I begin by making a few preliminary points about “religious freedom.” First, we need to understand that the word “religious” is not limited to, what we often think of as, organized religion. Reference to organized religion conjures thoughts of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. We must, however, realize that any set of beliefs that serve to guide one’s line of reasoning, choices, activities and lifestyle are religious beliefs. Atheism and Humanism are religious belief systems. Next, we must be clear that there is a tremendous difference between Freedom OF Religion and Freedom FROM Religion. To confuse or misrepresent (purposely or not) the two affects the way we view the relationship between the church and the state.
Many Christians intellectually acknowledge that there is nothing excluded from the Lordship of Christ and yet practically live as though we accept the idea that we must keep Him and MY religion out of certain areas of society (civil government and “public” education being two important such spheres). There seems to be a general acceptance that there are “public” affairs which need to be religion-free and “private” affairs within which we are ALLOWED to practice our religion.
With this in mind, we can briefly consider the topic of Pluralism. In a pluralistic society, it is expected that there will be people with different beliefs; a different set of “religious” standards. We might say that, in this world and in this nation, pluralism is a fact – there are, living side by side, many people with many different systems of belief. In a pluralistic society, it should, however, be expected that people will attempt to represent the credibility of their belief system and the error of others (one does not hold to a belief system while believing it to be wrong). This being the case, all adherents of a particular belief system should be challenged to 1) understand and 2) represent the details of their belief system. I would like to emphasize this point for my Christian readers. In 1 Peter 3:15 we read, “…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” Though effectively representing one’s case will have an impact upon the pluralistic landscape of a culture, we are not “fighting” against pluralism. It is best to encourage people to know and follow their convictions (the essence of a pluralistic culture) while attempting to change people on the level of their convictions. We begin to cross the line between Pluralism and Relativism when we assume, first, that it’s inappropriate to promote, defend or attempt to convince others of the belief system to which we hold and, next, that it’s inappropriate to establish and run a corporate entity (even to the level of civil government) upon a specific belief system (i.e. we must avoid national commitment to one particular God or belief system). The unavoidable fact is, “public policy” will always be the reflection of some belief system. If we do not realize that legalizing abortion, removing prayer from “public” school and efforts to legalize gay marriage (among other things) are motivated by accompanying belief systems, we are simply ignoring what is clearly there to be known. Even in our pluralistic society, the Biblical worldview is a belief system against which there is significant discrimination.