Religious freedom is foundational for society, says Rick Warren
By Adelaide Darling
Prominent evangelical pastor Rick Warren defended the role of religious freedom as a fundamental liberty upon which other civil rights are built.
The need to protect religious liberty is “the civil rights issue of the next decade,” he said, adding that religious freedom should not be taken as a “code word” for a political ideology.
Warren spoke at a Feb. 12 conversation sponsored by the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. An evangelical pastor at Saddleback Church in southern California, Warren gave the invocation at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.
In his recent talk, he explained that while the Constitution protects religious liberty, this freedom is “not given by the state but by God.”
“If religion was simply worship, you could leave your religion at the door of your temple, or mosque or the church,” Warren said, but if you are truly a believer, your faith will “affect every area of your life.”
Part of religious liberty is the “freedom to convert,” he continued, explaining that religion must be freely chosen, because “it’s not faith if it’s forced.” Therefore, true freedom of belief requires allowing various religious perspectives to enter public dialogue in order to convince and convert others.
Warren cautioned that if society removes faith from the public square, it will be removing the nation’s largest social support.
“You cannot solve any of the world’s major problems without the distribution of the church,” he stated.
As an example, he recounted his church’s work in Rwanda, explaining that in just 26 months, faith-based medical training was offered to more than 7,000 healthcare workers “in a province that only had two doctors.”
This trend can be seen throughout history and around the globe, he said, pointing to the many services and societal necessities provided through faith-based institutions.
Warren further rejected Western attempts to restrict religion in order to make way for a secular culture.
“Everyone believes something,” he explained, and so “the issue here is not between faith and rationality; it’s between one belief system and another.”
In addition, he said, the U.S. government’s attempts to impose a secular worldview and force other nations to accept abortion and homosexuality in order to receive aid money has led to a “growing resentment against America” in many parts of the world.
Even at home, this coercion is growing, he warned, pointing to the Obama’s administration’s controversial federal mandate requiring employers – including Catholic institutions and individuals – to pay for insurance coverage of their employees’ contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
Although he does not oppose the use of contraceptives, Warren stressed that he stands “in solidarity with my Catholic brothers and sisters to practice what they believe.”
He emphasized that an attack on one group’s religious freedom threatens the religious freedom of all.
“If they say today ‘no circumcision,’ then tomorrow they could say ‘no baptism,’” he explained, adding that if society decrees that a Muslim girl “can’t wear a headscarf to school, then the next day they’ll say I can’t wear a cross or carry my Bible.”
“This is an issue that we must stand together on,” he stressed.