Must public officials give up their religious liberty? In past generations this question would have seemed to be ridiculous in the face of the First Amendment but over and over again those serving in public office are now being challenged to conform to secular and atheist notions of ‘Church and State’ rules of conduct that never came up or existed before.
A few years ago, an atheist group demanded that Sen. Marco Rubio stop tweeting Bible verses claiming that it was against the Constitution. Then there was the ‘religious test’ attempted to be applied by Sen. Sanders against the appointment of a Christian over his very normal Christian views on eternal destiny and salvation. Another case in point is the doctor who lost his job as a state public health official because of some things he said in a sermon given in a church.
Then there is the case of Atlanta’s former fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, who was fired for publishing a Christian devotional. Both sides claimed victory last week in the court case over that dismissal. From Christianity Today:
In Cochran v. City of Atlanta, the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia said that the city’s restrictions on non-work speech, which were used to terminate Cochran, “do not set out objective standards for the supervisor to employ” and do not “pass constitutional muster.”
Judge Leigh Martin May backed Cochran’s claims related to the policy’s prior restraint and unbridled discretion being in violation of the First Amendment. However, she sided with the city and against Cochran over claims of religious discrimination.
“The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before engaging in free speech,” said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kevin Theriot, who represented the former Atlanta official.
A spokesperson for the Atlanta mayor’s office told local news that the judge ruled “in the city’s favor on all major constitutional issues, and specifically rejected Mr. Cochran’s claim that the city violated his due process and other First Amendment rights of freedom of association, free speech, and free exercise of religion.”
That case will probably continue to the next level. At stake is whether Christians with a traditional view of marriage can continue to serve in public office if they publicly or even privately enunciate those Christian views in print or in speech intended for friends or in a church or religious context and venue?
Even more startling was the report of an atheist group demanding that a public official cease serving as a ‘bell ringer’ for the Salvation Army. Here’s the story from the CT Post:
Deep in the heart of Trump country, the Salvation Army’s ubiquitous red kettle is turning into a cauldron of controversy for Sen. George Logan.
An Ansonia Republican, Logan’s volunteer work as a bell-ringer outside a Walmart in Naugatuck for the Salvation Army, which is a Christian charity, has drawn opposition from a secularist group.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation called on Logan to keep up the separation between church and state. The group wrote to him Tuesday to voice its objections to him ringing the bell outside the big box store twice this week, including an appearance scheduled for Saturday at noon. …
“We urge you to consider supporting only secular charities in the future,”
the Madison, Wisc., group wrote Logan.
“This will ensure that representatives do not give the appearance of promoting an overtly Christian mission and will prevent citizens from feeling ostracized by their elected representatives because of their religious beliefs or sexual preference.”
Response: The implications of the FFRF letter are rather far reaching. It really is saying that public officials must give up all of their affiliations and service in Christian organizations or churches which have ‘an overtly Christian mission,’ which would include basically all churches and specifically conservative ones who maintain a Biblical view of marriage and sexuality.
To most of us in the conservative Christian community this would seem to be a violation of the First Amendment and hopefully there are still some conservative judges who would continue to rule according to the original understanding of the Bill of Rights. However, in today’s America there are also an increasing number in legal circles who really do believe that public officials need to serve in an entirely secular context and give up their religious convictions and service in the process.
Occasionally I make a practice of reading editorials and views on the Internet from ‘the other side’ in order to get an understanding of where we may be heading in the future.
There is a prevailing understanding among atheists and secularists that public officials must be forced to give up their religious liberty in the assumption and service of their offices. Particularly, there is the notion being kicked around that conservative Christian should be barred from office and public positions if they continue to hold to traditional Christian views on marriage and sexuality. We would contend that this position is directly against the Constitution and First Amendment.
However, many atheists and secularists now contend that since the Supreme Court ruling has established same-sex marriage as the law of the land, those who maintain a traditional view of marriage now hold an ‘illegal’ view which should no longer be tolerated when it come to those serving in public office. So there is a growing support for the notion among progressives that public officials must indeed be forced to comply and give up their religious liberty when it comes to Biblical views on marriage and sexuality. It is their view that this should no longer be considered a ‘religious test’ but should be viewed as a demand and expectation that public officials rightfully support the ‘law of the land.’
Look for the battle to continue and actually intensify over this issue.
Also follow the Supreme Court. A number of interesting cases on the freedom of religion front are coming before them and their ruling (or non-ruling) could be crucial in determining the future direction of religious liberty in America. In addition, any possible changes in the make-up of the court itself would result in a major battle and religious liberty would probably be one of the major issues considered in that selection and approval process.