Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

I have noticed that there are many people on Face Book who post memes with Bible verses telling people to, “Like and share if you’re not ashamed of Jesus”. Then on the same page this same person shares some off color joke or obscene post.    

I try not to be judgmental, but it got me wondering, do people who profess to be Christians actually know what that means? Do they even know what they believe? 

If you asked them, “Well, why do you believe that?” Or, “Can you show me that in the word of God?” Some may reply with, “I heard my pastor say that and it seems right to me.” The problem with this answer is that feelings change and as a consequence, a hunch or a feeling, or “My pastor said” or “It seems right to me” will not hold up under cross examination. 

We have all heard the saying, “If you were accused of being a Christian would there be evidence to convict you?” But if a Christian stands to defend his beliefs in an actual court room, their testimony becomes quite critical. Because the court has said that a person cannot hold to their beliefs if they cannot describe them. Their belief cannot be a hunch or a feeling. In a court of law, a defendant must be able to state their beliefs from the Bible orally.

The court does not expect eloquence, but it does expect the defendant to be able to explain his or her beliefs in a simple and concise manner. This becomes important because often we like to hide behind a title. We may claim to be a “Fundamentalist” a “Messianic” or an “Evangelical Christian,” which are descriptive of what group you belong to, but not what you believe personally. In the matter of beliefs, the court realized there must be a test to determine which beliefs are upheld and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

Below are excerpts from his book, Conviction vs. Preference, by Attorney David C. Gibbs Jr., Christian Law Association, Conneaut, Ohio. These are actual incidents that have occurred during court proceedings. 

In 1972, the court came down with such a test. (Wisconsin v. Jonas Yoder, 406 U.S. 205) Ironically, that test case involved Christian education. An Amish man who lived in the state of Wisconsin by the name of Jonas Yoder told the state that he would no longer send his children to the state school. The state of Wisconsin advised him that he must, to which he replied, “I don’t think you hear me. I am not going to send my children to your school.” Mr. Yoder was threatened with being sued if he refused to comply but still he refused. He was warned that if he was sued and if the state won the case, he could go to jail. His only response was that he would not send his children to the school. Even under the threat of losing his children, he refused to change his mind, explaining that his religious beliefs prohibited him from complying with the demand.

Mr. Yoder did not fare very well in court. He lost the case and was told that now that he had had his day in court, he must comply with the ruling. He still refused, never altering his position and he found out something very interesting. After losing his appeal, his case went to the U. S. Supreme Court, where Mr. Jonas Yoder was told that the First Amendment protected him and he was not required to send his children to the state school. This case laid down the test that was to be used for all subsequent cases to determine which beliefs are to be protected by the First Amendment and which are not.

The first definition the court made was, “Every religious belief is one of two types. It is either a conviction or a preference.”

Most Christians carelessly use the word conviction. In reality, the test of whether or not a matter is a conviction is a very severe one and not to be taken lightly. It will be seen here that most of us possess only preferences. 

WHAT IS A PREFERENCE?

A preference is a belief that is held with such intensity that a person can go into full time service in the name of that belief. He can be a minister of the gospel, a Christian schoolteacher or a missionary. He might even give all of his wealth to it and the court decides he still has only a preference. His belief may energize him to stand on a street corner and witness and proselytize, but it would still only be a preference. If a belief can change under some circumstances, the court calls it a preference. True conviction cannot be changed! When a man knows what he believes is right and allows the pressure of others to cause him to bend, the court calls the belief a preference. 

Lawsuit pressure causes many people to change their beliefs. There have been many men who say, “I am for this, but I am not going to get sued over it because the news media makes us into villains.” If you avoid taking a stand that will cause you to get sued because you do not want to see your church membership drop and that causes you to change your beliefs, then your belief was a preference. 

Jail pressure causes many people to change their beliefs. The incarcerated are isolated from their Christian influence, friends and family. And they are thrown into the middle of often-brutal men who normally relish the thought of breaking a Bible-toter. The court says if you change your beliefs for fear of going to jail, then your beliefs are preferences. 

Death pressure causes most people to change their beliefs. The court will ask if you are prepared to die for your belief. The court says that for a belief to be a conviction it will not change, even in the face of death. Why? Only a belief that is God-ordered is a conviction. Therefore the court must first decide if your belief is a conviction or a preference. Only a conviction is protected by the Constitution. 

WHAT IS A CONVICTION?

