America Looking More Like China on Religious Liberty


There are two major stories whose trajectories are coalescing toward a permanent loss of religious liberty in the United States. The first story is the on-going saga known affectionately as Obamacare. The second story is more subtle, under the radar, but perhaps more damaging in its scope. It is the story of code enforcement. Let me explain these in order.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was passed in June 2010. Certain provisions did

Obama Signing Healthcare Law Obamacare into effect

President Obama Signing Obamacare Law

not take effect immediately. One of those delayed provisions was the Health and Human Services mandate for contraceptive coverage. Now that this mandate is in effect, businesses and other entities nationwide are suing the federal government to demand an exemption on the basis of conscience.

The latest business to join in the lawsuits is Hobby Lobby. They are the first evangelical Christian business to join the fray, but hopefully they will not be the last. In all, there are 27 different lawsuits in the courts on this issue.  The objection is to the mandate’s insistence that all companies (and Christian schools) provide insurance coverage (without co-pay) for abortifacient drugs like the morning after pill or the week after pill.

The Obama administration is arguing two basic points germane to religious liberty. First, they argue that Christians must abandon their religious liberty when they choose to enter the commercial marketplace. This argument is based on their second argument, which is that religious liberty extends only to official houses of worship, not to individuals in their diurnal affairs. In other words, religious liberty (according to the Obama administration) means an American can go to a facility on Sunday and do his worship thing there without government interference (except for the aforementioned tax code restrictions), but he mustn’t think his liberty extends beyond the building.

The Obama administration clearly does not believe in religious liberty at all.  Instead, they believe in restricting religious liberty to “houses of worship” only.  Arguing for this view of religious liberty would be like arguing that a prisoner is actually free because he can do whatever he wants (inside his cell).  This is a radical departure from American history and reflects more of a communist view of religious freedom than an American one.

Communist Chinese flagIn China, for example, Christians are “free” to join the public, Three-Self Patriotic Church and worship there—in that “house of worship.”  They are not free to gather in homes or worship elsewhere. They certainly are not free to carry their Christianity into the workplace or the university. The defense of the Health and Human Services mandate of Obamacare rests upon such a demolition of religious liberty.

In addition to the Obamacare drama unfolding, there is a second stream of American stories all pointing to the same enslaving end. There is a rash of code enforcers around the nation taking aim at house church gatherings. We have seen instances of this in Illinois, California, Arizona, and now it has come to Florida as well.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, is representing the Florida couple who is being threatened with a $250/day fine for having a small group (6-10) in the home for a Bible study.

Dacus says, “They are having a specific problem with this family solely because they are having family and friends over to read the bible and pray.  That may be fine in some tyrannical parts of the world. That is not okay in the United States of America.”

The idea behind the code enforcers is the same as the idea promoted by President Obama: Keep your Christian God in a box. Go to your church building and do the Christian thing, but don’t bring the subject up at your work or your home. This is a Communist view of freedom, which, of course, means this is no freedom at all.

Code by code, insurance plan by insurance plan, America is shutting out its Christian past and killing the concept of liberty and justice for all.

Films Don’t Kill, Islamic Militants Kill


I will have a fuller article posted later (and maybe a podcast or video), but I felt the need to get this thought out: Films do not kill people.  Why must this be said? Because article after article makes it sound as though the Muhammad Film is responsible for protests, violence, and murder.

Whatever one thinks of the film (and it looks deplorable to me), the film has killed no one. The film will not and cannot kill anyone.  The violence Muslim Violence over Muhammad filmdoes not stem from the film.  The violence stems from Muslims who do not like the film.  They are offended by the film. They do not have the right to destroy property and commit murder based on that fact. Would anyone have considered it acceptable for Christians to riot and kill embassy officials in response to The Last Temptation of Christ? Instead, that movie got rave reviews and was nominated for an Oscar.  No Christian stormed an embassy. And no one would have approved if he had.

Why, then, is it quickly becoming an accepted meme that this Muhammad film has led to protests, violence, and murder? The film did not do that. Muslims did that. To put the blame on the film–and even on Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who threatened to burn a Koran–is to appease violent people out of fear of them. In other words, it is cowardice.

UPDATE (September 19, 2012)

According to this story, even the White House is now having to admit that the attacks in Libya had nothing to do with the movie trailer for Innocence of Muslims. It was  pre-planned attack using heavy artillery.  The U.S. policy apparently was to “minimize” our presence there so as not to incite violence.  Thus, our Ambassador is dead.  Clearly, the movie is not to blame. It’s incredible how error spreads like a prairie fire.

Update Two: According to the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the film had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks in Libya.

More Burning Anger


Today, the President admonished Pastor Jones, encouraging him to “listen to those better angels” who recommend not burning the Quran.  There is a united consensus among leaders in America that Pastor Jones should not burn the Muslim books.  Political leaders, religious leaders, media elites have uniformly condemned the act.  I heard this morning that some–including Franklin Graham–have called to plead with the pastor to stop the burning plan.  With these leaders, I agree.  The burning is an unnecessary offense.

