Religious Freedom — For Everyone

That is what Russell Moore says is one of his biggest policy priorities. Religious freedom certainly is on the lips of most U.S. Christians.

But when you hear someone like Peter Lillback, you begin to think that religious liberty is only for religious Americans (thanks to our Texas correspondent):

A careful reading of the First Amendment shows us that the concern that motivated our Founding Fathers was to protect the conscience from governmental encroachments. Twenty iterations of the language for the First Amendment ensued in the congressional debate before the final version was sent to the House on Sept. 24, 1789. Not once in any of those 20 attempts to write the First Amendment did the phrase “separation of church and state” appear. The word conscience, although it does not appear in the final form, occurs in 12 of these iterations.

Clearly, the drafters of the First Amendment wanted to protect conscience from government, not protect government from religion. This is where public theology comes in, calling for the application of religious principles to every area of life, including politics.

Washington called religion and morality “indispensable pillars” of America’s political happiness. In his farewell address, he noted, “experience has taught us that morality is impossible for a people unless it is brought to us through religious teaching.”

But what about freedom for gays and lesbians and trannies? And how in the world to you bring religion into politics and allow freedom for people to play football on Sunday, get a divorce on non-biblical grounds, or be exempt from police following home a guy who has just picked up a girl at the local bar?

In other words, lots of religious conservatives want protection from government so that they can use government to take away freedoms (okay, call it moral licentiousness) from other Americans.

That’s why the rhetoric of religious liberty is not simply hollow but disingenuous. If only Lillback and other anti-naked public square types were libertarians like J. Gresham Machen:

Against such tyranny, I do cherish some hope that Jews and Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants, if they are lovers of liberty, may present a united front. I am for my part an inveterate propagandist; bu the same right of propaganda which I desire for myself I want to see also in the possession of others. What absurdities are uttered in the name of a pseudo-Americanism today! People object ot the Roman Catholics, for example, because they engage in “propaganda.” But why should they not engage in propaganda? And how should we have any respect for them if, holding the view which they do hold — that outside the Roman church there is no salvation — they did not engage in propaganda, first, last, and all the time? Clearly they ahve a right to do so, and clearly we have a right to do the same. (“Relations between Christians and Jews”)

I see right away that folks like Moore and Lillback will read Machen and think, exactly. We want freedom for religious groups. Seldom do religious conservatives admit, thought, that they are advocating freedom for that which they oppose, meaning, that I suppose Lillback and Moore do not favor Roman Catholicism but are on the side of Luther and Calvin.

So if they can advocate freedom for that with they disagree, then where do they stop? If freedom for the wrong religion, why not freedom for the wrong morality? (And get this, if everything starts from one’s presuppositions, isn’t LBGT really a religion? And so isn’t a case for religious liberty a case for LBGT on Van Tillian grounds?)

The test then is how wide are you willing to draw the circle of freedom. Here’s how wide Machen’s circle was:

Tolerance, moreover, means not merely tolerance for that with which we are agreed but also tolerance for that to which we are most thoroughly opposed. A few years ago there was passed in New York the abominable Lusk Law requiring private teachers in any subjects whatever to obtain a state license. It was aimed, I believe, at the socialists, and primarily at the Rand School in New York City. Now certainly I have no sympathy with socialism. Because of its hostility to freedom, it seems to me to be just about the darkest thought that has ever entered the mind of man. But certainly such opposition to socialism did not temper in the slightest degree my opposition to that preposterous law. Tolerance, to me, does not mean merely tolerance for what I hold to be good, but also tolerance for what I hold to be abominably bad. (Ibid)

23 thoughts on “Religious Freedom — For Everyone

  1. (And get this, if everything starts from one’s presuppositions, isn’t LBGT really a religion? And so isn’t a case for religious liberty a case for LBGT on Van Tillian grounds?)

    Seriously, the theonomists say “all freedom is freedom of religon.”


  2. Walton, then what’s up with American Vision? As if America is an embodiment of theonomic teachings? Wow. That’s got to be one heck of a ride at the County Fair — spinning all the way through the Hall of Founders Mirrors.


  3. Real question, do D G Hart, Zrim, and the guy with calvin’s picture (who thinks he’s really funny) just sit in a room all day and giggle at each other’s esoteric jokes? This is such a weirdly niche website. It’s like the “schismatic Presbyterians that hate everyone and needed an outlet to show photos of themselves smoking” club. Kudos for having the strangest page on the interwebs. If ever there is a prize for such a think know that you’ll have my vote.


  4. In the words of a famous unbeliever, “if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” However, acts, rather than thoughts are another matter.You either are or are not free to perform an abortion. You either are or are not required to cater the wedding reception. You either may or may not kill the noisy kid next door or your feeble grandmother. Such determinations embody someone’s ideas and reject someone else’s ideas.


