Kentucky law now allows (not requires) students to take an elective that teaches Bible literacy (not theology). As expected, conservatives praised the law while liberals condemned it. This reaction is indicative of the larger debate over church and state.
As a Christian conservative I’m interested in how other Christians look this topic. It is my observation that many Christians approach the religious freedom debate from a singular and, ultimately, self-serving perspective. To help understand why I say that, let’s begin by understanding what many Christians advocate.
What Many Christians Want
You’ve seen the memes saying we need to put God back in school. It seems people can’t stop sharing them on social media, especially around patriotic holidays.
Across the country, many God-fearing people strive to implement prayer in school, Bible clubs, and more. Christians talk about how America is a Christian nation founded by Christians based on the Christian Bible. Thus, it’s often said that if the United States returned to those founding principles, then the nation would return to her righteous path.
When someone opposes these ideas, they are demonized as un-American persecutors of the church. Remove the Ten Commandments from the state house and all hell breaks loose in the church house. Furthermore, the First Amendment to the US Constitution is almost always cited as protecting the rights of Christians to have school prayer, religious statues, and after-school programs.
Let me say this: Christians are correct regarding their freedoms. The Constitution does guarantee them access to public grounds and public institutions. They are allowed to erect displays on government property, host school activities, and talk about their beliefs in public institutions.
Often overlooked, though, is that these freedoms apply to other faiths, too. This leads me to the next point: how Christians apply their freedoms.
How Christians Sometimes Interpret Freedom
Herein lies the problem: all too often Christians unevenly apply the First Amendment. In other words: they act like “freedom of religion” applies to some (especially Christians) and not all.
Back in 2016 there was a story about a group affiliated with the Church of Satan who wished to display monuments to their religion on public property. How did many supposed Constitution loving Christian conservatives respond?
They were appalled, shocked, and offended. Many went so far as to demand that the satanic statue be forbidden. Why? Well, a myriad of reasons were given: Satanism is evil, this is a Christian nation, or they questioned the motives behind the monuments.
In other words: the First Amendment applies to Christians, not Satanists. It seems that Christians rewrote it to say,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of [non-Christian] religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof[of Christianity or those deemed not offensive to Christians]; or abridging the freedom of [Christian] speech.
There were a few Christians who spoke up defending the rights of the Satanists, insisting their religion is also protected by the First Amendment. However, they were condemned as being Christian-in-name-only and un-American.
As this example illustrates, all-too-often Christians are quick to demand that their own freedoms be protected while denying those same freedoms to others.
So, what about the Kentucky law or other real-world applications?
Constitutionally Applying Freedom of Religion
The new Kentucky law says schools are allowed to offer an optional class on Bible literacy. Here’s my question: what if other faiths want to have the same class? Would Christians openly welcome allowing a Hindu class on the Bhagavad Gita? Or a literacy class on the Sutras (Buddhism)? What about the Tanakh (Judaism)? How about the Quran (Islam) or the Book of Shadows (Wicca)?
Each of these religions have the same First Amendment protections as the Christian faith.
When it comes to prayer, which faith’s prayer should be offered? Christian prayer? What if another faith wants to participate, even if it’s a Satanist?
Should schools allow the local Mosque to sponsor a Quran club? What about a Wicca coven?
Can an Atheist group put up a display at the state capital depicting their belief in science? What about a statue of Buddha or the Church of Satan monument?
Again, the freedoms of other faiths are just as protected as those of Christians. Nevertheless, many Christians wave their pocket Constitutions when it comes to their own faith, yet deny those same protections to other religions, especially those seen as the most deplorable.
It seems many overlook one simple truth: if one religion is allowed access, all must be granted access if they ask, regardless of their theology. Conversely, if one is denied, all must denied.
I close by asking this simple question: when it comes to the First Amendment, whose freedoms are protected and whose are denied?