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 over the past few weeks 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.”
I shared the answers to questions 1-25 in previous weeks. This week I will continue sharing questions and answers about religious speech and expression. As you might expect, there are many questions in this area.
Question 26 asks if “the government [may] forbid religious speech or expression on government property.” The answer is a definite NO.
The government may not forbid or restrict speech on government property simply because it is religious or because of its particular religious content. In fact, the government has a duty to accommodate such speech, for example by providing police protection, if needed.
Question 27 asks if “the government [may] prohibit religious speech if it offends others.” The answer is again a definite NO.
The government cannot restrict speech because it is unpopular or offensive, even if it is extremely offensive or likely to provoke protests. On the contrary, police have a duty to protect speakers by controlling crowds and hecklers.
Question 28 asks if “the government [may] prohibit religious speech on private property.” Once again, the answer is NO.
Individuals and organizations have the right to express their religious faith or views on their own property, including displaying religious symbols or messages. Certain land use or zoning restrictions may limit religious and non-religious displays alike but they may not single out religious speech or unreasonably limit it.
Question 29 asks if “there [is] a constitutional right to religious speech on the private property of others.” The answer is NO. “Even if the private property is open to the public, such as retails stores or shopping centers, permission must be obtained from the owner.”
Question 30 asks if “the government [can] require permits for door-to-door proselytizing or advocacy.” The answer is NO. “However, the government may impose reasonable regulations on the time, place, and manner of door-to-door advocacy, so long as they apply equally to everyone who engages in [this] kind of activity.”
Question 31 asks if “the government [may] control the content of religious sermons.” The answer is NO.
Even if anti-discrimination laws were to prohibit messages that might offend certain groups of people, applying these laws to church sermons, would be unconstitutional, as would any law prohibiting churches from preaching their own views on social and moral issues.
As we can see from the above questions and answers, the government is limited on what it can do about speech, religious or not. Americans are free to share their religious views with anyone who cares to listen.