WASHINGTON (ABP) – An advocate for the separation of church and state told a House panel Oct. 26 that what some Americans regard as imminent threats to religious liberty are in fact attempts to maintain a favored status for the majority.
“We have a dizzying level of religious freedom in this country, even more so if you are a member of a well-established or majority faith,” Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State , testified before the Constitution subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary.
“There is no war against Christianity being waged by elected officials or by the courts,” said Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. “In truth the real threats to religious freedom come from those who seek special government blessings for those in favored faiths, and conversely, the treatment of members of other faiths as second class citizens.”
Lynn was one of three witnesses for a hearing on the state of religious liberty in the United States by the subcommittee tasked with responsibility for areas including constitutional amendments and constitutional rights. Two witnesses, Bishop William Lori of the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops and Colby May of the American Center for Law and Justice, both gave examples of laws and court decisions they claimed restrict the free exercise of religion.
May, senior counsel and director of the ACLJ’s Washington office, said some of the most controversial examples are going on in public schools and universities “where the effects of recent decisions on the young minds of our nation may adversely impact religious liberties in the future.”
May said university speech codes, intended to permit free exchange of ideas free from intimidation and harassment, have in fact been used to prevent religious students from sharing beliefs with other students out of fear of being charged with harassment. Other policies, he said, deter students from espousing beliefs on issues of public concern such as the definition of marriage in ways that “significantly burden religious expression in venues that should be open to the expression of the widest variety of ideas.”
Lynn, however, said in his day-to-day work the most serious threats to religious liberty he sees involve adherents of less-popular faiths and non-believers, like Muslims wanting to build a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who were sued in a case arguing Islam is not a “true religion” and members of the community in Katy, Texas, who protested the construction of a mosque by staging pig races next door to the property.
“Let us not be fooled,” Lynn said in his testimony. “You may hear holy horror stories with at most a scintilla of truth. You may hear claims of ‘rights’ being violated that do not exist with remedies proposed that are merely an excuse for obtaining special treatment. You will hear biblical tenets used to justify legislation where the real basis for decision-making must be not any holy scripture as interpreted by one group, but by the constitutional values shared by all of us.”
—Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.