"Since it is impossible to acknowledge all the religions and belief systems of the American people, it is our view that any acknowledgement, favor, or accommodation of a particular faith tradition must be seen as an illegal establishment of religion and in direct conflict with the First Amendment. . .Those who wish to practice their religion openly must understand that respect for diversity, tolerance, and equality is no longer optional. It is mandatory."
These are the words of newly appointed Assistant Attorney General John Knox Smith, a fictional character in the novel In Justice, written by Alliance Defending Freedom President, CEO & General Counsel Alan Sears. The book follows three friends, including Smith, who graduated from Princeton and see their worlds collide around the fight for religious freedom in America more than 10 years later.
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Sears' novel was published in 2009, but the events within it take place beginning in April 2015. And while reality may not exactly mimic the fictional world created by Sears, recent events in Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi illustrate that we are now living in an America where it's becoming increasingly acceptable to target and punish people of faith for what they believe.
Governor Nathan Deal recently vetoed religious liberty bill after big business threatened to boycott the state, and LGBT activists wrongly claimed that the bill was discriminatory. "And the governor swallowed this nonsense hook, line, and sinker," wrote Ryan T. Anderson in an article for the Daily Signal. "In explaining his veto, Deal argued that the religious liberty bill 'doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people.' Leaving people free to act on their deepest religious convictions apparently isn’t one of those values," Anderson continued.
Georgia now joins the dilapidated ranks of states that have crumbled under the pressure and threats of boycott. Instead of protecting our "First Freedom," they've watered down religious liberty protections for Americans who just want the freedom to live according to their faith without being forced by the government to violate their beliefs under the threat of punishment. (See Indiana and West Virginia.)
Perhaps the most ridiculous response by religious freedom opponents comes courtesy of North Carolina, where Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill invalidating a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed men to enter public bathrooms and locker rooms designated for women. Instead of supporting the privacy and safety needs of women and children, opponents of the bill called for a (surprise!) boycott.
Big business, including the NBA, American Airlines, PayPal, and others, quickly flexed its cultural cronyism muscles to try to bully the state into caving on this common sense law. Then the ACLU filed a baseless lawsuit against the North Carolina law. And in case that wasn't outrageous enough, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to impose a travel ban on North Carolina because it supposedly “creates the grounds for discrimination against LGBT people," shortly after enjoying a trip to Cuba – a country that is notoriously anti-LGBT. Go figure. Thankfully, North Carolina is standing firm.
A Mississippi bill, courageously signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant on Tuesday—the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act—received similar outrage from opponents who claim the bill "allows businesses to refuse service to gay people." Mississippi also landed on New York's no-travel list after Governor Cuomo called the law protecting freedom of conscience "a sad, hateful injustice against the LGBT community." In reality, the bill prevents the government from being able to discriminate against and punish people of faith because of their views on marriage.
"Mississippians from all walks of life believe that the government shouldn’t punish someone because of their views on marriage," explained ADF Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek. "The people of Mississippi, from every demographic, support this commonsense ‘live and let live’ bill, which simply affirms the freedom of all people to peacefully live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without threat of punishment from their own government."
What religious freedom opponents fail to realize is that religious freedom is more than allowing diverse religions to coexist and the opportunity to attend church. It’s the ability to act on the convictions of your faith. Today, people of faith are being increasingly threatened, punished, and silenced for simply living according to their beliefs.
Boycotts and silly travel bans may not seem like a big deal, but as Sears' novel shows, the movement toward complete religious intolerance can begin with just one person in power. In Justice is a stark reminder of what can happen if trends attacking religious freedom go unchecked.
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