Category archives: Religion & Culture

Missing Bill Bass

by Robert Morrison

April 24, 2014

What? Too many blacks in Annapolis High School?” That was the sharp comment I received in one of my first meetings with Bill Bass. I was being introduced as the new fellow in our Men’s Bible Study. Asked where my kids were going to school, I answered Annapolis Area Christian School. I was completely unprepared for such a kick in the solar plexus. In a Bible Study? Was this freshman hazing?

No, I was quickly assured. That was Bill’s style. He was then in his early 80s. Brilliant, fearless and blunt, he said what he thought and did not care who liked it. I was so taken aback I never had the chance, or the quickness of mind, to give a proper answer. I might have retorted: “Well, Bill, since my children attended our Lutheran elementary school, where 85% of the students are black, I guess I just got out of the habit of counting by race.” Or, I might have added that one of the few black students in my son’s class at AACS had saved his life.

Bill was a proud Texas liberal. He had been a top Navy and civilian aide to the legendary Vice Admiral Hyman Rickover. “The Admiral,” as Bill always referred to him, was the Father of the Nuclear Navy. And Bill was his right hand man for decades. Strong and brave men would get a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs when they received a pink telephone message: “Call Bill Bass.” And these were submariners.

Over the years in that Bible Study, it became clear that Bill Bass could take it as well as dish it out. He regaled us with many a story of “the Admiral.” When Bill Bass turned fifty, the Admiral took note. No touchy feely session, though. “So, Bass. You’re now fifty years old. I guess this is as good as you’re gonna get.” Another time, the Admiral admonished Bill. “Bass, you don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself. You could learn from other people’s mistakes, you know.” This was clearly before they invented self-esteem.

I recall a Saturday session of our group in 2005. Bill Bass was describing how he served on the great WWII battleship USS Missouri when she was grounded in Chesapeake Bay in 1950. Bill was a junior engineering officer at the time of that most embarrassing incident. Missouri’s Harry Truman was sitting in the White House then. And Harry’s daughter Margaret had christened this mighty warship. To run aground in home waters was a major blunder for the ship’s skipper and her crew. Nonetheless, Bill related every ingenious maneuver required to free the grounded battlewagon. In minute detail, for twenty-seven minutes, he kept us spellbound with an exact rendering of kedging, and of the pumping action that sloshed bilge water back and forth from port to starboard to rock the great ship free.

When he finished, we all applauded his total recall. And then we used his story as a text for not growing weary in doing good. (Our Bible Study gets a bit distracted at times.)

I generally try to keep my work week out of the Bible Study. Because Family Research Council believes that everyone deserves a birth day, that brides should marry grooms, and that this is one Nation under God, some people find us controversial. But there was one Saturday when I was asked to report on my travels on the FRC/Heritage Foundation Values Bus. I spoke of our defense of marriage. I quoted Dr. Patrick Fagan’s famous study of child poverty. Pat and his colleagues at Heritage Foundation, where he worked before coming to FRC, virtually married by computer modeling the parents of the four million American children living in poverty. Pat and his colleagues found that if those parents were married, only 750,000 of those unfortunate kids would still be living in poverty.

I thought that was pretty persuasive evidence of the power of marriage to lift young lives out of poverty. Most of my Bible Study friends agreed. Not Bill Bass. He piped up: If their parents had access to free and legal abortion, none of them would be living in poverty. I confess I was struck dumb. I had not expected such a Herodian viewpoint in our Christian Bible Study.

Bill Bass was as liberal in his theology as in his politics. He was forever saying we cannot take the Gospels literally. After all, they were written by fallible men some fifty or sixty years after the events they purport to chronicle.

Only years later did this rejoinder occur to me: Bill Bass — you related the entire story of the grounding of the USS Missouri fifty-five years after the event. You missed no significant detail. And “Big Mo” never ascended from that sand bar into Heaven!

