Recently I have been thinking about the freedoms that I have grown up with living in America, specifically religious freedom. Freedom of Religion is defined by the dictionary as “The right to choose a religion (or no religion) without interference by the government. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.” In this definition it plainly states that this freedom was covered in the very first amendment of the constitution. Clearly it was important to our founding fathers that we have this freedom. If it was so important to our country’s founding, what are we doing to protect it? Would we notice if it were under attack? Why should each and every citizen care?
In my last blog, I discussed the importance that the Obergefell vs Hodges case had in the redefinition of marriage and how that impacted our society. This time I wanted to start by sharing how redefining marriage can affect our religious freedom.
Justice Thomas said in the Obergefell vs Hodges case that, “In our society marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well. Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come in conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endure civil marriages between same sex couples.” With that said, what do we do? If we are to come into conflict with those who believe in same-sex marriages, how do we stand up for our beliefs without being perceived as bigots in the eyes of the world?
I believe the answer is to become invested in the cause of religious freedom and to defend our right to worship and practice, but to do so in a logical and loving way.
Recently the question of whether or not we want churches to continue having a tax exemption was brought up again. I’ll admit, when I first heard about this I didn’t know what it meant, nor how it could impact our freedom to worship. So, I did some research, and it turns out that that tax-exemption status has a lot to do with religious freedom. That tax-exempt status is in place to help churches maintain their independence from the government.
Let’s imagine what would happen if it were taken away. One thing that would happen is that the government would make churches pay taxes on their church buildings… which is fine, unless the cost is too great. If the cost is too great, then the churches will have to sell the properties that they cannot afford. Which will lead to fewer places to worship. Fewer places to worship doesn’t necessarily mean less religious freedom, but it does mean a greater sacrifice for those members and quite possibly less church attendance.
(As a side note, while this issue over the church tax-exempt has been around for a while, it has been brought up again and with greater emphasis with the legalization of same-sex marriage. While this may be a simple coincidence, we know that many churches are already under pressure to allow same-sex couples to be married in them (calling the refusal “discrimination”). If this issue of revoking the tax-exemption status is a ploy to force churches to perform same-sex marriages, then that is a direct attack against religious freedom.)
Back to the church attendance; churches are an integral part of the community. They do so much more than simply bestow religion into their congregants. In an article written by Rob Schwarzwalder he says…
Churches, are not empty boxes sitting idle except for a few hours a week. In addition to the many Bible studies, fellowship meetings, youth group events, and other spiritually-oriented ministries…they provide services of many types to people in all walks and stages of life regardless of religious belief. The financial value of these services has not been calculated, but no one can dispute it is profound and also relieves federal and state governments of duties that would cost them huge amounts of money.
On that note that tax exemption was put in place not just for churches, but also for libraries, hospitals, and schools. It was created for any organization that contributes to the welfare of society, so that their right to do good independent of the government was protected. The tax-exempt status of churches and other groups is an efficient way for governments to encourage individuals and independent organizations to voluntarily address the needs of the community. Losing this status means that the government actually has to do more work to meet the needs of society… which costs money… and will cost the tax payers more dollars.
Now what to do? To start with, we need to know what’s going on with in our society with our laws and policies, especially ones that are going to affect churches and our religious freedom. Often times we have to do some digging and to know exactly what the changes will do to our community, to families, and to overall liberty. Then armed with that knowledge, we need to be advocates in our communities, sharing what we know with family, friends, and neighbors. We also need to push for our civic leaders (mayors, legislators, senators, etc.) to oppose any law or policy that would restrict our religious freedom. Together as we raise our voices, we can protect important freedoms for ourselves and for future generations!
-By Nikkita Lipp