“The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.” – James Madison
Independence Day of the United States, also referred to as the Fourth of July in the U.S., is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
On that day, thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire. Central to the foundation of our country is the freedom of religious liberty. On this issue, the first amendment of our constitution is clear.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition.”
The freedom to believe, and the freedom to live out those beliefs is the very cornerstone of a free society. Religious liberty teaches that individuals, institutions, or government should not coerce religious beliefs. As Moore and Walker argue, “…the most biblical form of government is one that’s neither hostile to religion nor too cozy with religion.”
Government is designed to see that laws are followed and that citizens are protected. Government should not invade the free religious conscience of its citizens. The issue central to religious liberty is “to whom do we owe our ultimate allegiance?” To God or state? This is a matter of conscience, and one that should be protected.
This is why we read in Matthew 22:15-22 and Romans 13:1-7 that a government’s role is limited and its authority is delegated. Therefore, religious liberty entails the careful balancing of a government’s duty to uphold public order and the rights of citizens to freely exercise their religion in peaceful ways.
The current state of religious liberty in our country is growing more and more ominous. If this trajectory continues, religious freedoms will soon be limited to the “freedom to worship”. In other words, religious people will be free to worship within the four walls of their church, but will be hindered to act on those beliefs in the public square. However, faith is integrated into all areas of life. We are the church both gathered and scattered. Our theology not only informs our doxology, it also animates our daily living (praxis).
The threats to religious liberty are serious even though they are not evenly distributed throughout society yet. While the threats are serious, we also understand that our God is sovereign over all of human history. As the church proclaims that Jesus is Lord, we are trumping all other claims made by a governmental institutions and by elected officials. When the church proclaims Jesus is Lord, we are also pledging our ultimate allegiance to Him – in trust and prayer.
As the church, we need to pray for our temporary home, the United States of America. Yet, we do so with the balanced understanding that we are ultimately citizens of the greater Kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 11:16). We must also trust that God will sustain and empower us to remain faithful regardless of how our society regards religion. Even so, as citizens of this country, let us continue to uphold and defend the religious liberty of all American citizens.