  5. Lillback seems to have flunked basic logical reasoning. If the Constitution permits the state to become the agent of a particular religious sect, as Lillback suggests it does, then wouldn’t such a situation invariably lead to the violation of the rights of conscience of those who aren’e members of that sect? The Establishment Clause isn’t merely concerned with the de jure establishment of an official religion, but also with the de facto establishment thereof.

    That said, socially conservative policies need not be supported by explicitly moralistic reasoning. In many cases, such policies are just as easily supported by appeals to transactional efficiency and utility maximization. I find moral paternalism to be thoroughly off-putting, as it tends to infantilize people. It’s far better to appeal to people based on their inherent tendency to love that which is economically efficient.


  6. ” It’s far better to appeal to people based on their inherent tendency to love that which is economically efficient.”
    Riiiggght…. people just luvluvluv economic efficiency.


  7. Evan (Bobby) do notice that Lillback is in your lighter in the loafers PCA and some who see the problems of appeals to religious liberty are in the OPC. That means that confessionalists, not evangelicals or mainline Protestants, are better at living in a diverse world.


  8. Religious freedom doesn’t apply when you belong to the church:

    It was painful to listen to Senator Kaine repeat the same tired and contorted reasoning to profess his personal opposition to abortion while justifying his commitment to keep it legal. He said all the usual made-for-modern-media sound bites: It is not proper to impose his religious beliefs upon all Americans. He trusts women to make good reproductive choices. And when all else fails, there is always: Do we really want to criminalize and fill our jails with post-abortive women?

    With regard to the imposition of religious beliefs, Senator Kaine appears to have no qualms with his public positions conforming with his religious beliefs with regard to such issues as the church’s opposition to racism or our preferential option for the poor. He appears not to be conflicted with our public policies mirroring the Ten Commandments with regard to stealing, perjury, or forms of murder, other than abortion.


  9. @DGH

    Need I remind you that Kevin Swanson is still a minister in good standing within the OPC? Lillback may be wrong on the Constitution, but at least he’s not calling for the state-sanctioned murder of millions of people based on their sexual orientation. I suspect that any PCA pastor who made statements such as Swanson’s would be defrocked. But apparently, such sentiments are A-OK in the OPC. Then again, the OPC didn’t have any problem with Ken Gentry either.


  10. Leithart asks liberals you some rhetorical questions- “Are gay marriage and legalized abortion deviations from American values, or expressions of them? Can we disentangle the two strains of liberalism? Can we defend free markets without endorsing free love? What does “freedom” mean? Since it cannot acknowledge any good beyond itself without ceasing to be liberal, liberalism inevitably becomes the measure of everything. Can our double liberalism elude the totalitarian logic at its heart? Can liberalism tolerate pockets of illiberalism, communities that deliberately renounce the ideology of absolute free choice? Or will everyone everywhere be forced to conform?
    We might rethink the relationship of religion and politics. … Do we need to be a Christian society to sustain religious liberty, as R. R. Reno argues in his splendidResurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society?

    Leithart —It was the genius of Bill Clinton to weave the two liberalisms into one. A “New Democrat” is as relentlessly globalist as she is fanatically pro-choice and pro-LGBT. Whether Clinton recognized it or not, he hit on a coherent public philosophy. Though they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, both strains of liberalism are founded on a concept of freedom as the emancipation of individual choice. Since the 1990s, this has become an all but unquestionable global consensus, and neither presidential candidate is going to disrupt it. Hillary Clinton won’t. Her husband invented it, and she was very present at its creation. Clinton can’t imagine any reasonable adult questioning the world Bill made. Her cluelessness about the national mood is as breathtaking as Trump’s self-congratulation.


  11. LM, is that you, Erik?

    But no giggles, just dings:

    In other words, lots of religious conservatives want protection from government so that they can use government to take away freedoms (okay, call it moral licentiousness) from other Americans.

    That’s why the rhetoric of religious liberty is not simply hollow but disingenuous.


  12. Click to access KilcreaseFordesDoctrineOfTheLaw.pdf

    Jack Kilcrease—“by exercising a kind of purely civil righteousness, the sinner might very well have not wished Jesus dead….’

    In the course of his excellent critique of Forde’s view of law (and atonement) , Kilcrease makes a point I like to make against all those sentimental hymns (Paul Gerhardt is not the only one) which accuse everybody of having “killed Jesus”.

    Forde denies that God the Trinity killed Jesus and says “we did it”. But God did, and some humans did. Unlike Forde, I would say that we didn’t all kill Jesus because Jesus didn’t die for everybody’s sins.

    Kilcrease writes: “of the whole human race, only a very small number was actually present at the crucifixion. To say to a sinner that, hypothetically, he would have killed Jesus may very well be true, but it does not solve the problem of how this sinful attitude is manifest in the sinner’s own life….Such a hypothetical makes one’s sin into an abstraction….

    Not all sin is unbelief of the gospel. Not all sin is works-righteousness.

    But sin against God’s law is still sin, even for those who never hear the gospel.

    We don’t need to belong to two kingdoms. We need law and gospel.


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