Religious Freedom

While Christians in some parts of the globe are being tortured and killed for their faith, it feels almost embarrassing for us even to raise the question of religious freedom here at home. The hardships Christians face in this country pale in comparison to those endured by our brothers and sisters abroad. Condoleezza Rice was right when she told the Southern Baptist Convention, “As we celebrate our freedom here today . . . we’re mindful that too many people of faith can only whisper to God in the silent sanctuaries of their conscience because they fear persecution for their religious beliefs.” Nevertheless, if we are to be a country that champions the cause of religious freedom internationally, we must make sure that our own house is in order, that we are protecting those freedoms here within our own borders. And that means bringing the issue of religious freedom into the public debate this campaign season and pushing our candidates to know where they stand. I am firmly convinced that the American government was right to speak out on behalf of the teacher in Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to forty months in jail and 750 lashes for “mocking religion.” The charge was that he discussed the Bible in his class and dared to say that “the Jews were not always wrong.” But what about the case of the pharmacist in the United States who had to choose between his job and dispensing morning-after pills? Now, admittedly, the severity of the repercussions is different, but the core issue—freedom of religion—remains exactly the same. As the case of the pharmacist points out, the workplace is a key battle zone for religious freedom in this country. One bill before Congress, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (S. 677 and H.R. 1445), would provide much-needed safeguards to protect the religious freedoms of people of faith. The bill has brought together leaders from more than thirty faith groups and has drawn support from both sides of the political aisle, including Republican Senators Rick Santorum (Penn.) and Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Democrat Senators John Kerry (Mass.) and Hillary Clinton (N.Y.). The provisions of the bill fall into three broad categories: scheduling issues, clothing and appearance questions, and conscience issues. It asks employers to make a true effort to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of its employees. Had this law been in effect in the past decade, it would have protected the rights of a Catholic woman who was fired for refusing to work on Christmas day because she believed that she ought to be at Mass. It would have helped the Muslim woman who was denied the right to work at the New York City transit system because she wished to wear a head-covering. And it might have saved the job of the website developer who refused to help build a pornographic website for one of his company’s clients. Strangely, however, despite the wide base of support among liberals and conservatives, Congress has yet to pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. Find out where your candidates stand on this bill, and tell them you want their support when they go back to Congress in January. Remember, when you enter the voting booth, you can play a major role in safeguarding religious freedom—not only for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, but right here at home.  
For Further Reading and Information
Today’s BreakPoint offer: Call 1-877-322-5527 to request BreakPoint’s “Your Vote Counts” fact sheet, or download it here. This fact sheet includes reasons why Christians should vote and information on how to vote and where to learn about the issues. BreakPoint Commentary No. 061016, “Save Us from the Time of Trial: Religious Persecution.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 061017, “Entering the Debate: The Elections and Religious Freedom.” Read Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s remarks at the Southern Baptist Convention. Roger L. Simon, “In support of Mohammed al-Harbi,” 23 November 2005. “‘Conscience Clause’ Protects Arkansas Pharmacists Who Won’t Dispense Plan B,” KAIT8, 14 September 2006. To learn more about voting, visit Redeem the Vote.


Chuck Colson



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