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The Privatization of Religious Liberty

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If you’re looking for a good movie to fill up an evening, let me recommend one I’ve recently seen—“21.” For me it was one of those movies that I really didn’t expect much from, but in the end it turned out being an interesting, well produced film. 

What I really liked about it was that the plot of the film was centered on “card counting,” a technique which only the most highly functioning of minds is able to use when playing the game of Blackjack. The film highlights the fact that casinos generally prohibit card counting at their Blackjack tables and are alleged to employ some heavy-handed enforcement methods in seeing that prohibition honored by their patrons. 

As with any casino game there is an element of luck involved in Blackjack, and the odds of winning are slanted in favor of the casino. But to the extent that a player is able accurately to keep track of the cards which have been played from a “shoe” containing six decks of cards, he is able to shift the odds of winning more his way from the casino.

Now, I’m not much of a gambler, but I have heard of this card counting prohibition before and always thought it to be absurd in principle. Card counting in and of itself doesn’t appear to be an evil thing. Card counting isn’t cheating, and players who are able to use this technique play by the same rules as those who don’t. Card counting simply involves maximizing brain function in order to achieve a greater result. What could be wrong with that? 

The absurdity of a card counting prohibition reminds me of another movie I’ve seen where maximizing brain function for a greater result was also prohibited. That movie is Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, an exposé produced by America’s favorite comedic drone, Ben Stein who had a bit Part 1n the teen-film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). You can see Ben in action here.

In his film, Mr. Stein reveals that within the realm of scientific research and education there exists a complete prohibition against consideration of any theory or hypothesis which runs contrary to Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. How absurd is that? 

I know, I know, we don’t want to go off on some silly rabbit trail when it comes to such a serious matter as scientific research. But does a worldwide blackballing of any hypothesis that doesn’t neatly conform to the tiny confines of Darwin’s hypothesis really make any sense? 

If Darwin’s theory were ironclad true to the extent that it legitimately defeats all other possible theories, then perhaps so. But Darwin himself acknowledged inherent uncertainties in his theory, and as Stein points out in Expelled, even the most ardent of today’s movers and shakers in the scientific community cannot give an answer to the question “How did life begin?”

The prohibitions highlighted by these two films are vastly different in context, but starkly similar in effect. It seems that each of them has been imposed for the purpose of skewing an outcome toward a predisposed preference. In other words, they have been imposed to get a desired result, not an honest result. 

Prohibitions are, in essence, restrictions on freedom, in most cases, the freedom to do or say some particular thing. But the card counting and scientific prohibitions are restrictions on freedom of a different kind. They are restrictions on the freedom to think. 

Do you find any of this to be at all disturbing? I do, especially when I pause to consider how far the ripples of that pebble tossed into the pond might extend. 

There are no freedoms more greatly cherished in our country than those mentioned in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Restrictions on religious liberty by their mother country were, in large part, the premise upon which the thirteen British Colonies declared their independence. Amazingly however, this nation which was so founded is now set upon a course of implementing inconceivable restrictions on those liberties.

There is no liberty more innate to man than religious liberty. While some might think that religious liberty is confined to things such as belief in God or denominationalism, it actually goes far beyond that and encompasses every aspect of life. Religious liberty is imbued with freedom of conscience—the right to think, form an opinion, and to use your talents to the best of your ability in seeking out the great truths of life. 

For more than sixty years, the First Amendment has been interpreted by the courts in such a manner as to neuter the influence of religion in government. This lengthy string of jurisprudence has meandered such a crooked path that we have come to the point in America today where we are being told that religious liberty is strictly a private matter and doesn’t apply in the public square. 

But just as the prohibitions on card counting and scientific research suppress thought to achieve a desired rather than an honest outcome, so does prohibiting Christian thought from the public square. Our Court’s bent toward privatization of religious liberty deprives citizens of an honest discourse on important moral issues of the day. Considering this, it is easy to see how homosexuality has now become established in a country where a substantial majority of the citizens lay claim to a faith opposed to that.

Recognizing the importance of religious liberty in our nation, Congress enacted a commemorative bill in 1994 asking the President to issue an annual proclamation declaring January 16 of each year to be Religious Freedom Day. Why January 16? It was on that day in 1786 that the State of Virginia passed the Statute for Religious Freedom drafted by Thomas Jefferson. 

Akin to the Declaration of Independence, the Statute for Religious Freedom is a defining document. By the recitals within them, these documents define who we are as a people and nation. The Statute for Religious Freedom compliments and expands upon the ideals Jefferson expressed about the rights of man in the Declaration of Independence. Though adopted by the State of Virginia prior to ratification of the U.S. Constitution, this statute was a precursor to the First Amendment which was adopted in 1791. 

Jefferson himself counted his drafting of the Statute for Religious Freedom as one of his three highest accomplishments. In his classic philosophical eloquence, Jefferson sets forth a lengthy recitation of observations exalting freedom of thought, and cautioning against the tendency of man toward corruption due to his own self-interest. Jefferson’s quintessential observation is “that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition [she becomes] disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate.”

Though eloquent, Jefferson’s style can sometimes make it difficult to grasp fully what he is saying without a little examination. So let’s see if I can untangle his observation a bit in the hope of making it a little clearer.

Artfully, Jefferson ascribes to truth a third-person characterization, being feminine, but strong. He then recognizes that truth is possessed of natural weapons by which she engages a conflict. Those natural weapons are free argument and debate. With them, she stands as an adversary ready for battle with error, certain of victory so long as man doesn’t, in some way, render her weapons ineffective.

WOW—did you catch that? That warning applies to the very situation we are confronted with today. What foresight. What intellect. What truth!

Yet today, the courts are trampling that truth to death with every decision they issue in pursuit of the privatization of religious liberty. 

The Statute’s resolution to the malady of selfish men and their propensity to unfair debate is to merely affirm, “That no man shall . . . suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” 

Can we really hold any plausible notion of pursuing truth by choking out the voices of those with whom we disagree? 

It is an unfortunate thing that in the quest for truth participants will be categorized as winners and losers. Everybody wants his conception of truth to prevail, and nobody wants to lose in that debate. But if the debate is not rigged, and truth prevails, are there really any losers? Shouldn’t the sting of defeat, in time, be numbed by the enlightenment which flows from prevailing truth?

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About the Writer:
Dan Wrigley is a licensed attorney at law and advocate for knowledge & understanding of the Gospel of Christ. Dan can be contacted at (618) 346–4707, [email protected], or visit his website:

Copyright 2009 Dan Wrigley, All rights reserved.

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