A conviction is something that you purpose in your heart, as a fabric of your belief system. It is one that you will not change due to any circumstance—It says, “When you believe that your God has required something of you, you will withstand all of the tests put to you.” It has been said that a man is never made by a crisis. The crisis exposes the man for what he already is. 

A conviction is a personal belief. The court says that if you require others to stand with you to maintain your beliefs, then your beliefs are preferences and not convictions. There have been preachers willing to stand on their belief only if they have the backing of a certain college or group to stand with them. That doesn’t go over in a court, for your belief must be a personal conviction regardless of what anyone else thinks or does. 

A conviction is non-negotiable. The court says if you can discuss the negotiation of your faith, it is a matter of preference. Why? How do you negotiate what is God ordered? Recall what the three Hebrews said because it illustrates the last point the court chose. “King, we believe that our God can deliver us, but even if you throw us into that furnace and God does not deliver us, we are not going to bow” (Daniel 3:16–18). In the case of Jonas Yoder and others the Supreme Court has ruled that the test of conviction is if there is a consistent lifestyle of one’s beliefs. A good part of every court case is about whether what you say with your mouth is consistently being practiced with your life. (End of excerpts)

A conviction can also be misinterpreted and misguided. Many of the suicide bombers had such a strong conviction of their beliefs that they were willing to give their lives for it. And yet, even among terrorists there has been instances of their beliefs being a preference rather than a conviction.

Take for example, Hoda Muthana, a young woman from Hoover, Alabama who traveled to Syria to join ISIS. Five years and three husbands later, she says she regrets what she did and is now begging to return to the US. In a recent handwritten note obtained by CNN from a family representative, she writes, “When I left to go to Syria I was a naive, angry, and arrogant young woman. I thought that I understood my religious beliefs.”  As it turns out those religious convictions were actually her preference at the time. And those preferences changed when pressured by outside influences. 

On the other hand, Christians in Nigeria and other countries have given up their lives rather than deny their Lord and convert to Islam or some other religion not grounded in the Word of God—even when it would be much easier and safer to comply with their torturers. Their beliefs were obviously a conviction.  

So are your beliefs a conviction or a preference? 

When Jonas Yoder went to trial and lost, he still won. When he appealed and lost, he won. And when he went to the Supreme Court and the judges unanimously said he was right, he knew he was right all along. He stood in this country when no one else stood with him. But when all the tests of preference and conviction were applied, he passed.

 Pressure from friends and family members, threat of lawsuits, jail or death will decide if your beliefs are a conviction or a preference. It is a conviction of Christians that pornography should not be viewed, that obscenity should not be spoken, that nudity should not be viewed. It is a conviction that unrighteous themes should not be exalted or promoted. Most would agree that these are the convictions of a Christian because the Bible requires it. Is it a sin to do otherwise? I believe that the answer is a resounding yes.

So how is it that so many who profess to be Bible believing, God loving, Jesus following Christians show no consistent lifestyle? Perhaps it is time to place ourselves on trial to see if we really believe what we say we believe. Are we really living consistently by the things that we say are convictions? It is unlikely that we will ever be put on trial for our beliefs, but whether or not you are ever brought into a courtroom and put on trial by men, you are on trial every day before your God. He demands holy living and consistency of life, not just in words. Anyone can say they believe in certain things, but as a child of God we ought to live a life consistent with what we say we believe. God help us to make it so.

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We’ve all seen signs posted in restaurants and shops announcing that management “reserves the right to refuse service.” It’s one of those commonly used legal phrases that most people have a vague understanding of without really knowing what it means. Can a business really refuse service? Who can they refuse it to? More importantly, who can’t they refuse to serve?

Over the last several decades, the civil rights movement in the United States has led to important legal changes guaranteeing the rights of individuals to be free from discrimination based on sex, gender, race, religion, and a number of other factors. The Americans with Disabilities Act also prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, making it illegal to refuse service to individuals who are disabled or handicapped.

Whether you post a sign or not, businesses never have the right to refuse or turn away customers simply because of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, nationality or religion.

When Can You Refuse Service?

While the right to refuse service is not a get out of jail free card allowing businesses to turn away people they don’t want to serve, there are some valid reasons for asking customers to leave. Individuals or groups who are causing trouble or being disruptive may be asked to leave, while restaurants or other businesses with a capacity limit can turn away customers to prevent this limit from being exceeded.

There are various other examples, but the key thing to note is that declining to serve someone has to be reasonable and justifiable. For example, if there are safety concerns, or someone is harassing your staff members, then a business can refuse service. Likewise, if the way a person is dressed violates health codes, you cannot legally serve them.

