Nathan Berkeley, communications director and research coordinator for the Religious Freedom Institute, believes the religious liberty situation right now in America is a “mixed picture.”
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But while there are positives and negatives surrounding the trajectory, Berkeley said he’s most alarmed by the way cultural elites see faithful Americans.
“What alarms me right now is the fact that there are so many cultural elites who view religious people, people of faith, Christians, and others not only as wrong on kind of core cultural issues, but as dangerous and even bigoted,” he said. “And when you think about it like that, you can see why it’s almost like … throw the restraints off and attack these people because they’re dangerous to society.”
Seeing people of faith as “pernicious,” he said, is “extremely dangerous” and creates a misunderstanding of what religious liberty is supposed to be.
“It makes religious freedom seem like a license to harm as opposed to a fundamental human right that should be protected and upheld,” Berkeley said.
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Part of the problem is that this narrative becomes pervasive across multiple communication realms, mainly academia, entertainment, and media, he argued.
“We’ve seen these ideas in so many sectors … in such a way that it pitches them in an adversarial way against people of faith,” Berkeley said. “There’s no way that elites across these many sectors could embrace these harmful ideologies without them eventually taking expression in law and being used in various political ways to the detriment of Christians and others.”
Berkeley, who made his comments before the Supreme Court’s most recent rulings affirming religious liberty, said he has been encouraged of late by the high court’s rulings vindicating religious liberty.
In a more general sense, he said there seems to be a recognition among Christians and people are faith more broadly that public faith dimensions are important and helpful to society.
“They’re understanding that we cannot be passive … in the face of things that are happening around us,” Berkeley said. “And we need to bring to bear our convictions in the public square. This is a good thing.”
In the end, he said religious liberty is the cornerstone of any healthy society.
“It can serve as a fundamental kind of basis for other rights, freedom of speech and association and others,” he said.
While there’s a mixed but overall “good” picture for protecting religious liberty at the court level, Berkeley said there are still “cultural forces that are not going away anytime soon.”
And with issues surrounding human sexuality, among other battles, intense First Amendment debates won’t be quelled anytime soon.
“[The current] direction is entirely incompatible with what Christians understand to be true about marriage, sexuality, family formation, and all the rest,” he said of culture. “There is going to continue to be real problems that we have to contend with and, and real pressure on religious freedom as a principle because that will be the principle that allows people of faith to continue to be full participants in our society, or they won’t be full participants.”
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