I admit I was shocked by Bill’s recent death, just short of his ninetieth birthday. He seemed so alive, so strong-willed. When we visited him in the hospital, we asked him how the food was. “Lousy,” he roared! And then he proceeded to tick off every item he’d ordered for breakfast and how they gave him nothing he wanted.

Whenever he uttered some truly outrageous comment, I would remind myself of his service to God and country. For fifty years, we were all kept safe by our nuclear submarine force. Because of Admiral Rickover’s driving genius, and Bill Bass’s indispensable help, the rulers of an Evil Empire always knew they could not strike us with nuclear weapons without being wiped out themselves. They were deterred. Rickover and Bass were our shield and buckler.

In the end, the only thing Bill Bass and I agreed about was Jesus. That is enough. And I do miss Bill.

War on the Pledge: new tactics, but the same tired thinking

by Travis Weber

April 23, 2014

The American Humanist Association (AHA) recently filed suit against the Monmouth County (New Jersey) Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. The offending action? The school district is following a state law providing that students recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day. The thinking behind this and other suits is the same tired thinking that any such mention of God in a public body violates constitutional protections. Usually some alleged violation of the Establishment Clause is claimed.

Yet here, the AHA and its plaintiffs (who remain anonymous) have alleged that this recitation of the Pledge violates Equal Protection provisions contained in the New Jersey Constitution. No doubt this is an attempt to test a legal pathway for success in knocking the Pledge out of public life. This would be a win for the AHA, which likely cares very little for legal integrity but very much in achieving its goal. Yet the idea that the Pledge discriminates against some students is ridiculous. Students already have the right to refrain from reciting the Pledge. The AHA and its “plaintiffs” in this case want to force everyone else to stop saying it too.

While the AHA identifies itself, the offended student and parents remain unidentified. While reasons for anonymity in litigation vary from case to case, here it is likely they are afraid of the pushback they would receive should they be known as the plaintiffs in this suit. Yet pushback would be understandable, especially when one is the catalyst for a meddling organization to come in from out of state and tell local students and their parents how to live their lives day to day.

Yet the philosophy underlying this and similar claims begs a larger discussion. As courts have interpreted the Establishment Clause to eliminate even relatively minor indicia of religious expression from public life on the grounds that such mention is state “endorsement” of religion, public bodies are left to operate in a philosophical vacuum. Courts have permitted public schools to “endorse” secularism and humanist principles. The result is an “establishment” of a “state philosophy” and orthodoxy of secularism, with the full force of the government and power of law promoting these beliefs.

As a result, the courts have bought into a lie that scrubbing God from public life to “comply” with the Establishment Clause will lead to the ideal result – an even playing field in which no one view is promoted. Yet a philosophical vacuum cannot exist for long. And since indicia of religion are being eliminated from public schools, indicia of alternative belief systems (secularism and humanism) have rushed in to fill the void. The result is that we are indeed left with a state established religion – the “religion” of humanism.

Review: God’s Not Dead

by Kathy Athearn

April 22, 2014

What would you do if your college philosophy professor told the class to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper, sign it, and hand it in, or else risk 30% of your grade? In the movie, “God’s Not Dead,” a freshman named Josh Wheaton is told just that. Josh looks around the room and watches everyone do just as the professor said. But as a Christian, he can’t bring himself to do it. As a result, the professor tells him that he must present his argument for why God is NOT dead to the entire class for the next several weeks. Then the class will vote on whether God is dead or alive.

Josh is now sacrificing grades in his other classes in order to devote time and energy to prove that God’s not dead. He also faces pressure from everyone —his parents, girlfriend, friends —to just let it go, and let the professor win his argument. But Josh just can’t do it. A local pastor helps him to stand up and defend the Truth, reminding him of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

Josh does a masterful job of arguing for God’s existence, angering his professor and slowly impacting his classmates. Josh knows that his purpose in life is to glorify God in every area of life, and he’s not going to let anyone frustrate or distract him.