In recent months we have seen one particular conflict played out more and more frequently: the clash between businesses’ “right to refuse service,” the religious freedoms of business owners, and anti-discrimination laws protecting gay and lesbian couples.

As same-sex marriage and civil unions have become legal in several states, and recognized by the federal government, several businesses have refused service to homosexuals on the grounds that they don’t agree with or support same-sex marriage.

On one side, business owners claim the right to practice their religion in good conscience. On the other, same-sex couples are protected from discrimination in public accommodations. Liberty of conscience is protected by the First Amendment, but freedom from discrimination is protected by the Civil Rights Act. Like many areas of the law, the issue of discrimination and freedoms is constantly evolving, but the first few decisions in cases involving same-sex couples have found that businesses do not have the right to refuse service to gay or lesbian customers any more than they do to those of certain races or nationalities.

In the end, while individuals might have their own beliefs, places of public accommodation must be open to all patrons who follow reasonable rules. (regarding behavior and dress, for example) But using sexual orientation as a factor in refusing service is simply too arbitrary in today’s world.

For a free society to function, a wide range of speech and behavior has to be tolerated, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to approve of it. For example, I don’t go to nightclubs and bars, but I have many friends who do. While I think that much of today’s rap music is appalling and degrading of women, I cannot stop those who enjoy listening to it. (Except in my home or car)

What would Jesus do?

We have all read the horror stories of Christians being fined or losing their businesses because their “religious beliefs” would not allow them to render services to gay couples.

Unfortunately, when it comes to gay marriage, we have people who seem to be unable to tell the difference between tolerance and approval.

Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

Jesus was saying that we should not make our beliefs a law to everyone else. We must judge ourselves and our own acts and not pass judgment upon someone rashly. Because we all have secret sins that we protect from the public eye. It’s all matter of perspective. A small speck, when held up close to our eye, becomes a like a log to us, and prevents us from seeing around it. It’s the same speck, just a different perspective.

There were men outside of Jesus’ circle that judged him, calling him a drunkard and a glutton. Others judged him because he was a friend of prostitutes and tax collectors. (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:36-50) They too, could only see the speck in Jesus’ eye but could not remove the log in their own eye.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

Did you get that? What do we have to do with those we believe are outside the Church? Does refusing to render service from a public business to someone we believe is outside the Church showing the love of Christ? Is refusing to bake a wedding cake or preparing a flower arrangement worth withholding the love of God?

The hypocrisy of religious freedom

Reading the stories of Christian businesses refusing services to gay couples I see dangers of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy in the florist who refuses to provide a floral arrangement for a gay couple’s wedding, but has no problem selling a flower arrangement to the same gay man, (who is a long time loyal customer) knowing that that same gay man is most likely buying them for his gay partner.

Hypocrisy in the Christian photographer who refuse to take pictures at a gay wedding, but has no problem photographing a straight wedding, even though during the straight wedding there is drunkenness and lewdness of all kinds.

History—both modern and ancient—is tragically full of examples of times and places where religious discrimination has been the source of persecution, death and destruction. And yet, none of those religions have escaped the sad reality that human beings—given the power to do so—will use God as an excuse to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings.

The First Amendment both prevents the government of the United States from favoring one religion over another and protects each and every one of us—as American citizens—to believe whatever we choose—or choose not—to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses.

Bottom line is this: The First Amendment protects your rights as an American to the free exercise of your religion. It does not protect your right to use your religion to discriminate against others!

A biblical compromise

Suppose instead of the bakery owner refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, they went ahead and took the order and after doing an excellent job, placed a well written note with the receipt about their love of God and how they came to believe in Jesus?

Suppose instead of the florist or the photographer refusing to render their services for a gay wedding, they agreed to do the wedding and while they were there, they lovingly shared the love of Jesus with the other guests? Who knows what spiritual seeds could be planted by just loving others the way Jesus loves them.

Jesus gravitated to the dregs of society and spent significant time with those who were considered on the fringe of his culture. Jesus did not place a standard on the kinds of people he would love and care for. In fact, if he did have bias, it was towards those who were ignored, discarded, or undervalued.

While it may be nice to tell others about our hearts for compassion via social platforms like Twitter or Facebook, it’s ultimately our actions that show our love for God. 

Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners. They called him this because it was true. Jesus himself said that he didn’t come for the spiritually healthy, but for the sick. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31–32) If Jesus was a friend of sinners, we should be too.

