Religious Freedom in Schools
The New Testament Vision of Civil Society
The New Testament conceives of civil society as composite: comprised of different peoples of different faiths. Religion is not tied to the State, to the ability to do commerce, to special privileges, or to anything else. While there is only one way of salvation, faith in Christ, that faith is a gift from God and cannot be forced on those who don’t have it. The gospel is persuasive, not coercive. Some men try to coerce others, not merely in religion, but in other ways. To get what they want, they steal, extort, assault, rape, and murder, along with any number of other horrible things. People have a right to defend themselves, enlist help to do so, and that help may be in the form of government. But government, from a biblical perspective in the New Covenant era, is limited to just that: aiding people in their self-defense. It is limited to protecting people’s God-given rights. So, Christians glory in a pluralistic society – not the philosophy of pluralism and not that people are unsaved – but in the freedom that allows people of different religions and values to live civilly with one another.
The First Amendment Guarantee for Civil Society
Thus, we cherish the First Amendment. The first part says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The establishment clause prohibits the government from forcing religion upon the people, and the free exercise clause guarantees the people’s right to exercise their religion anyway, anywhere, and anytime they see fit, as long as they don’t infringe upon the God-given rights of others.
The President’s Freedom Affirmation in Civil Society
Further, because we cherish the First Amendment, we applaud President Trump and the US Education Department for “sending out memos to school leaders telling them that they cannot block students or teachers from praying in public.” At the same time, to mark Religious Freedom Day, the President “welcomed to the Oval Office a group of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim students who have experienced discrimination in schools.” President Trump is “taking action to further safeguard students' constitutionally protected right to pray in school.” New guidelines have been enacted declaring “that students are free to read from religious texts or pray outside of lessons. Furthermore, public schools risk funding if they are found to have violated the religious freedom of students.” They can “organize prayer groups, and express their religious beliefs in their assignments."
These are welcome developments. Students have always had these rights under God and the Constitution, but public opinion has moved against and even denied these freedoms due to the onslaught of progressivism and its liberty destroying worldview. A reaffirmation of religious liberty from the government is a breath of fresh air and a reversal of numerous setbacks in this area during the Obama era. The fact that federal funding may be taken away from those who violate the religious freedom of students puts teeth to the reassertion.
A Little Lagniappe Here Concerning Civil Society
Here’s a little lagniappe – a Cajun word for something extra. If I have a God-given right to worship Him, does anyone, including government have the right to take it away? Think further: if I have a God-given right to own property, whether real estate or mere money, does anyone, including government, have the right to take it away? Government may have the authority (Romans 13) to take it away, but it doesn’t have the right. Those are two different things. To take my real-estate or my money is called stealing. To take my religious freedom is called oppression. The New Testament conception of civil society involves religious freedom for all, but more than that, freedom in general for all. Let all who violate the rights of others be held accountable, including the government.
Sign up free for "True Worldview News," a weekly e-mail newsletter highlighting relevant news stories affecting Christians. Dr. Dean’s comments on selected stories along with editorials are included. The newsletter also features True Worldview, a twice-weekly podcast hosted by Dr. Dean and his daughter, Christi Johnson.