The Real Issue: Free Exercise Of Religion

Behind all this furor lies a basic issue. It concerns religious people, and also those who treasure Judeo-Christian values. (Though these two groups overlap, they are not identical. And evangelicals are a part—but only a part—of both groups.) The basic issue facing both is this: Shall they have the freedom to preserve their heritage and to communicate it effectively to the next generation? In the past, these values were central in our society. Today many of us are fearful that they are being pushed to the periphery of American life.

Certainly evangelicals are not seeking a return to a New England-type theocracy. Nor do they wish to support the establishment of religion—either their own or some innocuous civil religion. They are unequivocally committed to the First Amendment and to its extension to state and local governments.

The issue is over the free exercise of religion. For evangelicals—and, indeed, for most Americans—our faith in God, our freedom to worship as we choose, our commitment to basic Judaeo-Christian values, and our right to hand these on to our children are worth fighting and dying for.

Moreover, most Americans are convinced not only that religion and religious values are basic to the social structure of our society, but that they are essential to the preservation of our American freedoms as well. They claim the freedom to express the centrality of these values and to preserve them as a treasured portion of our culture. For the health of the nation, it is imperative that we do not seek to dam up these spiritual forces. It is dangerously short-sighted to allow those opposed to religion, or those appealing to a misapplied sense of liberty, to destroy freedoms so thoroughly ...

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