As we witness the erosion of religious freedom in our country (especially for orthodox Christians) and we hear about the horrific persecution and massacre of Christians in other parts of the world, it is easy to become discouraged or disheartened. But I hope you take the time to watch “God’s Not Dead.” It is a positive, hope-filled movie that will inspire you to stand up and speak the Truth in Love. As our Redeemer said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world! (John 16:33b)

Bowdoin College and Religious Bigotry

by Rob Schwarzwalder

February 20, 2014

Bowdoin College, one of America’s elite institutions of higher education, has now “banned a local lawyer and his wife from leading campus Bible studies with students after the couple refused to sign a non-discrimination agreement they say violates their Christian faith.”

For nearly the past ten years the couple, Rob and Sim Gregory, has been volunteers with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF). They have been told they will no longer be welcome on Bowdoin’s campus after May because of their commitment to the Bible’s teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for a heterosexual couple within the covenant of marriage.

The following excerpt from The Maine Wire explains the story well and succinctly:

For nearly a decade, the Gregorys have been a fixture of Bowdoin’s community and source of counsel and comfort for college-aged Christians. But last year administration officials informed the Gregorys they would be required to sign a non-discrimination agreement in order to continue serving as an advisor to BCF.

If someone’s participating in an organization and they are LGBTIQA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Questioning, Asexual] and they are not allowed to participate in that organization because of their sexual orientation or they cannot lead that organization because of their sexual orientation, then that’s discrimination,” said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, according to the Bowdoin Orient.

According to the Orient, Foster said the initiative grew partially as a reaction to the Penn State scandal in 2011 in which assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. “One of the things we realized,” Foster told the Orient, “is that we have people on our campus working with students, spending a significant amount of time with students, and we don’t know a lot about a lot of these people.”

Gregory, who runs a Damariscotta-based law firm and is also a minister, had no qualms submitting to a background check. But for him, signing the agreement would constitute a violation of his Christian faith. So he offered a revision to the agreement that would protect his right to teach the historical Christian faith - without Bowdoin’s censorship. Similar religious exemptions have been adopted at other American colleges and universities.

The suggested amendment to the agreement read, in part, as follows: “Reservation of Rights to Religious Beliefs and Practices: The signature on this agreement shall not be construed to limit in any way the right of the undersigned Volunteer to hold, teach and practice his/her sincerely held Christian religious beliefs and to follow, hold, and teach the religious beliefs and practices of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the conduct of its campus ministry at Bowdoin College.”

In a Feb. 5 email obtained by The Maine Wire, Nathan Hintze, associate director of student activities, rejected Gregory’s compromise language.

I’m sorry that you have decided not to agree to the College’s volunteer policy,” said Hintze. “Both the Muslim and Catholic volunteers have in fact agreed without reservation.. It is simply unacceptable to have College-recognized student organizations effectively discriminate against individuals in violation of Maine law, which protects students’ right to fully participate as members of an organization and to lead that organization regardless of one’s sexual orientation.”

The stern, unbending voice of crypto-fascism is all too prevalent in the college’s condescending comments. For Rob Gregory, as quoted in Bowdoin’s student paper, The Orient, the fundamental issue is fidelity to Scripture and to historic Christian teaching: “The Bible teaches that human sexuality is expected to find its fulfillment inside of the twoness of persons and the twoness of genders.”

For this affirmation of biblical teaching on human sexuality, the Gregorys are being forced off the Bowdoin campus.

A friend of mine, who is associated with Bowdoin, sent me the following in a confidential email:

Rob and his wife, Sim, have hosted students countless times at their homes, taken on pro bono an internationally-covered cause to help a Bowdoin student, and spent thousands of dollars to love Bowdoin students out of their love for Christ. I know this firsthand, though Rob doesn’t say this publicly at all. In short, Bowdoin could not be targeting and smearing a better man (and his wife). Rob is gospel-centered, a man of oak, and does all this work (usually 35 hours a week) when he’s not being a high-powered Maine attorney. He and his wife aren’t paid a dime for this! They serve Bowdoin’s students selflessly, and Bowdoin has the temerity to try to crush them.

