The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns the need for us to know our religious rights, freedoms that are protected by the laws of the land. Freedom of religion is under attack more than it has been for many years, and many Americans are afraid to even speak of religion in public settings. It is imperative that all Americans know and understand our rights of religion in order for us to be prepared to defend them.
I shared some information last week from an article posted by Maurine Proctor. Her article is titled “You Should Know the Answers to these 35 Questions about Religious Freedom.” She takes her 35 questions from a booklet compiled by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies of the Brigham Young University Law School. She quotes their goal as follows: “Our aim is to help everyone understand the scope of religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and to offer suggestions on how to peacefully reconcile the rights of all.”
Last week I shared the answers to several questions (1, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9) that seemed to go together. This week I will select a few more of the questions and answers to discuss.
Question #2 concerns the public square and what this term describes. The people and groups who wish to reduce the influence of religion on our nation seek to restrict our freedom of worship to our homes rather than being able to practice our beliefs in the public square.
The “public square” refers to all settings outside private homes and houses of worship. These include public parks and sidewalks, government buildings and meetings, public schools and universities, private property that the owner opens to the general public and many other similar settings. The public square may also include media – books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet – and, in general, anything that is accessible and open to the public.
One can readily see why the enemies of religion would like to eliminate religious practices from the public square. If this elimination were to be enforced, a great portion of religious influence in our nation would be abolished also. Question #8 goes along with this question because it asks if religion has to be a private matter.
No. The Constitution protects religious liberty both in private and in the public square. The right to religious freedom does not disappear when a person enters a public setting such as a school or a government building, when he or she accepts government office or employment, or when he or she operated a business open to the public. In fact, the government is obliged to protect religious liberty in all these settings, with only very limited exceptions.
We learn from the above two answers that we do not have to restrict our religious practices to our homes and places of worship, and we do not have to “check our religion” at the door of any public place. This brings us to Question #10. It asks if people of faith or religious groups can participate in politics.
Yes. Religious groups and individuals have the right to take positions and influence public opinion on all public and political matters. Religious leaders and organizations frequently do so.
Some types of political involvement, while constitutional, may affect a religious organization’s ability to keep its federal tax-exempt status.
Religious groups and people of faith have the right to be involved in politics and to use their faith to influence public opinion. However, religious organizations may lose their tax-exempt status by participating in some types of political involvement. Because of the subject, I jumped down to Question #16 that asks if tax exemptions for religious organizations violate the Constitution.
No. Religious organizations are tax-exempt under all state and federal tax codes, Ub fact, the Constitution may require this, as the Supreme Court has suggested that taxing churches would cause excessive involvement between church and state.
While some churches may abuse their tax-exempt status, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is very strict about maintaining it. There are guidelines about what activities can and cannot be held in the buildings or as a “church activity.” If a group of women want to hold an exercise or dance class in the building, it must be free of charge. There are no paid pre-schools operating in the buildings, although there are nurseries provided for certain meetings.
Question #11 is my last question in this group. It asks if religious beliefs may influence public policy. I believe that this means that a person of faith may use their understanding of principle of faith to influence public policy.
Yes. All kinds of beliefs influence the policy preferences of voters and legislators, including religious ones. The simple fact that a policy coincides with a religious teaching or grows out of religious values concerning right and wrong does not make it unconstitutional so long as the policy itself has a secular purpose, does not advance or inhibit religion, and avoids excessive government involvement with religion. For example, just because many religious teachings oppose violence does not mean that laws prohibiting assault are unconstitutional. To take a more controversial example, some types of laws restricting abortion are constitutional even though they coincide with certain religious beliefs, because they have secular justifications, are neutral regarding religion, and don’t unduly involve the government in religion.