As we mark Good Friday and Passover this year, Americans’ religious freedom has become palpably dearer. Religious expression is enduring a season of scorn from public and private sources alike.
The most blatant abuse has come from the Obamacare Health and Human Services mandate that religious employers provide insurance coverage for abortion drugs and contraception, even if it conflicts with their beliefs.
Then there’s the New York City policy prohibiting churches from meeting in vacant public school buildings on weekends—despite the fact that other groups are allowed to do so. Allowing churches to meet in government-run schools, ACLU lawyers argue, would send the message that the state endorses their religion. For now, a temporary court order lets the churches stay while the lawsuit proceeds.
Meanwhile, an exodus of Christian student groups from the Vanderbilt campus is underway. The private university has decided that its diversity policy doesn’t have room for any religious club that requires leaders to uphold the group’s beliefs. Rather than abandon their convictions to remain “registered student organizations,” five groups have decided to meet outside the confines of the campus.
Despite students’ admirable handling of the situation, Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State told reporters that Christians at Vanderbilt should “stop whining” and suggested the groups “meet with students not in a club room somewhere in the university, but in those home churches that kept Christianity alive during the darkest days of communist China.”
That’s an appalling sentiment—for what it implies about the future of our country, as well as about present China. By one estimate, 3,000 “home church” members in China were beaten or detained in 2010. Shouwang Church in Beijing—one of the largest Christian churches in China that is not approved by the Communist government—has been forced to meet outdoors for a full year, hassled regularly by disruptions and detentions, with church leaders undergoing house arrest. The church will celebrate its second homeless Easter this weekend.
Last May, pastors in China signed a petition arguing for religious freedom as a fundamental right, the recognition of which would contribute to China’s stability and prosperity.
The Chinese pastors’ aspiration is what Americans have enjoyed for more than two centuries. Increasingly, though, American believers are forced to defend the fundamental importance of religious freedom against erosion, and to explain that religious practice is the ally of liberty, an important fount of a flourishing society.
On Good Friday, Christians remember Jesus’ sacrificial endurance of suffering and scorn. But the Christian story is not complete without the Easter victory that introduced “life more abundantly.” Safeguarding the freedom for such faith to flourish—and the larger community served by it—was the remarkably exceptional vision of America’s founders. We can ill afford to lose sight of it.