The historic Judeo-Christian understanding of morally valid human sexual expression is not bigoted, intolerant, or whatever other tired terms-of-political-art its opponents use whenever their social suzerainty in our decomposing age is questioned. And if the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality is true, then there is no ground for compromise with those who insist it not be taught. There is no common ground here, which is scary for anyone who cares about liberty and justice in a self-governing society.

The Gregorys deserve our thanks for their willingness to stand unequivocally “for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2). They are losing access to the Bowdoin campus in time, but for them, a well-deserved eternal reward awaits. Not a bad trade-off, that.

Moral Virtue and the Military

by Leanna Baumer

February 19, 2014

Amidst renewed plans from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take up legislation this spring addressing sexual assault in the military, a collection of ethical scandals involving military leadership continues to dog Pentagon officials.

Though the U.S. military still ranks as one of the most respected institutions in public life (and rightly so), the reputation of top brass has taken a beating with news of a Navy bribery scam, drinking binges during high profile missions, and incidents of serial adultery. Problems at one Air Force base extend to the junior officer level as over ninety officers responsible for operating our nuclear missile force have been caught cheating on monthly proficiency exams. In South Carolina, sailors tasked with operating Navy nuclear reactors appear to have shared exam questions and so far at least thirty sailors have been decertified as a result.

Given these troubling stories of lapses in integrity, numerous new oversight plans have emerged. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a full review of the ethical training senior officers receive, with the report due last Friday. The Secretary of the Air Force has spoken of the need to address “systemic problems,” and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that assessing character will be a larger part of the evaluation of military officers in the future.

With the pivot to introspection however, it’s important for Pentagon officials to consider how moral virtue in the Armed Forces is cultivated in the first place.

That human failings have surfaced in the military isn’t in itself news. After all, the military is made up of individuals who are influenced by and reflect the social mores of our culture. Look at any aspect of American society, and you will quickly find examples of cheating, moral failure, and personal irresponsibility. Honesty, sobriety, and sexual propriety are not often glorified in our culture at large. Instead, our culture lauds self-expression and immediate self-gratification.

In a self-focused culture, how can we shape an environment that demands honesty, fidelity, and honor, all characteristics demanding self-denial? In other words, how is an expectation of ethical and moral behavior to be cultivated and maintained?

Traditionally, religious beliefs have been helpful in forming an ethic that values others over self, upholds integrity, and demands personal piety. Religion generally involves the humbling of self in light of a Divine Being, a realization of answering to a higher authority. Such beliefs tend to inspire an individual to please a higher power in interactions with fellow men. (Of course, religious individuals as fallible human beings can be guilty of violating ethical codes too, sometimes egregiously so in light of their claiming to have a high standard to which they have failed to adhere.)

Unfortunately, religious expression within the military has grown more difficult following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in part because of the taboo surrounding the expression of politically incorrect opinions on sexuality. In an effort to be accommodating to homosexual service members, religious opinions about the proper boundaries of sexual behavior have been constrained.

Yet religion strongly condemns infidelity, lying, and drunkenness — all problems highlighted in the latest military scandals. Moreover, the dominant religion practiced in the United States, Christianity, upholds the ideal of chastity, a demand for purity and restraint in sexual conduct.

Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that multiple rounds of deployment demanded by the pressures of war in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have caused a focus on character to fall behind a focus on competence. That failure also meant “we were neglecting the tools that manage us as a profession over time.”

Since we know that one of those tools for cultivating morality for many people has been religious faith, are we encouraging the “systemic problem” in our services by ostracizing the expression of moral beliefs rooted in religious faith? It’s a question worth asking as DOD leaders search for the tools to reinforce moral integrity in our military.

Ronald Reagan and the Bible: “Rock on which our Republic Rests”

by Robert Morrison

February 7, 2014

It came up again this week as I was preparing for an FRC radio interview: What to say about President Reagan’s faith, especially in a week when his 103rd birthday coincided with the annual Congressional Prayer Breakfast?

