Debate: Is Religious Liberty Under Siege in America? | Opinion

Religious liberty litigation has never been more common—up to and including the level of the U.S. Supreme Court. But what exactly is religious liberty, and what does that entail in our unique American legal and cultural tradition? Many, citing the frequency of religious liberty litigation and the cultural assault upon believers from many coastal elites, feel that religious liberty is under siege in America today; others, however, feel that the "separation" of church and state Thomas Jefferson once lauded remains the best, and still operative, paradigm for amicable church and state relations today.

This week, Kelly Shackelford, First Liberty Institute president, CEO and chief counsel, debates Melissa Rogers, author, visiting professor at Wake Forest University School of Divinity and former director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. We hope you enjoy the exchange.

Josh Hammer is Newsweek opinion editor and a syndicated columnist.

Religious Freedom Is Under Attack Like Never Before

Historically, religion and its adherents have been often oppressed by government. By contrast, America has been singular in its dedication to preserving the freedom of its people to expect and experience religious freedom. That is now rapidly changing.

The number of violent attacks on churches and church gatherings witnessed in recent months is unsettling. Protesters and rioters across the country have decapitated statues of Jesus, desecrated images of the Virgin Mary and vandalized monuments to a Jesuit priest. Churches—in Washington, D.C. and California—have been set ablaze as "symbols of oppression." Fire, chain and boot are the tool and trade of a culture laying siege to religious freedom.

Preserve Our Traditions of Religious Freedom and Church-State Separation

People are being held in prisons today in some nations simply because of their faith or beliefs. Certain governments single out members of particular religious communities for persecution and abuse. Many countries have an established religion, and some threaten citizens with jail time—and even execution—for criticizing that faith. Due to their religious beliefs and affiliations, individuals are sometimes barred from holding particular public offices and exercising other civil and human rights. Some countries require religious groups to register with the government and get approval for houses of worship and religious materials. In many places around the globe, missionary activities are legally prohibited, as is the wearing of religious clothing or symbols at work or in public schools.

The American record on religious freedom is disfigured by grievous errors, but its legal framework not only repudiates such persecution and discrimination, it also bans governmental establishments of religion and affirms the equal right of individuals to practice their faith. That framework has produced remarkable religious freedom for people of all faiths and none. It also has helped create a country where people with vastly different faiths and beliefs live together peacefully, and often with mutual respect and levels of interfaith cooperation that are unprecedented in human history.

U.S. Supreme Court building
U.S. Supreme Court building Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images