What Has Happened to Religious Liberty?

March 14, 2014

Quietly asserting ones religious liberty is now more culturally unacceptable than yelling, FIRE! in a crowded theater. What happened to our love for religious liberty?

In law school, I remember being taught that the First Amendment bars government from restricting someone's religious liberty. Indeed, it starts, "Congress shall make no law . . ." that would establish religion, nor prohibit its free exercise. And yet, when businessmen assert that government has made law that prohibits their free exercise of religion, it is the businessman that is castigated, not the Congressman who fails to understand the meaning of the word, "shall." Religious freedom is on the decline.

Walk down the street to your local school and look around. You know what you do not see? Any reference to religion and students fearful of asserting their belief in God. Oh, sure the Supreme Court famously declared in Tinker v. Des Moines that students and teachers do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate, but when was the last time the Freedom From Religion Foundation applauded after a valedictorian's speech that thanked God for his education?

Maybe religious liberty remains in the fields of remembrance. War memorials are reflective places where men who have survived war return to honor those who have not. Never having been one to bury a comrade, I cannot say whether the crosses they sometimes erect at the center of their memorials are religious, cathartic, or merely traditional. What I do know is that they have earned every right not already given to them by the Constitution to erect such a memorial. Yet, we are told by various secularist groups that these are not merely offensive to the secularist, but that it causes them to claim to have unwelcome contact when they encounter such a humble grave marker.

At your city council can you invoke God before a council meeting without receiving a summons? If the First Amendment means what the Founders said it does, you should not only be free of subpoena, but the founders themselves would join you as they did at their public meetings in prayer.

Maybe pastors are the key. Men of the cloth have been long held in high esteem, so much so that governments going back to the Pharaohs have subsidized their housing. Theirs is a vocation that provides so much benefit to the community that it's worth taking the edge off their taxes. It is our national way of helping their family as they care for ours. But, now that's even been declared unconstitutional.

Theres a controversy over the words, "Merry Christmas now. You cannot be a sportscaster and believe in your faith's teaching on marriage. Do not wear a cross necklace during a student organizations fair on campus. If your professor tells you to stomp on a picture of Jesus, you had better do it or else. Do not put a Bible verse in your email signature and certainly not on your wall at work. Churches cannot locate on the town square that's reserved for real businesses. You want to play in the NFL (or host the Super Bowl), do not assert your faith or question the reigning cultural orthodoxy. And, above all, you cannot question homosexuality. Anywhere. At anytime. That's just the price of citizenship.

And that's the real head-scratcher. Why is it that every time religious liberty is mentioned, mobs of same-sex activists go into fits of anger? I understand that most of the major religions teach that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered. That would cause me grave concern too . . . if I believed that God would punish me for it. But, if I reject the notion of God (which I dont) or believe him to be something entirely different than the triune, Christian God, why should I be angry at the belief of others?

The answer to that, I suppose, lies in the definition of religious liberty itself. It is more than merely allowing for walls and a steeple-topped roof in which some may gather to sing about, pray to, and study the holy writings of God. Religious liberty is the idea that every man, woman, boy, and girl is permitted (indeed, created) to order their lives every aspect of it, both private and public according to the teachings of their faith.

Well, that's almost the entire definition. Religious liberty has one key component at its core that is fashionably left off the end. It is so assumed that we have forgotten to restate it over the years and, as a result, it has atrophied. Most of us grew up in homes and neighborhoods that did not think twice about this part of the definition of religious liberty. Why would we? This is America, where "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof."

That key component of religious liberty for every human being is that every human is permitted to order their lives according to the teachings of their faith and, absent the most compelling of reasons, to be free from government telling them what that faith ought to be or how it is to be practiced.

That is what we have forgotten and, in fact, what we have reversed. Now, Congress does make the laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion and few blink an eye because it furthers their socio-political agenda. Government, in the form of courts, damages centuries of jurisprudence that has broadened religious liberty by elevating perceptive rights found in outlying penumbras to the constitution above those specifically enumerated therein. Government demands our worship as the highest authority of all. It assumes too much, destroying itself from within in the process.

Gone are the indispensable supports of religion and morality that Washington once said were essential to our democratic republic. Instead, rather than champion religious liberty, politicians run from the words. Rather than look for ways to strengthen religious liberty within their community, lawmakers are scared to be the target of the next angry mob. And common citizens? Well, they suffer most. Dare to lead a modest effort in support of religious liberty you remember, that idea found in the first of the First Amendment? and you are the only permissible target of stalking and death threatening.

It is grievous that we have arrived at this place wherein religious liberty is a pariah rather than an intrinsic good to this country. Sadder still is the reality that many who would be the next abolitionists, feminists, and civil rights leaders will be told to sit down and shut up . . . unless they will repent of their sin of living out their religious teachings and place their faith in the reigning cultural orthodoxy.

Because we have recently adopted the notion that religious liberty means the freedom to do what one wants in the name of religion, there is a natural desire to look to government to quell the potential for social chaos. Instead, we should remind one another that government makes a horrible god and taxes are a poor substitute for alms. Religious liberty is not unfettered from duty and we ought to appeal to the intrinsic restraints religion places upon its adherents. And when such God-given liberty is abused, government is a just restraint. But overcoming that presumption must be a high hurdle for government. To bring it to a point for our present cultural conversation: the erotic license is an insufficient basis for government to bind the conscience of man against that which he is obliged to obey lest he face eternal consequences.

And yet, as we have recently seen, America has elevated erotic license over the indispensable guarantee of religious liberty. So, I am left to wonder: what has happened to religious liberty? For the love of God literally please tell me.

Jeremiah G. Dys

Jeremiah G. Dys, formerly of the Morgantown C&MA Church, now lives in Charleston, W.Va., with his wife and two children. He is the executive director and general counsel for the West Virginia Values Coalition. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24