Well, President Reagan used his remarks at the 1983 Prayer Breakfast to announce his Proclamation of the Year of the Bible. Clearly, the participants at that long ago breakfast were happy to hear this good news. Just as clearly, the atheizers and the cultured despisers of religion were unhappy. It was too much mixing of church and state to their taste.

Even so, President Reagan held firm. He never wavered in declaring that:

the Old and New Testaments of the Bible inspired many of the early settlers of our country, providing them with the strength, character, convictions, and faith necessary to withstand great hardship and danger in this new and rugged land.

He even went on to quote President Andrew Jackson in his own. Jackson had said the Bible is “the Rock on which our Republic rests.” Jackson was the first president of the modern Democratic Party, the man most associated with building a powerful political movement that embraced millions of immigrants, especially Irish and German refugees fleeing tyranny abroad.

Many of these new Americans were Catholics and some were Jews. But they came here yearning to breathe free and hoping to avail themselves of the religious, civil, and economic freedoms that America even then afforded.

Reagan’s proclamation quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words about the Bible.

There could be no more fitting moment than now to reflect with gratitude, humility, and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called “the best gift God has ever given to man … But for it we could not know right from wrong.”

In early 1983, the American economy was still in deep distress. The “malaise” of Jimmy Carter’s failed policies was still being felt in the workplace, the offices, and factories of a recovering nation. Unemployment was still at 10% and inflation had not yet been brought under control.

Many of the atheizers and liberals carped that the President of the United States had, or ought to have, more important things on his mind than proclaiming a Year of the Bible.

Take U.S.-Soviet relations, they said. Why, Reagan has not even met with his Soviet “counterpart,” the ruler of the Communist Party of the USSR. President Reagan was too polite to lecture these editorial writers that he had no Soviet counterpart. He was the constitutionally chosen leader of a great Republic. He had won almost 44 million votes in a free and open election. The ruler of the USSR had been unanimously chosen by Communist Party delegates who were responsible to no one except the Communist Party.

Instead of a political science lecture, however, on the essential differences between a free country like America and the Soviet Union holding all its Captive Nations behind the Iron Curtain, Reagan deflected critics with humor.

How can I meet the Soviets when they keep dying on me?

Looking back on 1983, that long ago Year of the Bible, we can note some interesting events.

  • President Reagan addressed the nation in March of that year to announce his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Critics jumped on it and said it was dangerous and wouldn’t work. They called it “Star Wars” to show their contempt. Reagan didn’t mind: He knew Americans loved the Star Wars movies and readily identified the Soviets with the bad guys in the movies.
  • Reagan spoke in March to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and warned them not to turn a blind eye to “the machinations of an evil empire.” He only used that term once. He never said the USSR was that evil empire. But the next day, in Moscow, the Communist editors of Pravda and Izvestia exploded in rage, charging him with labeling the Soviet Union with those “provocative” words. Deep in the bowels of the GuLAG, the Soviet slave labor system, prisoners read of Reagan’s words and took heart. They excitedly tapped out the words “evil empire” on plumbing pipes. Finally, an American president gets it, they said to each other.
  • In September, the Soviet Union shot down a straying civilian jet liner, Korean Airlines Flight 007. All 269 passengers and crew of the unarmed aircraft were murdered in cold blood. Throughout the West, liberals feared Reagan would use this as his pretext for a war with the USSR. Reagan exercised amazing restraint, using the shoot down as an occasion for closing Soviet consulates and tightening the screws of his economic boycott. But he had the grim satisfaction of letting the world see the Russian bear as it truly was—with teeth and fangs bared.
  • One month later, President Reagan ordered U.S. forces to liberate tiny Grenada from Soviet-backed Cubans and homegrown Communists. The Caribbean island nation was only 1/10 the size of Rhode Island, but its 100,000 residents, most of them black, greeted the American troops ecstatically. They blessed the Americans for their new-found freedom. In this short, successful, nearly bloodless campaign, Reagan disproved the idea that Marxism was a “historic inevitability.” Leonid Brezhnev had proclaimed: What we have, we hold. Reagan thought otherwise.
  • Also in October, 1983, the U.S. economy turned the corner. Job creation began to pick up robustly. Inflation had come way down. The economic indicators all started to show healthy signs of recovery. Reagan joked that his friends could put “egg on their faces and go to their Halloween parties as liberal economists.” The Reagan recovery that began in October 1983 lasted until October 2008—a quarter century of prosperity.