But we must not lose perspective.  If he burns a thousand copies of the Quran, he will not have conducted an offense as egregious as a single murder.  Murder is what Muslims are proposing in response.  I hope our outrage will produce strong condemnation for those who murder in the name of Islam.  If murders do unfold–which President Obama seems to think they will–they should be condemned by the same religious, political, and media leaders who have so roundly condemned Pastor Jones.  Indeed, let us hope there will be outrage by Muslim leaders, too, since the murders will be committed in the name of their religion.

The truth of the matter is that no one is outraged when Bibles are burned.  It is settled policy in Saudi Arabia that Bibles are confiscated and burned (or shredded).  Bibles were burned earlier this year in Iran.  I don’t remember the religious tolerance outrage in those instances, and I cannot believe any leader would have considered Christian violence an acceptable response to the Bible burnings.  So, why give Islam a pass?

When cartoons of Mohamed ended with Muslim rioting and people killed, we were expected to apologize and not do that any more.  When Pope Benedict gave a speech in Germany concerning the reasonableness of not murdering in the name of religion, Muslims shot a nurse in Africa in protest.  Another news story today reports that Muslims are threatening to kill a woman in Tennessee because she is opposed to the building of a mosque there.  At what point do we say to Islam, you may not like our liberty, but you better not kill our people?

I am not bothered by those who condemn Pastor Jones.  He is being given way too much attention for his publicity stunt.  I pray that Christians in other countries will not suffer because of his foolishness (though they likely will).  What I am bothered by (besides the threats of murder) is an acquiescence to violence if it is done in the name of Islam.  Those who murder in the name of Islam ought to be condemned much more severely than Pastor Jones is being condemned for burning the Quran.

Isn’t the murder of 6 Christian doctors in Afghanistan more horrendous than burning the Quran?  Why so little outrage about that?

Burning Fears


According to this article, Pastor Jones is still planning to burn the bible of Islam at a service commemorating the 9th Anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. 

I have a couple of simple observations.

Pastor Jones has a right to burn the Quran.  He lives in a nation which prides itself on freedom of speech.  Clearly, he has the right under free speech laws to do what he is doing.

We should be glad that we are free to express ourselves in this way.  To the extent that we are outraged at Pastor Jones, we are probably displaying either a fear of retaliation or an ingrained liberal bias.  Free speech is not about allowing only the speech we like. It is about allowing precisely the speech we don’t like.  Telling Mr. Jones he cannot do this would violate his freedom to express his religious and political views.  Even repugnant views are expressible under our free speech laws.

Many who are outraged that he would burn the Quran are not likewise bothered by the many folks who burn Bibles and desecrate Jesus, Bibles, flags, effigies, etc.  So, why the intense concern over the burning of a Quran?  My guess is that the concern is a tacit acknowledgement that we are afraid that Muslims will become angry.  Therefore, we think it best not to outrage them.  Is this not itself an admission that Pastor Jones is on to something?

He claims that we have for too long placated the violent Islamists.  Instead, he says we should assert our freedom and warn the Islamists not to become violent in retaliation.  I can just imagine someone reading this and thinking Pastor Jones is just plain crazy.  I might be easily convinced of that conclusion myself.  Nevertheless, Jones is pointing to a double standard we have grown comfortable with embracing—the double standard of excusing violence in the name of Islam.

Think of it this way.  If a group in San Francisco held a Bible-burning bonfire of the vanities to voice their displeasure with Christian opposition to gay marriage, few people would notice or care enough to protest the profligate pyro-technicians.  Certainly, there would not be riots in Jakarta or Paris or London or New York.  And if there were rioting in New York which ended with innocent bystanders being killed, we would go to the rioters and hold them accountable.  We would not go to the Bible-burners in San Francisco and act as though they were responsible for causing the deaths.

We do have a double standard.  I think the double standard is evidence that we secretly believe what Pastor Jones is saying, even though we dare not say it ourselves.  We believe that a vocal majority of Muslims are violent against anyone who disagrees with their religion.  If violence in Jakarta ensues, we will be even further persuaded, albeit also appalled by Pastor Jones.  We may wish to condemn his actions, but we will still take notice of the violence in the name of Islam.  At the end of the day, this is Islam’s problem: Violent backlashes tend to characterize Islam in the world today (whether the offense is cartoons, Papal speeches in Germany, or Qurans burning in Florida).

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here.  I don’t think Pastor Jones is doing the right thing.  As a pastor, I believe that we are to speak always with grace, seasoned as it were with salt.  The salt of our seasoning is the gospel of grace through Christ.  We are not called to salt the earth with incendiary rhetoric.  Rather than extending a flaming torch, we should offer a rugged cross. But I do think a message is being revealed through the reactions of others.