EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

March 9, 2013

Column: Backing religious liberty for all Americans

Here’s a tough question for American pastors: If local school officials voted to limit the freedom of Muslim students to publicly practice their faith, would you urge your flock to protest?

Those who believe in religious liberty must answer “yes,” according to the Rev. Rick Warren, leader of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

“If a school district tells me that a Muslim girl can’t wear a head scarf to school, I’m going to oppose that rule,” he said during a recent forum held by the Religious Freedom Project of the Berkley Center For Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University.

“If they say she can’t wear a head scarf to school,” he said, then “tomorrow they’re going to say that I can’t wear a cross and carry a Bible.”

This raises another question: If the leader of one of America’s most prominent megachurches headed to the barricades to defend the rights of Muslims, would the press coverage say that he is taking a “liberal” or a “conservative” stand?

Then, would Warren receive the same label if he protested in support of a local Christian college’s rejection of the Health and Human Services mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer health-insurance plans that cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception, sterilizations and even “morning-after” pills?

Both protests would be in support of freedom of religion.

“The worse thing that could happen” in public discourse today, he said, would be for the term “religious liberty” to become a “code word for one side or the other, for liberals or conservatives, or Republicans or Democrats. ... That would be a fatal mistake for the party that didn’t support the first freedom of this country.”

Recent American debates about religious liberty have centered on whether the White House or any other branch of the government can decree that “freedom of worship” is more worthy of protection than the “free exercise” of religious freedom, a much broader constitutional concept.

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