Secular scholars, of course, will laugh at the notion that President Reagan’s Proclamation of a Year of the Bible had anything to do with any of these favorable events in our nation’s life. Let them laugh. God laughs, too. He laughs his enemies to scorn.

Religious Persecution Around the World is Growing

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 17, 2014

Religious persecution around the world is growing. Consider two recent studies from respected sources, Pew Research and Open Doors USA, and a summary analysis by The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. Here are excerpts and links to each of these moving reports:

Pew Research: “The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas.”

Open Doors USA: “For the 12th consecutive year the hermit communist country of North Korea remains the world’s most restrictive nation in which to practice Christianity, according to the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List (WWL). However, a major trend which the WWL tracked in 2013 was a marked increase in persecution for Christian communities in states that are commonly regarded as ‘failed.’ A failed country is defined ‘as a weak state where social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control’.”

Berkley Center: “A common myth is that it is just fear-mongering to imagine that Christians and other religious groups could suffer serious restrictions in Western countries. Of course, Western countries have been free of the kinds of violent attacks on Christians and other religious groups that have occurred in countries such as Egypt and Syria in recent years. But the trend lines are not encouraging.”

We do not experience physical attacks or imprisonment in the U.S. We do experience a growing tide of anti-religious bias, not just from our culture but from the current administration (as FRC has documented at length).

Loss of liberty is seldom, if ever, sudden. Almost invariably, it occurs incrementally. The Obama mandate that even explicitly Christian-based businesses, religious colleges and universities, and faith-based hospitals must provide their employees access to at least one health insurance plan that includes coverage of drugs that can produce abortions is a troubling sign that the incremental erosion of our “first freedom” is real.

FRC continues to lead the battle to oppose the mandate and is active with the conservative legal community to fight this disturbing Obama Administration proposal. We also continue to stand with people of Christian faith who are killed, tortured, and expelled from their homes and schools simply because of their profession of faith. If you already haven’t, please join us.

Religious Freedom Day: January 16, 1786

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2014

Today’s commemoration of Religious Freedom Day is important because of what a state legislature did in the early republic. This day in 1786 saw the final passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The bill had worldwide influence. From that time to this, it represents the height of Enlightenment thinking on the crucial role of religious liberty as the solid foundation of a free state.

Thomas Jefferson had first introduced the bill in the Virginia General Assembly in 1779. But the Commonwealth of Virginia was then in the throes of the War of Independence, and British invaders were threatening the state. Action was delayed on this measure until 1785 when Jefferson’s friend and closest political ally, James Madison, skillfully moved the measure through the legislature.

Reporting by letter to Mr. Jefferson, who was by this time America’s Minister to France, Madison said — in his quaint eighteenth century spelling — that it would “add to the lustre of our country.” Jefferson fully agreed and delightedly had the Statute translated into French for full distribution on the continent of Europe. The influence of this document spread far and wide.

Jefferson had offered this bill as a way of establishing religious freedom. We need better to appreciate what was meant by that word. In every civilized country during the time of Jefferson and Madison, parliaments and royal courts established the country’s religion. The “established” Church of England was the only church legally recognized throughout the British Empire and the only one supported by taxes. The best that dissenter Protestants, Catholics, and Jews could hope for in England was toleration.

