Religious Freedom: An Inconvenient Right To American Progressives

By Ken Blackwell | February 6, 2020 | 1:27pm EST
The moon sets behind the Statue of Liberty. (Photo credit: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)
The moon sets behind the Statue of Liberty. (Photo credit: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

As political and ideological divisions in our nation become more polarized, it seems religious intolerance has become a tool of choice for many waging war on traditional American values. 

Why? Because faith brings values, principles and morals. None of these comport with hedonism, socialism or narcissism.

The first task for the Founding Fathers was to codify the roles and responsibilities of all branches of government, state and federal, in the U.S. Constitution. After ratifying the document in 1788, some Founders were concerned there was not quite enough law to ensure the heavy hand of government would not encroach on individual liberty. James Madison then drafted the Bill of Rights and it was ratified in 1791.


It was no accident that religious freedom was in the first amendment. The Founders sought to protect people from government limiting faith. What they never saw coming was religious oppression from one group of “We the People” to another.

Technology and media have lifted the veil on cultural declinists who depend on the removal of God from the public square. Public figures embrace hypocrisy, and the entertainment industry mocks values and celebrates immorality, as recently demonstrated in the Super Bowl halftime show.

The Trump Administration has made religious freedom a central issue. President Trump has issued strong statements embracing religious liberty, released guidance protecting prayer, and made a powerful United Nations speech calling for global religious freedom.

It is, ironically, possible that this embrace of existing religious freedom by the President and by newly-emboldened Americans of every faith is further inciting morally rudderless relativists and secularists to push their oppressive anti-faith agenda. Freedom, godliness and the rule of law is the natural enemy of progressive values. 

According to the FBI, religious hate crimes were up from 1,409 in 2010 to 1,550 in 2018. Hate crimes are increasing in three of the country’s most liberal cities—New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Fifty-eight percent of reported religious hate crimes were perpetrated against Jews. 

Attacks against Christians and Muslims usually comprise religious slurs or vandalism around houses of worship. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 3,865 reported incidents of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in 2017 and 2018, and more than 50 already this year. The nation was horrified by vicious anti-Semitic attacks in December including a mass stabbing at a rabbi’s home in New York State and a shooting that killed three at a New Jersey kosher grocery store. 

American atheists remain busy fighting against a God they do not think exists.

The American Civil Rights Union partnered with other religious freedom organizations in opposing an atheist’s demand that a WWI memorial cross in Maryland be removed. In June, the Supreme Court handed a win to religious freedom by ruling that the Bladensburg Peace Cross could remain standing.  

Last October, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo observed, “When religious freedom is denied, a host of other freedoms are often denied alongside it.” He couldn’t be more right.

The State Department’s 2019 International Religious Freedom Report identifies Burma as a primary “Country of Particular Concern” as Buddhist majority military forces systematically slaughter Rohingya Muslims. Radical Muslim groups, often funded by Iran, call for the annihilation of Israel while individual terrorists kill and maim innocent Israeli citizens. Nigeria’s radical Islamic actors commit mass murder with impunity against the state's Christian population. The North Korean regime demands absolute repression of religious expression. 

As Secretary Pompeo noted, there is linkage between religious freedom and other rights. In its annual ranking of economic freedom of 180 countries, The Heritage Foundation’s Index of World Economic Freedom tracks directly with the State Department’s listing of  countries with severe religious liberty restrictions.

The State Department’s worst religious freedom oppressors are also ranked the least economically free by Heritage’s Index: Nigeria (111/180); Burma (139/180); Iran (155/180); and North Korea (180/180.)

The religious freedom provisions in our First Amendment are arguably a protection function, not a granting function. As our nation was founded on Natural Law—that all rights are granted by God to the individual and therefore cannot be constrained by man or by government—the Constitution is a written guarantee of those rights. It gives citizens redress when God-given liberty is obstructed.

Nothing in our founding documents allows the federal government, activists, or pop culture icons to infringe on these rights. Given by the Creator, our rights pre-date stone tablets and inform our written laws.

America must not follow the path of religious intolerance that leads to additional social and economic ills. People of all faiths, or no faith, must embrace and defend our fundamental freedoms, recognizing that in defending free expression of faith, they are defending their own liberty, prosperity and humanity. 

Ken Blackwell is a Policy Board Member at the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU.). He is a Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.


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