Under duress in the land of the free

Published 9:53 pm Friday, June 30, 2017

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

This week, on the Fourth of July, we will celebrate our nation’s freedom. Yet evangelical Christians have every reason to wonder whether the America of the future will allow us to be free.

During the past several years, our religious liberty has been eroded over and over again, even though it is enshrined in the very First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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Christian florists and cake bakers who had qualms about providing their services and artistic abilities for gay weddings have been hit with lawsuits and threatened by the government.

The Obama administration tried to force Christian businesses like Hobby Lobby and charities like Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for drugs that result in abortions.

The Obama administration liked to say it believed in “freedom of worship.” But the U.S. Constitution protects far more than “freedom of worship.” It protects the free exercise of religion.

In other words, our constitution gives Americans the right to live out their religious beliefs, not simply the right to say whatever they want within the four walls of their churches.

A Christian business owner who does not believe in abortion should not have to violate his or her conscience by paying for abortifacient drugs.

A Christian cake baker or florist who does not believe in gay marriage should not have to violate his or her conscience by participating in a wedding he or she believes is forbidden by scripture.

A Christian T-shirt maker should not have to produce shirts with slogans that violate his or her conscience.

This religious liberty is not only constitutional. It is common sense to most Americans. But to the secular left, it is something that needs to be bullied into submission.

The latest example of where we are occurred in an exchange between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Mr. Vought is a Bible-believing Christian, who holds to the biblical teaching about salvation, which is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, he believes what orthodox Christians have always believed.

That didn’t sit well with Bernie Sanders, who asked Vought, “Do you believe that … is Islamophobic?” Vought responded, “Absolutely not, Senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a set of principles based on my faith.”

Vought went on to say that even though he believes Jesus is the only way to salvation (something Jesus himself states clearly in John 14:6, and many other passages), he also believes that “all individuals are made in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of religious beliefs.”

That wasn’t enough for Senator Sanders, who, after berating Vought, said, “I would simply say that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”

Those words are chilling. They not only impose a religious test for public office, which is expressly forbidden by Article VI of the Constitution, but sound like something from a totalitarian state.

I will tell you what this country is not supposed to be about. It is not supposed to be about bullying and berating someone for their religious beliefs.

Many people have died to protect our freedom. Will we continue to be the land of the free?

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.