Religious Liberty's Greatest Threat
By Jeff Wehr
WHAT danger threatens our religious freedoms in America more than any other?
Will the dismantled former Soviet Union arise and crush us? Never! All the
armies of Europe, Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East combined,
with a Hitler at the helm, could not pluck one kernel of wheat from the
heartland of America.
History identifies religious institutions that control the power of the state
as the greatest enemy to religious freedom. Most of those who are persecuted
when the church controls the state are Christians, not secular humanists nor the
immoral. There is a heightened intolerance of those who believe, but believe
differently. The greatest persecution of Christianity comes from within
Christianity, as history shows.
Persecution in America
Anti-Catholicism came to America on the Mayflower in 1620, as well as hatred
towards Anabaptists, Mennonites, Quakers, and anyone else whose beliefs did not
square with those of the Pilgrims. Tolerance was not one of those things in
great supply when the Pilgrims first stepped on Plymouth Rock. In America many
were imprisoned, had their tongues cut out, and some were even put to death
because of their religious beliefs. However, tolerance was something that
Americans would progressively develop.
In 1791, 170 years later, there would be a legal break in this dark side of
American history with the ratification of the First Amendment, which reads:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof." However, persecution still
continued for some time in the New World. In Philadelphia, the city of brotherly
love, two Catholic churches and one seminary were burned down, thirteen people
killed, and fifty wounded. Why? Because Catholic children refused to participate
in the Protestant service of classroom prayer and reading from the King James
Version of the Bible. In fact, riots also raged against Catholics in the 1830s
in New York City and Boston.
The Vatican Persecutes
The most tragic and widespread intolerance and persecution was expressed by
the Church of Rome. Around the world over one hundred million people were
martyred for believing differently.
"That the church of Rome has shed more innocent blood than any other
institution that has ever existed among mankind, will be questioned by no
Protestant who has a competent knowledge of history." W.E.H. Lecky, History
of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, vol. 2,
32, 1910 edition.
The Injustice of Intolerance
However, the question must be asked, If God judges the morals of man, why do
churches seek the civil law to legislate against or to incriminate those who
believe differently? Scholar Leonard Levy observed, "The theory of the
church was that a society forfeits the protection of heaven by offending the
divine powers that protect against disasters. A wrathful God could inflict
droughts, famines, plagues, poverty, and military defeat. Rulers, said
Augustine, used the sword well as 'ministers of God, avengers unto wrath against
those who do evil.' Having established the church by law, rulers recognized it
as possessing the only true faith and the sole jurisdiction over the state, thus
ensuring the possibility of future rewards." Levy, Blasphemy, 47-48.
Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, taught that heretics must be delivered
to "the secular tribunal to be exterminated." Otherwise, they would
corrupt the faith of others. "Eternal salvation takes precedence over
temporal good, and . . . the good of the many is to be preferred to the good of
one." Aquinas, Summa Theologica, volume 9, 154-155.
Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus declared, "How could anyone infer .
. . that I do not approve of killing heretics? . . . To kill blasphemous and
seditious heretics is necessary for the maintainance of the state."
Sebastian Castellio, Concerning Heretics: Whether They Are To Be Persecuted
and How They Are To Be Treated, translation with introduction by Roland H.
Bainton, New York, 1935, 38-41.
It is understandable that actions of incivility are punishable, but to punish
someone because of his religious beliefs is uncivil. To punish a man because his
faith does not agree with yours is to show a lack of faith in what you believe
and in the triumph of truth itself.
Perhaps the greatest danger in punishing "heretics," is that the
"heretic" might be right. After all, Jesus was considered a
"heretic" and consequently they crucified the world's Redeemer. Every
word that Jesus spoke was redemptive. Every moment of every day, Jesus was about
His Father's business in saving man. Yet, the religious leaders took advantage
of the opportunity to destroy Jesus through the arm of the state.
Did the words Jesus spoke make Him worthy of death? When He went about doing
good and healing all manner of sickness, was He guilty of some crime worthy of
being crucified? When men are persecuted for holding different religious
beliefs, the punishment always exceeds the crime.
