When Americans think about Independence Day, some of the first things to come to mind are fireworks, grilling out, and enjoying time with family and friends. But Independence Day is more than simply a day to relax. It’s a time to remember and reflect on America’s founding, the ideals that made America great—ideals that are under attack like never before in the nation’s history—and why it’s essential that America’s freedom is preserved.
RELIGION AND MORALITY: “INDISPENSABLE SUPPORTS”
In 1776, at a time in history when the liberty of the American colonies was under attack, America’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence. In it, they explained their reasons for separating from Great Britain and asserted American independence. The signers of the Declaration also recognized that “certain unalienable Rights”—including “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”—come from God, and that governments exist to protect those rights.
In 1791, after America secured her independence and established the Constitution, the Bill of Rights was ratified, with the First Amendment guaranteeing the protection of America’s most foundational freedoms, listing first the freedom of religion, then the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and petition.
In addition, in his Farewell Address in 1796, President George Washington recognized the importance of religion in society. He stated:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”
UNPRECEDENTED ATTACKS ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
Yet in 2015, the freedom to freely practice and express religious beliefs in America is experiencing unprecedented attack, a hostility exacerbated by last week’s Supreme Court ruling..
In a few recent examples of anti-religious discrimination, Liberty Institute is currently defending U.S. Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, who faces the loss of his career for expressing his traditional, Biblical views when asked questions about faith, family, and marriage during private counseling sessions, and U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling, who was convicted at a court-martial for displaying a Bible verse in her workspace.
Other cases include the Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial, which is under attack from a humanist group seeking to have it removed, demolished, or altered simply because it is cross-shaped, and Congregation Toras Chaim, a small Jewish congregation whose existence has been threatened by lawsuits not once, but twice—currently by the city of Dallas, Texas.
But despite the attacks, religious liberty can still be preserved—but only if Americans stand for their rights. For example, in this past year, Liberty Institute protected the religious freedom of First Presbyterian Church of Auburn, New York after the city ordered the church to stop operating a “Glee Camp” on its own property. In addition, Liberty Institute represented the American Legion in a successful defense of the “under God” wording in the Pledge of Allegiance in New Jersey. Recent victories for religious liberty also include state laws passed to preserve religious freedom in Arkansas, Texas, North Carolina, and Michigan.
MAKING THE RESTORATION OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY A “PERSONAL AND NATIONAL PRIORITY”
This Independence Day, Liberty Institute shares an open letter to the people of America from its President and CEO, Kelly Shackelford, first published in the most recent edition of UNDENIABLE, Liberty Institute’s annual survey of hostility to religion.
We hope this will help you pause this weekend and reflect on why religious liberty is essential to preserving a free society, why the escalating threats to religious freedom threaten all freedom, and why Americans must stand to protect their first and most essential liberty. Shackelford writes, in part:
To my fellow citizens,
Freedom in America depends on the restraint and motivation supplied by religious activity such as prayer, Scripture reading, and open expression of religious beliefs. Prominent researcher, Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., states, “A steadily growing body of evidence from the social sciences demonstrates that regular religious practice benefits individuals, families, and communities, and thus the nation as a whole.”
And yet the freedom to openly exercise your faith is under intolerant, growing, damaging attack. If this hostility is not identified, defeated, and deemed socially unacceptable, then we will forfeit the benefits of religion and freedom. We will risk watching our freedom and our American way of life destroyed.
President John F. Kennedy began his administration by declaring “the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” President Ronald Reagan stated, “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant, and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”
But there is an accelerated attack against religious freedom in America today—and religion’s critical role in the survival and well-being of America is at great risk.
I hope you hear the alarm bell, awaken, and help put out the arsonists’ fire of hostility to religion set by an intolerant but powerful minority. Ironically, elements of this religion-hostile contingent are the very ones who pretend to be pro-freedom and deny the reality of their own attacks.
The vast majority of the hostility is unlawful. It succeeds only because of its own bluff and the passivity of its victims. The best attorneys stand ready to win for religious liberty in court—as Liberty Institute does with well over a 90 percent win rate. But in the end, hostility to religion can be defeated only if challenged by Americans like you. Let’s make the restoration of liberty a personal and national priority.
COURAGEOUSLY STANDING FOR FREEDOM
America’s Founders risked much to stand against Great Britain’s attacks on American liberty. In the conclusion to the Declaration of Independence, they stated:
“And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.”
This Independence Day, in reflecting on the founding of America and the freedom its citizens enjoy, may people of faith be inspired by the courageous stand of America’s Founders and boldly stand to protect religious liberty in America today.
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Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.