Vice President Mike Pence spoke at Liberty University’s commencement ceremonies over the weekend. During his Saturday remarks, Pence warned graduates that they should be prepared to be “shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible.”

“Throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian,” Pence said. “But things are different now.”

Let’s pause right here. The first thing we all need to understand is that when Pence says “Christian,” he’s not talking about the vast majority of Americans who hold allegiance to that faith. He means those who follow ultra-conservative, fundamentalist beliefs.

Most American Christians, whether they’re Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Seventh-day Adventist, etc., aren’t trying to use their faith as a weapon to harass others or take away their rights. They seek to peacefully coexist with their neighbors who believe differently, not to subvert and control them.

Fundamentalist Christians have a long history of doing just the opposite. They’ve consistently sought to use the power of the government to enforce their theology – beliefs, which, I should add, they have been unsuccessful in persuading many people to adopt voluntarily. Their view seems to be, “We haven’t been able to persuade most people to agree with us, so now we’re going to force them.”  

The Religious Right, a movement that consists primarily of fundamentalist Christians who have wedded their faith to far-right politics, has an agenda for this country. This agenda alarms many people, and they’re pushing back.

Considering the following:

* Aided and abetted by President Donald Trump, the Religious Right is attacking the rights of LGBTQ Americans and trying to roll back the gains members of this community have made, often using a warped definition of “religious freedom” as a cudgel to lash out. Millions of Americans are furious over this attempt to relegate family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others to second-class status and are fighting back. (You can read here about AU’s endorsement of the Equality Act, federal legislation that would protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination based on religion.)

* Wielding a narrow interpretation of the Bible, Religious Right groups are pressing to restrict access to birth control and secure passage of draconian anti-abortion bills. Men and women who value reproductive freedom are mobilizing to ensure that no American is forced to live under someone else’s repressive religion – and AU is working in court to protect these rights.

* Public education is a cornerstone of American society, serving 90 percent of our children. Religious Right groups work to alternately defund public schools by championing reckless private school voucher schemes or taking over the schools and “Christianizing” them through initiatives like Project Blitz (again, according to their exceedingly narrow, fundamentalist version of that faith, an interpretation that excludes the majority of U.S. Christians). Across the country, Americans who recognize the importance of an adequately funded public education system that welcomes children of all faiths and non-theistic children are mobilizing.

I’ve provided just three examples of the way aggressive, fundamentalist Religious Right groups are trying to run the lives of others. There are many more.

“As you go about your daily life, just be ready because you’re going to be asked not just to tolerate things that violate your faith, you’re going to be asked to endorse them,” Pence told the Liberty graduates.

Not quite. No one minds when fundamentalist Christians attend the churches of their choice, interpret the Bible in a manner that pleases them or even when they spread their faith through voluntary channels. That is the promise of the First Amendment – but it is never enough for many of these folks.

To members of the Religious Right, going about “your daily life” increasingly means telling others what to do, using government as an instrument to limit others’ rights and seeking to impose the iron heel of a far-right, fundamentalist-soaked government on the collective neck of a tolerant, multi-faith, multi-philosophy society.

Here at Americans United, it is our duty to oppose that, and we will, with every ounce of our strength. And when we fight it, we’re not shunning nor are we ridiculing anyone. We are simply standing up for our rights.

Pence and the Liberty graduates might want to get used to that. We have no intention of going away. If you’d like to help us counter these efforts to corrupt true religious freedom, you can join us here.

(Photo: Screenshot from video of Vice President Mike Pence speaking at Liberty University, May 11, 2019)