What punishment should be inflicted upon the man who observes another day for
worship? Should he pay a fifty dollar fine? Should he pay a $500 fine? Should he
be imprisoned for three days? Should he be imprisoned until he recants and
observes the day enforced by the state? Should he be deprived of the right to
buy and sell? Is he worthy of death?
Even if the "heretic" were doctrinally incorrect, the greatest
heretic is the one that professes to be a Christian but denies Jesus with his
life. Is not the persecution of others a denial of the Spirit of Christ? Christ
taught us to love our enemies, not hate them and slay them.
The satanic remedy of persecuting "heretics" is far worse than the
"heresy." Force does not protect truth. Truth makes men good, not
evil. Truth makes men loving, not hateful. Truth is not afraid to be placed
under the closest scrutiny. Why? Because truth will shine all the brighter.
Did Jesus ever teach His disciples to fine or imprison those who failed to
accept the gospel? No! Did Jesus ever carry a sword? No! Did He rebuke Peter for
taking up the sword? Yes! Therefore, the true successors of Peter are not the
persecutors, but the persecuted. Would God's true church ever possess prisons,
guillotines, the rack, or any other form of torture? No! Any church in
possession of these things is none of Christ's.
Was there ever any persecutor who had to act out of necessity? No! All
persecutors have acted out of choice. All persecutors are without excuse for
their diabolical behavior. An account of their actions will come before them in
the judgment. God will avenge His own.
Intolerant powers fail to realize that religion is a private matter between
the individual and God. We are not saved corporately; we are saved individually.
The free exercise of religion in the First Amendment of the American
Constitution recognizes personal accountability. While religious groups have
religious liberty, the individual has religious liberty, first and foremost. If
an individual is disfellowshiped from the group, he retains no less of his
natural right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.
Inspiration identifies more than one singular power that will trample upon
our religious freedoms in these last days. Concerning these powers, the Church
of Rome is clearly the most vocal worldwide enemy of religious freedom. The
Vatican has ever condemned liberty of conscience.
"The absurd and erroneous doctrines or ravings in defense of liberty of
conscience are a most pestilential error--a pest, of all others, most to be
dreaded in a state." Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Letter of August 15, 1854.
"That neither the Church nor the State, whensoever they are united on
the true basis of divine right, have any cognizance of tolerance. . . . The
Church has the right, in virtue of her divine commission, to require of every
one to accept her doctrine. Whoever obstinately refuses, or obstinately insists
upon the election out of it of what is pleasing to himself is against her. But
were the Church to tolerate such an opponent, she must tolerate another. If she
tolerate one sect, she must tolerate another sect, and thereby give herself
up." Cardinal Manning, Essays on Religion and Literature, 403.
"We maintain that the Church of Rome is intolerant, that is, she uses
every means in her power to root out heresy; but her intolerance is the result
of her infallibility. She alone has the right to be intolerant because she alone
has the truth. The Church tolerates heretics where she is obliged to do so, but
she hates them with a deadly hatred, and uses all her power to annihilate them.
If ever Roman Catholics in this land should become a considerable
majority--which in time will surely be the case--then would religious freedom in
the Republic of the United States come to an end. Our enemies know how the Roman
Church treated heretics in the Middle Ages and how she treats them today
wherever she has the power. We no more think of denying these historical facts
than we do of blaming the Holy God and the princes of the Church for what they
have thought is good to do." Bishop Ryan (later Archbishop of
Philadelphia), in the "Shepherd of the Valley," Catholic paper of St.
Louis--quoted in Church Guardian, Montreal, October 28, 1885.
Pope John Paul II has carried on this dogma of Rome's infallibility and
rightful rule over others. He said that the "church's doctrine of papal
infallibility was a 'gift from Christ,' and that Swiss theologian Hans Kung was
correctly penalized for questioning it. . . . The church's 110 year-old doctrine
of papal infallibility . . . was indispensable to the church." West Salem,
NC, newspaper, May 23, 1980.
