I think the average American, if they go to the workplace, somebody's next tome, they're not poking around trying to figure out what their religious beliefs are. So here's what I would say, that we should foster a culture in which people's private religious beliefs, including atheists and agnostics, are respected. And that's the kind of culture that I think allows all of us, then, to believe what we want. That's freedom of conscience. That's what our Constitution guarantees. And where we get into problems, typically, is when our personal religious faith, or the community of faith that we participate in, tips into a sort of fundamentalist extremism, in which it's not enough for us to believe what we believe, but we start feeling obligated to, you know, hit you over the head because you don't believe the same thing. Or to treat you as somebody who's less than I am.This paragraph, in brief, represents the new version of religious freedom that many in our country would like to impose upon us. I'd like to take a look for a moment at these italicized portions of President Obama's statement, because I find them simultaneously fascinating and frightening.
Private religious beliefs.
President Obama wants to foster a culture in which people's "private religious beliefs" are respected. The important word here is "private." There are many in our society - and in leadership of our country - who believe that religious beliefs should be a private thing, and that they have no place in the public square. As long as you keep your religious beliefs bottled up and put away in your closet, and you only ever take them out inside your closet all by yourself (or at most, with other people who have similar beliefs in similar bottles), then everything will be fine. But you can't take your beliefs into the public square. That is unacceptable. Hillary Clinton has espoused a similar idea by advocating for the "freedom of worship." By using this term, she means that people should be free to worship in whatever way they want. But freedom of religion is not freedom of worship. Worship only takes place in temples and holy places like churches. Religion saturates all of life. Christianity, by its very nature, cannot be private. It is living and breathing, and inhabits and saturates all aspects of life. These small changes in vernacular are, I believe, veiled attempts to diminish the forcefulness of the language used in the first amendment. The President and Mrs. Clinton know that religious people bring their religion to the marketplace of ideas, so they are trying to limit religion to a "private" function that only takes place in houses of worship.
That's freedom of conscience. That's what our Constitution guarantees.
To be honest, I don't know what President Obama means by the term "freedom of conscience." Perhaps he is referring to the freedom to believe and worship and practice religion in whatever way our conscience guides us. If he's saying that, I agree. But our Constitution guarantees far more than just that. Again, President Obama has in view here Constitutional protection of "private" religion. But the Constitution actually guarantees us far more. The first amendment states, in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." We certainly are guaranteed the right and ability to follow our consciences in order to find truth through religion, but that is not where it ends. We are also guaranteed the right to practice our religion in whatever way we see fit. Unfortunately, President Obama's (and those who would come after him) view of freedom of religion is frighteningly narrow.
Hit you over the head because you don't believe the same thing.
This assertion, to me, is the most striking. In it, President Obama insinuates that a line is crossed if and when people of a particular religion (or lack of religion) address religious issues in public (such as at work, in political discourse, etc.). This, apparently, is akin to beating someone over the head with one's beliefs (note: this kind of behavior might otherwise be known as: "evangelism" and "proselytism"). Apparently using religious beliefs to guide our thinking in matters of truth and morality - and sharing those beliefs with others - is a no-no. Again, keep your religion private - don't bring it out into the light of day and confront people with its truth claims. They might be offended! They might feel awkward! They might feel triggered! They might need a safe space! Unfortunately, what President Obama is decrying in this statement is the exact thing that is guaranteed in the first amendment. Also unfortunately, this line of thinking is gaining ground in America. But what is so striking about this statement is that President Obama is literally hitting people over the head with a dogmatic doctrine that asserts that hitting people over the head with dogmatic doctrine is wrong. In other words, he's not playing by his own rules. And he doesn't even realize it.
Sooner, rather than later, there will be a new version of religious freedom in our country, and it will look very much like what President Obama has layed out here. It will be a freedom to be religious up to the point that it doesn't make anyone uncomfortable or ruffle any feathers. And the moment your exercise of religion offends or creates awkwardness or discomfort, you'll be accused of bigotry and discrimination and whatever other politically-correct fear-mongering moniker can be applied. You'll be free to be a Christian if you want, but just keep that stuff in doors, in private. Don't even think about letting it see the light of day. That stuff is private.