Religious Freedom Day and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, 2017
Monday, 16 January 2017 marks the annual Religious Freedom Day, as proclaimed by President Obama over the weekend:
Religious freedom is a principle based not on shared ancestry, culture, ethnicity, or faith but on a shared commitment to liberty — and it lies at the very heart of who we are as Americans…We must be unified in our commitment to protecting the freedoms of conscience and religious belief and the freedom to live our lives according to them…
Part of being American means guarding against bigotry and speaking out on behalf of others…
Religious liberty is more than a cornerstone of American life — it is a universal and inalienable right…
Religious Freedom Day marks the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, originally authored by Thomas Jefferson. It preceded the US Constitution and its similarly-themed First Amendment by several years.
President Obama’s 2017 statement was more direct than in recent years, and pundits will likely attempt to connect his calls for “guarding against bigotry” to allegations that Donald Trump — or the millions who elected him — somehow harbor plans to persecute certain religions. Regrettably, they will miss the point that what President Obama said — whether he meant it or not — applies equally to bigotry toward Christians.
This year, Religious Freedom Day also falls on the Martin Luther King, Jr, Day, marking the birth of Dr. King. As time has passed, many seem to have forgotten — or have intentionally dismissed the fact — that Dr. King was a Baptist Reverend, and that he was explicitly motivated by his Christian faith.
In contrast to liberals today who would divorce morality from the law, in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King contended that the only just laws were based on morality [emphasis added]:
One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws…
A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
Further, as we now live in an era in which Christians are persecuted by the government for trying to live their lives according to their faith, a few progressive advocates would be surprised to learn that Dr. King’s statements seem to support the baker and the florist [emphasis added]:
If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.
The passage of time and America’s tendency to hero worship tend to elevate men beyond what they were, and it is tempting to quote-mine to assert that someone who died decades ago would support a particular cause or movement today. That is not the intent here.
Rather, it is historically accurate that prior to his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr sought to nonviolently change the course of American culture and jurisprudence — and he was motivated by his Christian faith, a faith not only personal and not confined to the four walls of his church, but also a faith he felt should be reflected in society and government.
As noted at the Religion Clause.