Religious Freedom and Americans of African Descent

This post by Curtis Woods, Associate Executive Director for Convention Relations & Communications, originally appeared at on November 13, 2012.

In his classic work, City of God, Augustine reminds readers that even though this world is not our ultimate home, Christians have the responsibility to stand up for truth no matter the cost. Simply put, there are some causes worth dying for.

The freedom to express one’s religious beliefs without fear of governmental reprisal is such a cause.

I find it necessary, as an American citizen of African descent, to ponder the importance of promoting religious freedom in the 21st century without becoming a historical revisionist. For example, when Christian thinkers argue for religious freedom based on the principle that “ours is a history founded on religious freedom for the individual,” it raises the question, “to whom does the term ‘ours’ refer?” An honest look at history says that “ours” cannot refer to all people groups transferred to or born on American soil. Thus I contend that the verbiage can hurt our fight for religious freedom.

Frankly, my heart quivers when I hear dear Christian brothers and sisters euphemize US history in order to heighten the sensitivities of the masses towards supporting a particular cause. A cursory reading of our history illustrates that First Peoples, African Peoples, Hispanics, and Asians were not afforded opportunities to freely practice their religious beliefs.

The freedom of religion, or personal autonomy for that matter, was certainly not extended to African people groups. John Hope Franklin, in Race and History, writes, “By the middle of the eighteenth century, laws governing Negroes denied to them certain basic rights that were conceded to others. They were permitted no independence of thought, no opportunity to improve their minds or their talents or to worship freely, no right to marry and enjoy conventional family relationships.” This painful cloud overshadows the minds of many African Americans when Christ-followers begin to discuss religious freedom from the framework of historic American exceptionalism.

Does an ugly past mean that African Americans needn’t champion the cause of religious freedom? To the contrary, we must! In fact, African Americans, whose forebears were denied the freedom to vocalize religious beliefs, a right sanctioned by the triune God, must become the greatest champions for the cause in honor of our God and ancestors.

I simply call for truthfulness as all Kentucky Baptists stand hand in hand to defend against the current threats to our religious freedoms. We can celebrate the tenacity of the Puritans for launching into the unknown for the freedom to express their religion without saying that our country was “founded” on a right so unequally bestowed and with such shameful baggage. We are ambassadors of grace and truth to the glory of the Father in Christ by the Spirit.

And we are defenders of freedom, a cause worth dying for.

A Call to Action

All Kentuckians should be mindful of the precious nature of religious freedom.  We should work together to ensure that religious freedom is vigorously protected.

We have an opportunity to do just that by supporting the Religious Freedom Act (HB 279) currently  before the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee. The act would insure religious freedom by reestablishing the “compelling interest/least restrictive means” test for state and local courts in the Commonwealth.  That would mean that the government would have to prove it has a compelling interest in any attempt to restrict one’s religious freedom, and even then could only use the least restrictive means.

Currently, Kentucky courts adhere to a “rational basis” for the government to restrict a person’s religious freedom, meaning the government only needs to have “a reason” to restrict liberty.

Please call the Legislative Message Line TODAY at 1-800-372-7181 and leave this message with the receptionist for your State Representative:

“Please pass HB 279 – The Religious Freedom Act.”

The message line is available Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. through 11 p.m. EST and Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.


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