From Muslims to Christians and everyone in between, there’s been an overwhelming sense that religious freedoms are disappearing in the United States over the past few years. Now, according to a recent report from the Family Research Council, there’s statistical evidence to support this notion. How religious leaders respond to these hostile threats will, to a large degree, determine the future of religious liberties in this country.
Attacks on Religious Freedom See Stark Increase
According to the report published just a few weeks ago, there’s been a significant surge in government violations of religious liberty in the United States since 2014. Specifically, there’s been a 76 percent increase, with most of the spike taking place under the Obama administration.
“The report underscores the legitimacy of the actions taken by the Trump administration to end the policies and practices in federal agencies that fan the flames of this religious intolerance,” explains Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council. “The increase in reported cases not only reflects the growing hostility, but also the growing courage of Christians, especially young Christians, to defend both their faith and their freedoms.”
There are a number of tangible illustrations that proponents of religious liberties cite when pointing out how freedom of speech has been seriously curtailed over the last few years, but one of the classic examples is the situation where an Oregon bakery, Sweetcakes by Melissa, was sued for a refusal to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple (on the grounds that it violated personal religious beliefs).
You could also point to situations involving a teenager who was threatened with arrest for delivering a prayer at a school, or Senator Bernie Sanders attacking a political candidate over his religious beliefs.
“This narrative pits our historical understanding of the notion of religious liberty-an expansive vision that includes the ability to apply one’s faith to all the details of one’s life-against a more recent understanding of freedoms in which ‘rights’ to a ‘religion-free’ environment or to unfettered sexual expression are crafted into new law and elevated to the level of and even above our foundational constitutional rights of freedom of speech and religion,” the Family Research Council report reads.
While the attacks on religious liberties are perhaps most noticeable in the United States – simply because of the way the Constitution has historically protected these freedoms – it’s ultimately a problem that’s occurring on the international stage as well.
According to one Pew Research Center study, 40 percent of countries are now included on a list of “least hospitable countries to religious freedom” – up from 34 percent of countries in 2014.
“The sharpest increase in government restrictions was found in sub-Saharan Africa, but the Middle East-North Africa region continues to enjoy the dubious distinction of having the largest number of countries (95 percent) to use government force or harassment against religious groups,” Zelda Caldwell writes for Aleteia. “That region has also seen the largest increase in government restrictions against religious freedom since 2007.”
Perhaps most shocking, on the international stage, is that France had over 200 reported cases of government force against religious groups – a clear indication that the tides of religious liberties are shifting all over the world.
What Does the Future Hold?
Clearly, religious liberties are in jeopardy. For Christians, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, atheists, and everyone between, this should be troubling. This country was founded on the principles of religious freedoms, and as soon as these liberties are taken away, anything and everything else is suddenly on the table.
The question is, who will step up to the plate and correct this backslide? There’s still time, but the clock is ticking rather fast.