FREEDOM OF RELIGION
While most are aware of the non-establishment, free exercise of religion declaration in our nation’s heritage, the issue is more complex than most seem to realize. In this regard, consider another case in point. My wife and I arrived in Romania shortly after the collapse of the Communist regime. So that it was still the subject of considerable conversation.
Qualifications aside, the faith community was allowed to meet for worship services, and exercise its religious practices at home. Yet, the qualifications were not inconsequential. For instance, the pastor’s preaching was carefully monitored. If it was thought to deviate from the political norms, he might be removed from office or otherwise punished. Then, too, group Bible studies were prohibited.
Worthy of note, religious freedom was interpreted in terms of its corporate entity, rather than the practice of Christians in society. So that if a person were to articulate his or her faith by way of word or deed, this involved a genuine risk. As in the case of a youthful Christian whose behavior incensed the officials. As a result, he was imprisoned under inhumane conditions, along with thieves and murderers. His mother was concerned that he might not survive, but he did.
One person observed that there was little unemployment, since a third of the people were charged with monitoring the other two-thirds. Now this was said to be a secular establishment rather than a religious alternative. However, if religion is defined in terms of that which is of ultimate concern, then that which serves as a religion is for all practical purposes a religion.
Consider a case in point. A certain church needed to expand its facilities to accommodate an expanding congregation. They knew that the authorities would not allow this, and so began to remove dirt under the cover of darkness, and dump it in the countryside. This seemed to escape notice until they began to lay a foundation. Even then, it was supposed that this was to provide a play ground for the children, rather than a sanctuary extension.
When realizing that they were mistaken, the authorities decided not to intervene. While realizing that were they to do so, it would cast them in an unfavorable light. Instead, they forced the senior pastor to leave the country, under threat of reprisal if he attempted a return. Moreover, the congregation would be closely monitored henceforth, and cast in the worst possible light.
While the situation is obviously not as extreme in this country, there are disturbing features reminiscent of the curtailment of religious freedom in Communist Romania. For instance, when one of our public officials announced that persons have to change their way of thinking, this being in context of a conflict of a Christian protest of public policies.
Perhaps this seems more pronounced given my advanced age. When in grade school, my teacher would read a Psalm at the beginning of the day. This seemed to her in keeping with our national lineage. I do not recall that anyone took issue with this. By way of contrast, I cannot imagine that this practice would be allowed today. Incidently, I was not a Christian at the time, but was not offended by the ritual.
Or take the issue over whether a person should be allowed to be selective with regard to the persons he serves. If for any reason, religious considerations among others. Such obviously inhibits the exercise of religion: in terms to establishing priorities, rejecting alternatives, and demeaning those involved.
Taxation per se is seemingly not an issue concerning the free exercise of religion. Providing it is not excessive, which would result in corporate theft. Then, too, if it does not force persons to fund what it thought to be unacceptable practices. Unless this is deemed necessary for national security, which could be said of providing military forces.
The above consists of what could be graphically described the tip of the iceberg, since it only scratches the surface. But, as such, it may encourage more deliberate consideration, one which hopefully will prohibit an establishment, while cultivating the expression of religious freedom—thought of in terms of both word and deed.