The line for freedom of religious expression is often drawn to inhibit rather than protect. However, sometimes it’s not the law but the over-zealous interpretation of it that’s the issue. As Christians, we must push back—politely, prayerfully, and sometimes even legally—lest our rights erode. Recent situations exemplify this.
In Hollywood, Florida, On Ash Wednesday, opening day for the 40 Days for Life spring campaign, John Hickey and two others prayed quietly outside A Woman’s Center of Hollywood abortion facility.
This was Hickey’s third campaign. “I do it out of love for the unborn and because we need to speak for them,” he explained in an interview with the Register. “We are always peaceful.”
On this particular morning, one of the abortion workers parked her car in a non-parking grassy area between the sidewalk and the street in order to block public view of the protestors. “They have a parking lot but they often park on the grass even though there’s an ordinance against it,” Hickey said. “I called the Code Enforcement office and they sent an officer.”
He explained what followed. The abortion worker was told to move her car. So she did. After, that is, first telling the peaceful protestors they were full of ____. Shortly thereafter, the same women came out and yelled at the protestors to get off the sidewalk or she would call the police. The protestors ignored her so she called.
An officer arrived, went into the abortion facility, and then came out and told the 40 Days for Life group that they had to get off the sidewalk. “It’s public property,” someone pointed out.
“The officer told us we could not stand on the sidewalk because they [the abortion facility] maintains it,” Hinkey said. “He informed us that he was putting a note in the computer that we had been warned not to stand on the sidewalk.”
The protestors knew they had a right to be on taxpayer-maintained sidewalks, according to Hickey, but they stepped onto the grassy area so as to avoid confrontation. However, the incident was soon reported to the Thomas More Society.
Corrina Konczal, Thomas More Society Associate Counsel sent a letter to the City and to the Police Department, challenging the police officer’s violation of First Amendment rights. “Forbidding pro-lifers from standing on public property violates 75 years of clear Supreme Court precedent that has maintained the right to assemble and right to free speech, both rights under the First Amendment,” Konczal explained. By the following week, the Police Department acknowledged in writing that the sidewalk is public property which everyone has a right to use.
Public schools, from kindergarten to the college, are frequent places of misunderstanding or persecution of Christianity. A recent example is the case of 6-year-old, Isaiah Martinez who brought candy canes to share at the school Christmas party in December of 2104. Every candy cane had attached a piece of red paper with the “Legend of the Candy Cane,” explaining the connection to the life and death of Jesus. Isaiah reported that his teacher told him, “We don’t allow that in school.” She removed all the papers and threw them away.
An attorney for the Advocates for Faith & Freedom sent a letter to the West Covina Unified School District demanding an apology and a new policy prohibiting school officials from “bullying and intimidating” Christian students.” A spokesperson for the Advocates of Faith and Freedom, told the Register that the school has acknowledged the teacher’s error. “They are rewriting their bylaws and holding a training conference in the district so that will teachers understand it is legal for students to share their faith in school,” she said.
When Christians do not roll over and play dead, ignorance is corrected and persecution often stops. It is that message behind the surprising success of the first God's Not Dead movie. The story, depicting how believers are marginalized in the classroom, struck a nerve with Christians. With a budget of $2 million, the movie took in $60 million. Critics panned it but moviegoers gave it high ratings.
On April 1, God's Not Dead 2 will be released in theaters. I missed the first movie but recently previewed this second one. It portrays a teacher taken to the court for merely explaining Jesus from an historical aspect. While the story is fiction, it was inspired by a number of actual court cases.
Critics, particularly atheists, are already mocking the film, yet, many Christians such as those who can no longer sell cakes unless they serve same-sex marriage ceremonies may feel otherwise. Likewise, the Little Sisters of the Poor in the midst of a Supreme Court case over refusing to provide ObamaCare-mandated contraception to employees on religious grounds. Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses and John McAdams of Marquette University who lost tenure after blogging against gay marriage may also relate to the movie.
The drama includes testimony form real-life authors on why Jesus is clearly established as an historical figure. It also includes an explanation that the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution does not contain the phrase: separation of church and state but that comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson meaning the wall of separation from church and state to protect people from government interference in religion.
The movie is a good reflection of some of today’s religious issues as the examples in this article show. It supports the reality that not only is God is not dead, but neither are we. We get a bit battle weary at times, and yet we have not yet begun to fight. And we will never give up.