“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up." Martin Niemoller
"This week the Obama Administration’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report entitled “Peace Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties. Commission Chairman Julian Castro wrote in the report:
“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance. … today, as in past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality. In our nation’s past religion has been used to justify slavery and later, Jim Crow laws.”1
Tell that to the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby Mr. Castro. Both have found persecution at the hands of the state and have fought valiant battles in court.
In 2013, Summit President Jeff Myers wrote in our monthly Journal publication:
Only in America has religious freedom been protected, on purpose, from the beginning. But as this issue of The Journal demonstrates, government coercion now poses a real threat to this first freedom.
The target is Christians. Michael Horowitz says that historically Jews were the “canaries in the coal mine”—if a nation persecuted Jews, it was more likely to deny freedoms to others as well. But now, Horowitz says, the canaries are Christians.2
Religious freedom is the first domino. If it falls, so will all other freedoms.
America’s founders knew that human corruption would put liberties of all kinds at risk. George Washington was realistic: “We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals.”3 To secure religious freedom from infringement our founders refused a state church and instead constitutionally guaranteed a free market of religion.
Religious freedom led to greater freedom and also greater devotion. According to Grim and Finke, “the rate of church attendance increased from 17 percent of the population in 1776 to 51 percent by 1890.”4
A Paradox: How America’s Founders Secured Religious Freedom
The founders believed that only adherence to Christian principles guaranteed religious freedom for all. This leaves most liberal academics quivering in indignation: “The founders were not evangelical Christians!” we’re told. It’s not true. But more important, it’s irrelevant.
Here’s the proper question: “What of the founders’ firm convictions are aligned with Scripture, derived only from Scripture, or self-evident but justified only by Scripture?” The founders almost unanimously believed in the soul’s immortality, divine judgment, providential acts, sin nature, moral absolutes, the human capacity to bear God’s image, order in the universe, public virtue, and the general teachings of the Bible.
America’s founders had no doubt about the relationship between public virtue and national success. This, in turn, grounded their belief in limited government, just war, and the importance of Christian influence in national life. They believed in religious liberty because without it no liberty is secure.
As Presbyterian pastor John Zubly warned the British government in the 1760s, “Americans are no idiots, and they appear determined not to be slaves.”5
Perhaps the American colonists just knew the scriptures better than we: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1) Are you ready to stand?