Toleration meant that you could practice your religion, mostly in private, without harassment from royal authorities. Public celebration of the Catholic Mass was illegal in England. Catholics, Jews, and dissenting Protestants were ineligible to vote, to hold office, or even to serve as a commissioned officer in the Army or the Royal Navy. A religious test was required. Those who were unwilling to pledge even a nominal allegiance to the King’s Church of England were disqualified.

France, our ally in the Revolution, was no better. There, the Catholic Church was established and Protestants and Jews had no civil rights. Holland was perhaps the most enlightened country in Europe, but even for the liberal Dutch, toleration was the guiding principle.

When the great patriot George Mason drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights during the Revolution, he first included in it language supporting the broadest “toleration” for all religions. Young James Madison, in his modest and self-effacing way, had persuaded Mason instead to use the phrase “free exercise of religion.” It was Mason’s document that Jefferson used as a reference in writing the American Declaration of Independence.

Madison had no stronger ally in the fight for the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom than Elder John Leland, a leader of the Old Dominion’s Baptists. These evangelical Protestants had been brutally mistreated under the colonial government of Virginia. Their refusal to tell Church of England clerics where they would preach and to whom they would preach landed a number of Baptist preachers in jail.

In establishing religious freedom for the first time anywhere in the world, the Virginia Statute said that our worship of our Creator was a matter between us and our God. It said we had a duty to worship but the manner and means of that worship were a recognized right of conscience. It freed citizens from paying taxes to support churches they did not attend and doctrines they did not believe. None of the peoples’ rights as citizens would be infringed because of their membership in a particular church body, synagogue, or other “religious society.”

Finally, the Virginia Statute stated in emphatic terms that it recognized the power of succeeding legislatures to amend or repeal portions of the Statute. The authors nonetheless asserted that should any part of the Virginia Statute be diluted or repealed, it would be a violation of a fundamental human right.

The importance of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom cannot be overestimated. Its spirit breathes in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — also a handiwork of James Madison. In the nineteenth century, millions of European immigrants would be drawn to our shores in the knowledge that in America, their faith would be respected and their right to free exercise of religion protected.

Here lies Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia,” reads the epitaph on the Founder’s grave marker. He wrote it himself. Modestly, he added no word about two terms as president, or a long string of offices and titles conferred upon him. Those were gifts of the people to me, he explained, but these were my gifts to them.

Today, America’s religious freedom is in the gravest danger since 1786. The HHS Mandate will force millions of us to aid in the destruction of the inalienable right to life. It violates our consciences and threatens our free exercise of religion.

Our own State Department, forgetting the legacy of two of our ablest Secretaries of State — Jefferson and Madison — has pressured constitution writers in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish Islamist states in which the rights of religious minorities are nowhere respected nor are their lives secure. No wonder our efforts in those strife-torn countries have come to naught.

There’s nothing new under the sun,” said President Harry Truman, “just history we haven’t learned yet.” His words should serve as a warning and a spur to his successor in the White House and the diplomats at State. Even if they have not learned our history, we must remember it.

Lost Episodes’ Deserve Discovery

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 3, 2014

One of the best-kept secrets on the internet is Dr. Kenyn Cureton’s “Lost Episodes in American History” series. Vice-President of Family Research Council’s Church Ministries department, Kenyn was for 20 years a pastor and now leads a movement of more than 23,000 pastors he encourages to “pray, preach, and partner” concerning the key issues of life, marriage, family, and religious liberty.

Kenyn’s Ph.D. training has equipped to view history with a scholar’s eye. His love for God and his love for our country motivate him to study our history’s with a patriot’s passion. For example, yesterday’s entry dealt with God’s remarkable protection of George Washington during the American Revolution. Students will be especially edified as they read these faith-filled perspectives on historic events.

Kenyn’s “Lost Episodes” series is a refreshing reminder that many of our country’s Founders were men and women whose Christian backgrounds strongly influenced them, and who saw God’s amazing provision during that tumultuous time in the nation’s history. You can read these valuable and often-neglected stories of faith, freedom, and courage here. Kenyn publishes the “Lost Episodes” five days a week, and each one will inspire and encourage you.

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