“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Those are the opening words of the very first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America’s in the portion known as the Bill of Rights. If you know your United States history, then you probably know that our constitution would not have been ratified without the Bill of Rights. Citizens—especially the members of churches—insisted that freedom of religion be included before they would ratify the new constitution. The constitution called for a much stronger government than the previously existing Articles of Confederation, and citizens did not want a document guaranteeing a stronger government unless certain rights were guaranteed in that document, starting with the freedom of religion.
Our citizens showed great wisdom, for now—232 years later—a constitution guaranteeing the freedom of religion is needed more than ever.
Those of you who know me know that as a pastor, I do not endorse a political party or a candidate for office. But that does not prohibit me from calling out leaders or candidates when they are Biblically or morally wrong. So I believe it is necessary for me to say that one candidate for president, Beto O’Rourke, was dead wrong when he said that we should remove the tax-exempt status of churches (and colleges and charities) who aren’t pro-gay marriage.
In order for that to happen, congress would have to pass a law that would call some religions “correct” and therefore tax-exempt and some other religions “incorrect” and therefore ineligible for the tax-exempt status. That law would immediately be declared unconstitutional by any honest judge who has read the Bill of Rights. (Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe that all of our Supreme Court Justices—both conservative and liberal, anti-gay marriage and pro-gay marriage—would be honest enough to align together on this issue and unanimously declare it unconstitutional.)
When Congress, or the President, or the courts, begin to decide which religions are valid and which are not, then we no longer have freedom of religion.
There are some strange (in my opinion) beliefs in the world of religion. And I am well aware that there are some people who believe that I have some strange opinions. In our Bill of Rights, however, we are given the right and the freedom to hold to our opinions. And our government cannot tell us that one religious opinion is more valid than another.
So what should happen now that this issue has been brought out into the open?
- Candidate O’Rourke should acknowledge his mistake and reaffirm his belief in our Bill of Rights.
- Other presidential candidates should tell us where they stand on this crucial issue. (To his credit, openly gay candidate Pete Buttigieg has already publicly disagreed with O’Rourke’s statement.)
- The Democratic Party (it was, after all, a Democrat who made this shocking statement) should let us know where they stand as a party on this important issue.
- And churches, pastors, believers, and even non-believers should loudly remind our officers, candidates, judges, and politicians that freedom of religion is a cherished and guaranteed right that cannot and should not be tampered with.
All Americans, apparently, would benefit from a rereading and a renewed understanding of our constitution. It’s not a perfect document, but it gives us some incredibly important freedoms that cannot be taken away by our government.
And no candidate for our highest office should even hint that these freedoms could be taken away. They are too important to us to be trifled with.