Why religious liberty matters for creativity

September 4, 2017

A few years ago, I was working in the creative office of my alma mater. I heard our creative director say something that struck me. “You know that they can fire us, right?” He was referring to the business we had “hired” to produce a recent project.

We were in the middle of a highly detailed project involving a few different groups of people at a production house. Our organization and this production house had worked together for years on various projects and had built a great relationship, but this particular project was pushing everyone and was something new for all of us. The production house was trying to figure out if this project was something they could actually execute, and we were trying to make sure they could perform at the level we desired. Some frustration ensued during the process, but we were able to walk through the project without any major issues. However, what our creative director said in that moment always stuck with me.

We could be fired as a creative client. This production house was not required to keep working with us, regardless of the project. If they found us to be overly difficult to work with, if the project did not align with their values as a company, or if they just didn’t want to work on this particular project for some stated reason, they could in fact “fire” us as a partner and decide that they were not the best fit for this particular situation.

They would lose the business, but saying “no” in design is a cherished value in the creative community. A business or designer is encouraged to do what is best for the client and for themselves. That sometimes means turning down good paying work in order to protect the business. This assumption of creative liberty is in everyone’s best interest because it allows both parties to find the right fit to see a project through and does not force them to work on something they don’t desire.

Our inherent freedom

This freedom possessed by the production house is a similar freedom that all creatives have to accept or turn down work. But this freedom is often overlooked in today’s conversations about religious liberty and creativity. We read of cake bakers and photographers being taken to court over refusing to use their creativity to participate in a same-sex ceremony or an artist who refuses to perform a concert in a certain state based on legislation that violates his or her values.

Why is it that so many are completely against an artist using their creative and religious freedom to refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding, while they simultaneously celebrate the artist that refuses, on principle, to perform in a state in which there is legislation that goes against his deeply held beliefs?

Scripture teaches us that God created each man and woman in his image (Gen. 1:27) with certain inalienable rights. As Creator, God used his creative abilities to make everything and gave us a similar ability to take what he has created and to design things of our own. Our creative abilities are God-given and are designed to be used in glorifying the true and original Creator.

Religious liberty is a right given to each person by God and must be used responsibly.

Along with these creative gifts, we were also given the ability to worship and a freedom of conscience by which we could choose to glorify and honor God or to glorify and honor ourselves. We know how that choice ended up for mankind (Gen. 3); we chose to glorify and honor ourselves instead of God.

These artistic freedoms granted by God are central to who we are as his creation. All people have dignity and worth. All people have the ability to choose right and wrong. And all people are accountable for their actions and stewardship of the gifts they have been given.

As a creative who is also a Christian, I believe that all people have the right to live out their beliefs through their actions in all aspects of their life, especially in their vocation. Creativity is not just putting out a product or offering a service to someone. When one creates, we put our heart, mind, and soul into what we create. Just like a great writer is a part of their work or a sculptor puts his mark on his creation, we give ourselves to what we create—and it will always bear part of who we are. This is why creatives care so much about their work and how it is used or portrayed.

Our cultural hypocrisy

Every decision that we make is informed by our understanding of ourselves, the universe, and our concept of God. Just as the artist who decides they, in good conscience, cannot use their creative gifts to serve a same-sex wedding, I also believe that a creative should not be forced to violate their deeply held beliefs to perform in an arena in any place that they do not want or feel comfortable. To label some actions discriminatory while at the same time giving other artists freedom of conscience to not perform in venues for popular causes that hit at a politically convenient time, is nothing less than hypocrisy. It shows, sadly, that religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America are really about what’s popular, instead of giving space for disagreement. Sadly, opponents of religious liberty are living by a maxim that they only apply to themselves.

Creative freedom and liberty cannot only apply to the popular positions or stances on cultural issues. They must also apply to minorities whose positions might seem completely off base to the majority. My position on same-sex relationships and ceremonies might not be popular, but why should I be forced to violate my personally held beliefs if others are able to exercise their beliefs in their public vocations? Others might be celebrated by society, but both sides have the same rights and freedoms because every person has inherent worth and dignity.

Religious liberty is a right given to each person by God and must be used responsibly (Matt. 22:37-29). These are complicated issues, but even the complicated issues and variables surrounding certain cases can be worked out in public, and accommodations for all beliefs can be made in a pluralistic society. I believe that religious liberty applies to all people of all faiths or no faith at all, because I believe that all people are created in the image of God. No government or societal pressure should be able to coerce someone to violate her deepest held beliefs.


Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

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