"John Paul replies that true freedom must be united with moral truth,
truth as reflected in a natural law that is evident to everyone and defined by
the Bible and church tradition. Otherwise, he says, each individual
conscience becomes supreme--he even uses the word infallible. And in the clash
of infallibilities, moral confusion reigns. Only absolute morality, argues the
Pope, provides the basis for the democratic equality of all citizens, with
common rights and duties and without 'privileges or exceptions.' In short, only
when people hold to the same standards of good and evil can they be free and
equal." TIME, October 4, 1993.
In his encyclical, John Paul II declares, "Opposition to the teaching of
the Church's Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of
Christian freedom or of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts." Pope John
Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, Encyclical Letter, 169, August 6, 1993.
When John Paul was visiting Baltimore in 1995 he stated that freedom is not
the right to do what you want, but freedom is the right to do what you ought. It
is unfortunate that Rome's concept of freedom attempts to supersede personal
Alan Keyes, devout Catholic and presidential candidate, shouted, "You
cannot have the right to do wrong." Rome has not changed. She is still
intolerant of liberty of conscience. For her, there is only freedom and equality
when one thinks the same as the Church of Rome.
Perhaps the most regrettable remark made by Pope John Paul II was that
expressed when he dismissed the "widespread idea that one can obtain
forgiveness directly from God," and exhorted Catholics to confess more
often to their priests. See Don A. Schanche, "No Forgiveness 'Directly From
God,' Pope says," Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1984, 11.
The pope could not be more wrong. Forgiveness of sin does come directly from
God, and it comes only from God. It is one thing to mislead people on the issue
of religious liberty, but it is still worse to mislead them on the essentials of
It is not wrong for the Vatican to express moral views. However, her
religious views are not to be imposed on society. When she has had the
opportunity to impose those views through religious legislation, she has painted
the darkest hues on the pages of human history.
However, the Vatican is not capable of changing, mending, or blotting out our
present Constitution without help from the inside. She seeks the hand of
Protestants that believe in religious legislation. Do such Protestants exist?
Are Protestants reaching across the gulf to clasp hands with the Church of Rome?
The Christian Coalition is perhaps the most influential political group in
America. It is principally made up of Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and
conservative Catholics. To accomplish their political agenda of passing
religious legislation, they recognize the need to form an alliance with the
Vatican. Televangelist Pat Robertson said, "I believe frankly that the
Evangelicals and the Catholics in America, if they work together, can see many
pro-family initiatives in our society, and we can be an effective counterbalance
to some of the radical, leftist initiatives." Church & State, March
Charles Colson said, "It's high time that all of us who are Christians
come together regardless of the differences of our confessions and our
traditions and make common cause to bring Christian values to bear in our
society." Keith Fournier, Evangelical Catholics.
Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, said, "The
future of American politics lies in the growing strength of Evangelicals and
their Roman Catholic allies. If these two core constituencies--Evangelicals
comprising the swing vote in the South, Catholics holding sway in the North--can
cooperate on issues and support like-minded candidates, they can determine the
outcome of almost any election in the nation." Ralph Reed, Politically
An agreement was signed March 30, 1994, between Evangelicals and Roman
Catholics, whereby, they promised to stop proselytizing one another's members.
This twenty-five page document, signed by thirty-nine leading Evangelical
Protestants and Catholics, urges the country's 13 million Evangelicals and 52
million Catholics to work together toward world evangelism and societal
concerns. However, this document represents the merging of two major religious
groups that form the countries largest voting bloc. "This is the wave of
the future," commented Reed. He described the new unity expressed in the
agreement as evidence of a potential political coalition that will significantly
influence American politics in the years to come. See Hope Liberty News, Volume
No. 8, June 1994.
