A school tells a student that he can’t attend because God’s the most important thing in his life. A public health official gets fired for sermons he gave in his off-hours as a lay pastor. A congregation is told they may not be able to locate downtown just because – and only because – they’re a church.
These are all real examples of cases in the past several months showing your religion can get you in real trouble in today’s America.
For the last three years the Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council has published Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America. The legal group says they’re seeing cases of discrimination against those of faith rising rapidly.
“The first time we did it, we collected about 600 cases,” Jeff Mateer, general counsel of the Texas-based Liberty Institute, told CBN News. “We went from 600 to 1,200. And this year we’re up to about 1,600. So, the threats are continuing to increase at a dramatic pace.”
Often these threats take place in school settings.
The American Center for Law and Justice is another legal organization fighting for religious rights.
“We’ve got a student right now at a school in Baltimore for radiological nursing who was denied access to the school – and the school put this in writing – because he said God was the most important thing in his life,” ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said.
Threats at State, Federal Levels
Sometimes it’s the federal government attacking, like in the Hobby Lobby-Obamacare case.
“We have the solicitor-general of the United States actually arguing that by engaging in business, people lose their religious liberty rights,” Mateer said of that case.
Then he turned to the Hosanna Tabor vs. EEOC case where the government backed a teacher with some ministerial duties at a church school who was fired by the church.
“We had this administration argue in the U.S. Supreme Court that the federal government should be involved in the hiring and firing of ministers,” Mateer stated.
Sometimes these cases involve a state government. In May, the state of Georgia fired public health official Dr. Eric Walsh shortly after hiring him because of sermons Walsh had given during his free time.
Walsh admitted his sermons sometimes do deal with controversial topics.
“Issues around creation, sexual purity, doctrinal issues,” Walsh said.
A number of articles in the Georgia press point to gay activists angry over comments Walsh made on homosexuality, sometimes in sermons delivered years ago.
For instance, in his 2006 sermon called “Sex Lies and the Fight for Purity,” he quoted scriptures concerning the sexual sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah.
“The scripture in Jude 7 makes clear that ‘they gave themselves over to fornication,’ which we normally connotate as premarital sex, ‘and going after strange flesh,’ which if you carry the analogies all the way out would mean homosexuality,” Walsh preached in that sermon. “The Bible says that when they did this, God caused them to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.”
After hearing from Walsh’s detractors, Georgia officials asked him this May for copies of his sermons.
“So he politely sent them copies of the sermons themselves,” said Jeremy Dys, the Liberty Institute senior counsel who’s representing Walsh. “They reviewed them and the very next day they fired him.”
Walsh told CBN News months later, he’s still in shock.
“And kind of blown away at the idea that in the United States you could be a lay pastor and on the weekend deliver messages to congregations and that that could be used against you when you apply for a job or you’re offered a job,” Walsh said.
“That’s not religious liberty in this country,” Dys commented. “At the very minimum, I expect religious liberty means we can find sanctuary in our own sanctuary.”
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