By Russell Moore, The Gospel Coalition.
It’s rather common in headlines and news articles these days to see “religious freedom” placed in scare quotes. Many seem to think religious liberty is just a Religious Right Trojan horse for Christian privilege.
Here are four popular myths about religious liberty I commonly encounter.
Myth #1: Religious freedom is about ending the separation of church and state.
This myth is grounded in a misunderstanding of church/state separation, held by many on the secular progressive Left and some on the religious Right. Church/state separation, as practiced in this country, was not supported simply by Enlightenment skeptics but by orthodox believers.
The Revolutionary-era Baptists, for example, were hardly “progressive” in theology or politics. Nevertheless, they knew the state shouldn’t have the power to establish a religion or to restrict the free exercise of religion. They knew Jesus had commanded his followers to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21). This means taxation and the obedience of legitimate civil law. But the state is not given power of worship or power over the conscience, and a state that pretends to such power has overstepped its bounds.
Religious freedom isn’t about tearing down the separation of church and state; it’s about maintaining the separation. This doesn’t mean the separation of religious convictions from public debate; such a forced secularization would have left us without an abolitionist movement, anti-war movements, and the civil rights movement. It does mean, though, that the church doesn’t attempt to punish unbelief with civil power and that the state doesn’t attempt to interfere with the living out of religious convictions, except where necessary for public order and justice.
Myth #2: Religious freedom is about discriminating against those with whom we disagree.
Believe it or not, most religious people in this country have no desire to withhold their friendship, much less their business, from people with whom they disagree, even on serious issues