Evangelical Protestants are not the only ones clasping hands with the Vatican
for political gain. Dave Hunt says, "Why do world leaders want to get into
bed with the Vatican? The heads of state in today's world all recognize that the
Pope wields a power which in many ways is even greater than their own. It is not
only Catholicism's 900 million subjects and enormous wealth that causes the
world's most powerful governments to cultivate friendly relations with the Roman
Catholic Church, it is because Vatican City's citizens are found in great
numbers in nearly every country. They constitute an international network that
reaches into the inside circles of the world's power centers." Global
Peace and the Rise of Antichrist, 116.
The purpose of this alliance between many Protestants and the Vatican is to
tear down the wall of separation of church and state in order to enact religious
legislation. Evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell declared, "In recent months
God has been calling me to do more than just preach--He has called me to take
action. I have a divine mandate to go right into the halls of Congress and fight
for laws that will save America." The Saginaw News, September 11,
Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority carried the following editorial:
"Separation of church and state is a dangerous concept. This is because the
phrase 'separation of church and state' is not found in the Constitution and the
misuse of the phrase leads to all sorts of trouble--such as trying to keep godly
principles out of legislation. . . . It [the First Amendment] does not mean that
our beliefs cannot be legislated or church attending people elected to
office." Editorial, Moral Majority's Washington State Newspaper, August
1980. All emphasis added unless otherwise noted.
Keith Fournier, a Catholic, is the executive director of the American Center
for Law and Justice, which is the "religious liberty" arm and legal
aid of the Christian Coalition. He said, "The wall of separation between
church and state that was erected by secular humanists and other enemies of
religious freedom has to come down. That wall is more of a threat to society
than the Berlin wall ever was." Keith Fournier, Esq., "Tear Down This
Wall!" Law and Justice, Winter 1992, 1.
Leaders in the Christian Coalition believe that victory is at hand and that
the "wall" separating church and state will soon come down. Pat
Robertson said, "God showed me . . . that He was going to bless the
Christian Coalition beyond our wildest expectations. Before the year 2000, the
Christian Coalition will be the most powerful organization in America. We'll be
back in 1994, we'll be back in 1995. . . . We'll be back until we win it
all." Hope Liberty News, Number 4, December 1993.
It is unfortunate that our Supreme Court is also moving toward a
communitarian and majoritarian mindset, in which laws will be passed which favor
the opinion of the majority at the expense of the rights of the minority.
"In what was called a 'radical departure' from previous rulings protecting
religion, the Supreme Court Tuesday forcefully declared that it would no longer
shield believers whose practices violate general law. . . .
"But in a sweeping opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia went far beyond the
case and declared that when religious rights clash with the government's need
for uniform rules, the court will side with the government.
"As a nation, 'we cannot afford the luxury' of striking down laws
simply because they limit someone's religious practices, Scalia said. He advised
religious adherents to look to the political system, not the courts, for
"Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, normally on the conservative side, voted
with the majority on the peyote case. But she objected strongly to Scalia's
opinion, which will be binding on lower courts.
"His opinion 'is incompatible with our nation's fundamental commitment
to individual religious liberty,' she wrote. 'In my view, the First
Amendment was enacted precisely to protect the rights of those whose religious
practices are not shared by the majority and may be viewed with hostility.'
" Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1990.
Justice Antonin Scalia believes that general law supersedes individual
rights, that general law has to do with uniform rules, and that one's religious
practices are a luxury. He could not be more wrong. Religious liberty is not a
luxury; it is a necessity and a natural right. It is religious intolerance that
is a cancer on the society of men. General law is to protect the life, liberty,
and happiness of each individual. Consequently, general law cannot supersede
individual rights. The protection of individual rights makes for good general
laws. Laws of uniformity make nonconformity a crime.
We do not question the sincerity of the many Christians who are determined to
bring in religious legislation. However, it is quite evident that they do not
understand where their efforts are tending. All laws are meant to be enforced.
If we have religious laws then we will have religious persecution. History
attests to that fact.
The founders of this great nation, the framers of the American Constitution,
were well aware of the fruits of the union of church and state. After all, the
union of church and state had been on trial for over twelve centuries.
Therefore, the establishment clause in the First Amendment to the American
Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."