“Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!”
That’s a line from the popular children’s song “This Little Light of Mine,” which has been sung by countless children, in many different languages, all across the globe. But what does a line from a children’s song have to do with religious freedom? Quite a lot, actually.
The famous line is derived from a portion of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells His followers:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Letting your light shine before others, in both public and private spheres, is greatly benefitted when the government respects our right to express and practice our religion. This is at the heart of our Generational Win to see religious freedom prevail. At ADF, we’re working to restore religious freedom as a fundamental right that benefits all Americans.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares this sentiment. Opponents of religious freedom actively attempt to eliminate or limit longstanding religious freedom protections.
But, individuals must be able to live, work, and speak in a manner consistent with their religious convictions and beliefs. Likewise, religious institutions must be free to operate according to their religious tenets. This is the essence of religious freedom and is why ADF exists. We want to help keep the doors open for the Gospel.
Each of us is created in God’s image, and because of that, we have innate dignity. Respecting that innate dignity requires religious freedom, which ensures that every person has the right to explore life’s most profound questions and to live out one’s religious convictions in the public square, just as in the home or a place of worship. Religious freedom also complements the constitutional principle undergirding our republic, that government should have limited power over its citizens.
Religious freedom helps remind us that government isn’t God, and it respects and reinforces that reality. Respecting, protecting, and championing this inalienable right helps open the door to creating a more tolerant society, one that promotes true human flourishing.
True flourishing happens with freedom, not coercion. Even God, who is omnipotent, does not coerce belief in Himself. In the book of Acts, we see the apostles resisting efforts by governing authorities to coerce belief or limit the freedom to proclaim the Gospel. Because humans are free before God, the State, which God instituted, must protect and respect the freedom to worship and live according to one’s religious beliefs.
We also see in Scripture that Jesus taught us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The heart and soul of mankind belongs to God, not to Caesar. Therefore, coercing or prohibiting belief constitutes a governmental infringement into the exclusive domain of God.
Sadly, not everyone believes that religious freedom is a societal good protected by our Constitution. But at Alliance Defending Freedom, we believe that everyone has the right to live out their religious convictions in the public square. And we are standing up for those facing serious legal challenges to their ability to live out their faith. Take, for example, Cedar Park Assembly of God.
Cedar Park is a church that believes and teaches that every human life—whether born or unborn—is valuable, precious, and worthy of protection. But rather than respect Cedar Park’s freedom to exercise its religious convictions, the state of Washington went out of its way to force pro-life churches to do something they are opposed to: pay for abortions.
In early 2018, the Washington State Senate passed a bill mandating that healthcare plans in the state offering maternity care must also pay for elective abortions. As a result, Cedar Park’s health insurer put surgical abortion coverage directly into the church’s health plan.
This means that when Cedar Park provides its more than 200 employees and their families with quality, affordable health insurance, it has to fund abortions. ADF came to Cedar Park’s aid and is currently litigating its case.
Jack Phillips owns and operates Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, where he creates, as the name of his shop suggests, masterpieces celebrating a variety of special events in the lives of his customers. Every custom cake he creates must communicate messages consistent with his faith.
In 2012, two men asked Jack to create a custom wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. But he politely declined because that cake would’ve expressed messages contrary to his religious beliefs about marriage. However, he still wanted to serve these customers, so he offered to sell them any other cake in his store or create for them a cake expressing a message he would create for anyone else. That wasn’t good enough. The two men complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and the Commission acted: it found that Jack violated the state’s anti-discrimination law, even though the same Commission gave a free pass to other cake artists who refused orders from a customer requesting custom cakes criticizing same-sex marriage.
ADF came alongside Jack and represented him at the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the government cannot force artists to celebrate events or express ideas they do not support. In a 7-2 ruling, the Court held that the government was wrong to punish Jack for peacefully living out his beliefs in the marketplace. The Court specifically called out the Commission’s double standard of punishing Jack but not the other artists who refused messages against same-sex marriage. The Court rightly held that the Free Exercise Clause in the Constitution forbids hostility toward religion.
Masterpiece expanded on what the Court said before: people of faith deserve constitutional protections as they seek to live out beliefs and principles that are life-giving and foundational to their lives.
Not long after the Dobbs decision was handed down, overturning Roe v. Wade and returning abortion policy decisions back to the people and their elected representatives, activists began pushing hard for the Obergefell decision to be enshrined in federal law. That Supreme Court decision created a right to same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. This push by activists yielded the Respect for Marriage Act, a deceptively named bill that will expand not only what marriage means in law, but also who can be sued for disagreeing with its new meaning.
While supporters of the legislation claim that it simply reaffirms the Obergefell decision, in reality, it is an intentional attack on the religious freedom of millions of Americans with sincerely held beliefs about marriage. It threatens religious freedom and the institution of marriage in multiple ways:
Unfortunately, the bill passed in Congress and was signed into law by President Biden. While the real-life effects of the law on religious liberty and society’s understanding of the institution of marriage have yet to play out, ADF is preparing for the inevitable legal and cultural confusion that lies ahead. We’re committed to ensuring that marriage and religious freedom are truly respected.
We live in dark times, and it remains to be seen if religious freedom will ultimately prevail for future generations. Cases like Cedar Park’s prove that the threat to fundamental freedoms we often take for granted are real, serious, and are not going away anytime soon. The Respect for Marriage Act proves that point.
Yet, we’re still called to be faithful to Christ and to be outposts sharing His light that will pierce the darkness.
ADF is proud to be a beacon standing in the gap to defend the fundamental freedoms of Americans who find themselves in the midst of encroaching darkness, caught in the jaws of unjust and unconstitutional laws. With God’s help, we will continue to serve as a bright, undeterred, and immovable light as God uses us to help illuminate His truth.
We continue this month with our “A Vision for Freedom” series, highlighting ADF’s “Generational Wins” initiative. Generational Wins are significant legal and cultural victories, rooted in the truth of Scripture, that can change the trajectory of law and culture for decades. Generational Wins encapsulate five strategic goals that, with God’s help, will make a lasting impact on our country now and in the future. Click here to read about the Generational Wins we’re working to achieve together.Continue reading