December 12, 2022

Thoughts on the Respect for Marriage Act

By: Peyton Holliday

With the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act at the end of November 2022, one major concern raised by conservatives has been the religious liberty component. The Family Research Council, a Christian conservative think tank, outlined in an article examples of where religious liberty was undermined due to the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015. 

Religious Liberty has been a part of our country since its founding in 1776 and the first amendment to the Constitution outlines the importance of the freedom of religion. Not too long before the founding of the United States, religious liberty was a new idea and one that garnered significant pushback. 

Looking back at world history, religion has been a part of governments for thousands of years. Even when the Protestant Reformation happened in 1517, religious liberty was not a phrase. When Germany stepped away from Catholicism, they embraced Lutheranism. Lutheranism became the state religion. 

State religions have always been a central part of history. The struggle between England and the Catholic church which ended up in the founding of Anglicanism, is another example. When one church lost power another gained power – almost like our modern day political parties. Wars were fought over which religion held more power over a people. 

It was not until the Baptists that religious liberty was even an idea. Jason Thacker, chair of research in technology ethics and leader of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Research Institute stated that “Baptists had been involved in various degrees and forms over many generations, advocating for religious freedom, because we see it as central—not only to our Baptist faith, but really to the Christian faith—that faith cannot be coerced. Faith cannot be forced upon someone. There’s a freedom of conscience. There’s a freedom of will…”

Roger WIlliams, the founder of Providence, Rhode Island, founded Rhode Island on the ground of religious liberty. He was a Baptist who was not allowed to worship God the way he saw fit in Massachusetts, and he therefore set out on his own to found a colony on religious liberty. 

When America was founded a group of Baptists sent a letter to Thomas Jefferson asking him if there would be religious liberty in this new country and Jefferson wrote back that famous phrase stating there would be, “separation of church and state”. He guaranteed this religious group that there would be no state sanctioned religions and that people would be able to worship God as they saw fit – this was religious liberty. 

So, what does religious liberty mean in our country? It has always been enshrined into who we are as Americans. We are allowed to go to any church of our choosing, start our own church, or not worship at all. It’s always been our choice. There are no taxes paid to the government for the sake of keeping open a church building. There are no people coming to seek you out if you did not attend church because attendance is required by law. If you want to buy a coke on a Sunday, you can find a store that is open on Sunday from which to buy a coke, or you can refrain for personal religious liberty reasons because it’s the sabbath. Or maybe you are Jewish or a Seven Day Adventists and you do not buy or sale on Saturday. Or maybe you literally don’t care one way or the other. Religious liberty is important in our society because this part of our Constitution gives us freedom. Freedom to go to church, or freedom to stay at home—you have that choice. 

The recent bill passed by the United States Senate closes the door to religious liberty and opens the door to possible persecution for those who practice religion and have religious convictions about same-sex marriage. Religious liberty is important to the history of our nation, but also to our well- being and freedom. So, I challenge you go study up on the importance of religious liberty and how that special freedom is unique to our country and our laws and sustains freedom in a way that no other law in our land does. 

Here are some resources that I recommend in studying up on this important topic:

1. History of the Virginia Statue of Religious Liberty that ended the state sanctioned church in Virginia and allowed for religious liberty in the state.

2. Jefferson’s reply to the Baptists about religious liberty

3. Roger Williams and the founding of Rhode Island and religious liberty

4. Henry VIII’s break from the Catholic Church and the Establishment of the Church of England.

5. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation

6. A Summary of the History of Religious Liberty in the United States

While these resources are not exhaustive, they are helpful to gaining a better understanding into religious liberty and the importance of this freedom not just in our country, but throughout world history. America sets the precedent for many other countries and we must do what we can to protect our religious liberty and continue to stand for freedom