Casting Crowns – Jesus, Friend of Sinners

In a survey of over 327,000 American adults, Gallup found that 78 percent of Americans consider themselves Christian, while 15 percent did not subscribe to a religious identity. Of those adhering to a religious identity, Americans who considered themselves Christian made up 95 percent of respondents.

A coalition of atheist and secular organizations are coming together on Saturday to hold what is being billed at the largest gathering of atheists in history. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/22/atheist-rally-billed-as-coming-out-moment-for-nonbelievers/?hpt=hp_t3

David Silverman, chairman of the event committee and president of the American Atheists, said the rally is aimed at uniting atheist organizations and letting the religious know that there are nonbelievers among them.

The event is headlined by Oxford professor and author Richard Dawkins. “The Reason Rally is part of an effort to combat the attack of the theocrats,” Dawkins told CNN. “There is in this country at the moment a great revival of atheism, and the number of atheists in the country is much larger than people realize.”

Dawkins, who is widely regarded as the most respected figure in atheism, is lending his voice to this event because he says freedom for atheists is “constantly under threat from people who would like to turn this country into some sort of a theocracy.”

Directing his comments at Congress, Dawkins said, “You have been neglecting them, overlooking them and riding roughshod over them as though they didn’t exist. Well, they do exist and they outnumber some of the other lobbies that you have been so assiduously sucking up to all these years.”

What Constitutes a “Religion”

The terms “atheist” though specifically contrary to theistic religious teachings, (e.g. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) do not by definition mean the opposite of “religious”. There are religions, in fact, that classify some of their followers as agnostic, atheistic, or nontheistic.  The true opposite of “religious” is the word “irreligious” or “anti-religious”. Irreligion describes an absence of any religion; anti-religion describes an active opposition or aversion toward religions in general.

Critics of religion consider it to be to be outdated, harmful to the individual (e.g. brainwashing of children, faith healing, circumcision), harmful to society (e.g. holy wars, terrorism, wasteful distribution of resources), to impede the progress of science, and to encourage immoral acts (e.g. blood sacrifice, discrimination against homosexuals and women). A major criticism of many religions is that they require beliefs that are irrational, unscientific, or unreasonable, because religious beliefs and traditions lack scientific or rational foundations. Some modern-day critics such as Silverman and Dawkins hold that religion has no function in human society and regard it as irrational.

According to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

Atheism is defined in the contemporary western sense as not just the lack of belief in God, but the assertion about the non-existence of any gods, spirits, or divine or supernatural beings. Atheists in this sense are metaphysical naturalists, and as such, DO follow a religion.

Contemporary Atheism has been fueled largely by authors promoting their Atheistic beliefs. In the preface to The God Delusion, Dawkins says, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” Dawkins said he hopes that his book “converts” religious people to his worldview – exactly what a missionary of any religion hopes to do.

Atheism is also taught to children in many schools in science classes as evolution. As atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse admits, “Evolution is a religion”, (http://creation.com/michael-ruse-evolution-is-a-religion) and it could be considered the narrative dimension of Atheism. So teaching evolution is teaching Atheism and could be viewed as proselytizing.

In some religions, rituals have spiritual meanings attached to them, such as Passover, Christmas and Easter. Rituals are a dimension which on the surface might appear to be absent from Atheism. But many Atheists practice secular rituals such as birthday celebrations, or the ‘ritual holidays’ of other religions such as the Christmas and Easter public holidays of Christianity, but they claim that this is to simply maintain the tradition of a public holiday, but the original meaning of the celebrations are rejected.

In recent years, the atheists’ public commemoration of the anniversary of Darwin’s birth each February, (along with calls for the general public to do the same) is rapidly becoming something of an annual ritual. Some say that this modern atheistic commemoration is being ‘celebrated’ with greater fervor and passion than many longstanding religious rituals.

Atheists often claim that their belief is not a religion. They have said, “Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color”. But other than the denial of the existence of God there is little difference between Atheism and other beliefs typically labeled as religions.

The meaning of the word “faith” is often twisted to make it mean things it does not. In Christianity, faith is logical, being defined in Hebrews 11:1 as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This is not blindly believing the impossible (which is how many Atheists define faith), but rather trusting the promises of God, whose past promises have all been fulfilled. And yet, Atheism requires “faith” (using their own definition) that the laws of chemistry, physics and biology created life from non-life via chemical evolution.

I don’t believe that Atheism should be taught or enforced any more than any other religion. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….” This means that the Constitution should prevent ANY religion to be favored by a religiously neutral government.

Coming soon: “What if there was no religion?”