Religious Minorities

Government-sponsored religion is the opposite of religious freedom

  Rob Boston

First Liberty Institute, a Christian Nationalist legal group, has created a short video crowing about the return of “religious freedom” in America. There’s just one problem: What First Liberty wants is not religious freedom – it’s religious majoritarianism, state promotion of its favored faith and special privileges for fundamentalist Christians.

According to First Liberty, Americans had been denied the ability to express their beliefs in public. This is nonsense. Religious groups proselytize in public places all the time. Some are known for coming door to door. You see their billboards along highways, encounter their networks on TV, hear their radio stations and run into them on the internet. The public presence of religion in America is robust and always has been.

A merger of religion and government

What First Liberty wants is something quite different: Government promotion and advocacy of conservative Christianity. Consider the question of religious symbols in public areas. No one objects when religious groups put them up on their own time and with their own dime (as long as the forum is open to all). Government ownership of maintenance of religious symbols, such as towering crosses and Ten Commandments monuments, is another matter entirely.

Or think about our public schools, which serve children from various religious and nonreligious backgrounds. As Americans United has made clear repeatedly, students have the right to pray in schools in a private and non-disruptive manner. That’s not enough for Christian Nationalists. They want to use the schools as vehicles to force their narrow version of faith onto a captive audience and, increasingly, deny young people information that Christian Nationalists don’t like. That’s the very antithesis of religious freedom.

Government as a theological enforcer

We need to state upfront that groups like First Liberty don’t want religious freedom – they want the government to act as a theological enforcer for their faith. In a country where the religious demographics are shifting dramatically, that vision of America simply does not work.

A backlash is building to the extremism offered by First Liberty and its allies. Americans United is proud to lead it.

Photo: A towering cross on government land in Bladensburg, Md. 

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