stated that this made her feel like she had been “pounded over the head with a sledge hammer.” She stated at other times that if her students thought their religion was the only correct way, they did not belong in this program.

Another time, she threatened: “I have refrained from failing students in the past because I didn’t want to [ruin] people’s careers but I am about ready to fail people now.” Chaplain Klender finally withdrew from the program following months of abuse and threats. Chaplain Steven Firtko was threatened with dismissal and was put on six months’ probation. Shortly thereafter he received a letter on official stationery stating that he was being dismissed from the program because the “probation period is not yielding the results we both desire.”

The suit filed by the Church states: “The actions of the Secretary within the San Diego VA-DOD CPE Center establishing a secular, humanist and holistic religion which excludes mainstream Judeo-Christian beliefs discriminates against CBAmerica Chaplains, prevents them from practicing their religious beliefs, have forced them out of the program and will, if not corrected, prevent future CBAMERICA Chaplains from completing the program and practicing their faith in the health care facilities serviced by the program.”

Christian Business Owners Forced to Violate Their Beliefs

We have written previously about the federal government’s mandate that forces Christian business owners to include abortifacients in their employee health care plans. The case now before the Supreme Court by Hobby Lobby and other Christian-owned businesses should be watched very carefully. If the Court rules against the plaintiffs, our First Amendment rights will have been fatally undermined.

However, this is just a sign of the growing trend of courts to give Christian businessmen the ruinous choice between violating their own consciences, paying huge fines or closing their businesses (and thus their means of supporting their families). Elane Photography v. Willock is a case in point. Elane Huguenin and her husband Jon own a photography business in Albuquerque, NM. When The Huquenins refused to take the job of shooting a homosexual commitment service, Vanessa Willock took them to court. The Huquenins were found guilty in several courts of violating the New Mexico Human Rights Act and ordered to pay attorney’s fees and court costs to Willock.

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Bosson, in a concurring opinion, stated that the Huquenins: “are now compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” But, he concluded: “… it is the price of citizenship.”

The case has been appealed by the Alliance Defense Fund to the U.S. Supreme Court. No word has been received yet as to whether the High Court will hear the case.

A Business License and Government Permission to Worship

The city of Las Cruces, NM, has enacted Ordinance No. 16-131, dealing with the registration of businesses. According to the Adventist News Network, city officials, earlier this year, “threatened to take legal action if the Las Cruces Seventh-Day Adventist Church failed to comply with the requirements of the business registration ordinance.… The ordinance ostensibly requires all pastor-led churches within city limits to register with the city, pay a registration fee and pass a discretionary review process before gaining approval to conduct worship services or provide pastoral care.” It is interesting that many platforms for secular speech are exempted from the ordinance.

The court complaint states that “Even after the required application is made, the Ordinance contains no standards for issuance of a certificate, and the decision whether to grant or deny a certificate is wholly discretionary. There is no timeframe for a ruling by the City upon the application, and there is no avenue for appeal if the City exercises its discretion to deny an application or to withhold a decision.”

We have been so blessed in America, but the decline of Bible Christianity is always accompanied with a loss of liberty. As Christians, we need to be in prayer for our country and use our influence to stand against these things. But, we also must NOT be discouraged. May we hold dear the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). •