Endangered Religious Freedom Day?

January 16th is observed as Religious Freedom Day in America. On this day in 1786, the General Assembly in Richmond passed the sweeping Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. First proposed by Thomas Jefferson in 1779, it was Jefferson 's most loyal lieutenant, James Madison, who shepherded this vital measure through the lawmaking process.

That world event assured that Virginians would not be taxed to support churches they did not attend and whose doctrines they rejected. "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." wrote Jefferson about this signal achievement. It also meant that members of religious minorities would be eligible to hold any office in the state. This principle was formative in the Constitutional prohibition of "any religious test" in 1787.

Today, we find religious freedom in grave jeopardy. Obviously, the HHS Mandate that forces Christians to subsidize abortion-producing drugs is the clearest example. There is an avalanche of others. Last August, our organization, Family Research Council, partnered with the Liberty Institute to release a report on the growing threat of religious hostility from government action.

We are seeing another high profile example of religious hostility. Pastor Lou Giglio has been banned from offering a prayer at next week's Inauguration of President Obama because the pastor had fifteen years ago preached in defense of true marriage.

The militant forces of political correctness got the pastor banned.

MSNBC's Larry O'Donnell thinks that's not enough. President Obama is slated to take the Oath of Office with his hand on the Bible -- "a stack of Bibles," actually. CNN reports the First Lady will hold up her Robinson family Bible, President Lincoln's Bible, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Bible.

Still, the president, following one of our most absurdist traditions in the government that invented the separation of church and state, will put his hand on this book [the Bible] filled with things he does not believe... and with his hand on this book he will recite the oath of office...

O'Donnell's attitude is just the latest in the media scorn for religion. CNN's respected political analyst Bill Schneider famously said the media "doesn't get religion."

We certainly saw this in the famous case of NBC's august anchor man, John Chancellor. He reported that Ronald Reagan would take the oath "with his hand on the Bible. It is opened to a favorite passage: Eleven Chronicles 7:14."

No one in the control room told Mr. Chancellor there are only two (II) books of Chronicles in the Bible. Maybe no one knew. The famed Rothman-Lichter Survey of prestige journalists at that time showed that 91 percent of these opinion shapers never attend a worship service of any kind.

That's not only a pity in their personal lives, it is a hazard in the nation. That is because our leading opinion makers do not understand what motivates tens of millions of their countrymen -- and billions worldwide.

If those top journalists seem irreligious, they are a tent revival when compared to our State Department. So, it should not surprise us that it was at the insistence of our own State Department experts that the new constitutions they helped draft for Afghanistan and Iraq contained so-called repugnancy clauses. Those clauses say that "notwithstanding anything else in this constitution, nothing shall be done by this government that is repugnant to Islam." Allowing someone to say "Jesus is Lord" is repugnant to Islam. For simply defending the right of Christians to say that, a leading Pakistani cabinet member (himself a devout Muslim) was assassinated.

We have not descended, thank God, to that point yet. But we remind our fellow citizens that the Family Research Council was attacked last summer by a shooter who "disagreed" with our religious and civil views.

The banning of Pastor Giglio sends an alarming message. Pastor Giglio's sermon fifteen years ago was no different than Barack Obama's own statement on marriage in Rev. Rick Warren's Civic Forum as recently as 2008. Happily, no one is calling for President Obama to be banned from the Inauguration.

"The people are right to take alarm at the first advance on their liberties," wrote religious freedom defender James Madison. The banning of Pastor Giglio is not the first advance on our liberties, sad to say. But it is an alarming one nonetheless.

Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows at the Family Research Council.

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