We have just finished celebrating the birth of our country and it is a well deserved celebration indeed. We have glorious freedoms in the USA, unequaled throughout the world. But are we too comfortable in the United States of America? Are we justified to relax and believe that life will go on as it has for the past 234 years?
How did it come about that our country has such great freedoms? Looking back, one document stands out: The Declaration of Independence. This had such force throughout the world, because of this radical statement:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
This means that the rights of all people are given by God, not granted by the king or any other government! This was earth-shaking!
Our Founding Fathers put their lives on the line to defend this great truth: Governments do not give rights – God does. He is the Creator of all human beings. They are all created in His image, and therefore have freedoms, because God is free. The Bible, especially the Old Testament Law, delineates many of the freedoms that have come into our government – either through direct statements or by example.
What are some of these God-given freedoms that we enjoy in this country? A quick reading of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (and other amendments) will reveal a list of 22 freedoms. Topping the list are: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Assembly. These freedoms set us apart from nearly all of the governments around the world. Some additional freedoms founded in our Judeo-Christian roots are: Right to Due Process of Law, Freedom from Self-Incrimination, Right to Private Property, and the Right to Confront Accusers.
Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech were modeled for us by the Apostles Peter and John in Acts 4. They had run into trouble as a result of their healing and preaching ministry in the Temple courts. this was not that long after the arrest and execution of the Lord Jesus. They were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the same high court that had tried and convicted Jesus.
Think about that. How might you feel standing in front of the same authorities who had sentenced your leader to death? If Jesus could not win against these judges, how do you think you might do? How would you plead your case? Would you seek to be diplomatic and a peace maker, hoping for a different outcome?
The Apostles Peter and John faced them head on. Explaining the miracle that had taken place the day before, they said,
“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He [Jesus] is ‘the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12 NIV)
We see in this passage that the high court was “astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” The court then commanded these two men not to speak at all in the name of Jesus. Peter and John responded, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20 NIV)
These courageous men used their God-given rights rather than cower before the court. Such an example is one way that we maintain our freedoms today.
I personally had a chance to support a junior high student, Megan Hedges, who wished to share a Christian newspaper with her fellow students. Very quickly she was swept up into the principal’s office and stood there shaking while being scolded by the principal and assistant principal. She was told that she was violating the separation of church and state (not in our constitution).
Her parents were upset by what they saw as a violation of their daughter’s First Amendment rights. Ultimately, the Federal Court sided with this frightened girl and upheld her rights to peaceably express her faith and exercise her freedoms. [Hedges v. Wauconda Cmty. Unit Sch. Dist. No. 118, 9 F.3d 1295, 1298 (7th Cir. 1993)]
Interestingly enough, Megan was just named in a new case last week. When Megan stood her ground and exercised her freedoms, it became one of the legal foundation stones to protect the freedoms of other students for close to 20 years. If we use our freedoms, we keep them. If we don’t, we can lose them.
This may seem odd, but there is a doctrine of law that allows a neighbor to take over a piece of land that is neglected by its owner. It happens slowly but is allowed due to the lack of response of the owner.
What happens is this – Say I live next to my friend, Alfred Block, and I notice that there is a perfect, level, slice of land between us for a croquet court and I begin to use it that way when friends come over. If Alfred sees this take place and ignores it, then I’m one step closer to claiming the land. As time proceeds, I decide to use a little more, I add a sand volleyball court, using concrete to anchor the poles and then putting up lights to play after dark.
If this continues uncontested for a long enough period of time, then I can assume ownership of the property.
Today, there are encroachments upon our liberties, simple ways that our First Amendment rights are being marginalized. For example,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech at Georgetown University, spoke on human rights. Not only did this she talk about the right “to love in the way you choose,” (an obvious attempt at making advancing gay rights a top priority for the U.S. government), she also talked about “freedom of worship.”
But Clinton never mentioned freedom of religion. Only freedom of worship. This is a big change.
Chuck Colson analyzed it this way in his Breakpoint Commentary of June 30, 2010:
In the First Amendment, the founders (whose work we celebrate this weekend) wisely ensured that government could not prohibit the “free exercise” of religion. And that means so much more than freedom of worship. It guarantees that we are not restricted to living out our faith in the privacy of our homes or church sanctuaries. It means we are free to exercise our religion—and contend for faith—in every area of life.
Just this clever dissembling of words is an apparent attempt to restrict freedom of religion to freedom of worship only. Do you see the implications? Sure, I am free to attend church, sing hymns, pray over meals, offer thanks to God for my children and grandchildren. That’s my own private affair.
But should the government succeed in redefining freedom of religion, how much longer can I practice my faith in public?
If you read history, you will see that that the first act of a tyrant is to suppress religion, which means of course, religious practice. Our Founders knew this. They knew the first English settlers came to these shores precisely so they could practice their faith.
And if you read history, you’ll know that the one true threat to a tyrant’s rule is always the believer’s loyalty to a God Who is above the god of the state.
This is why Christians were thrown to the lions in ancient Rome. The earliest baptismal confession of the young Christian Church was “Jesus is Lord.” And that meant Caesar was not. This is why Hitler and Stalin first went after the church. The star of David and the cross were symbols of an authority higher than their own.
When we accept similar encroachments on our freedoms and sit quietly by, we end up losing them.
The example of Peter and John is clear. They chose to obey God rather than men. They chose to exercise their God-given rights even in the face of severe consequences. Likewise, Christians need to use them or lose them. We need to graciously and lovingly, yet firmly, practice our freedoms in the open while we still have them.