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Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020

Religious Liberty

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Protecting the freedoms our citizens are promised

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month on the night before Thanksgiving was fitting. The majority of the justices blocked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo from enforcing attendance limits at religious services due to COVID-19 public safety concerns.

The Court wrote, “But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

And this is absolutely right. In fact, the Pilgrims had fled their homeland because of religious persecution. It was against the law for the English citizens to have a Bible, and if they were found with a Bible in England, they would be imprisoned or killed.

So the Court’s decision to block New York’s attendance limit on church-goers is also a signal to governors across the country, governors who have decided religious liberty is “non-essential,” while liquor and hardware stores, abortion clinics and adult entertainment (to name a few) are “essential” activities and must remain open. But as the Court explained in its ruling against New York Gov. Cuomo, “That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.”

This comes as no surprise to many. Religious liberty has been increasingly under attack. During the first 100 years in our country, there were zero cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. But since 1940, there have been more than 75 cases challenging religious liberty, from school prayer to legislative prayer, and from conscientious objections to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Meanwhile, protesters and rioters across the country have set churches on fire, decapitated statues of Jesus and vandalized monuments to the Virgin Mary.

Elected officials have even forbidden singing in religious services, but have praised (and even participated in) massive protests where singing and shouting are not only allowed but encouraged.

But those who “know better” aren’t always right about we, the people.

For example, in December 1965, nearly 15 million viewers, or one-half of the television viewing audience, tuned in to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It has become the longest-running cartoon special in history, but it almost was canceled before it ever was aired. You see, the CBS network executives were less than impressed. Aside from the technical criticisms resulting from a rushed production schedule, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of Christ’s birth from the Gospel of Luke. It was thought that viewers would not want to be preached upon by an animated cartoon, especially from biblical passages.

Obviously, after 55 years of airing every Christmas, receiving an Emmy and a Peabody award, those CBS executives got it wrong. “There will always be an audience for innocence in this country,” said Charlie Brown’s creator, Charles Schulz.

And as we approach this Christmas season, the religious celebration of Christmas still faces trivialization by an increasingly vocal and secular strain of society. Even though Charlie Brown first asked the question in 1965 on national television, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” the answer has been the same for over 2,000 years: It’s Christ.

Retailers have tried to change that. They have called Christmas trees, “holiday” or “family” trees. They’ve pressed on with “Happy Holidays,” even though almost 70 percent of Americans prefer the greeting “Merry Christmas,” and nearly the same percentage of Americans believe “Christmas should be more about Jesus Christ than about Santa Claus.”

Like the Democrat governor of Wisconsin, many will only refer to Christmas trees as “holiday” trees. Republican legislators in Wisconsin even had to go as far as a special legislative vote just to call the “Christmas” tree in their capitol building a Christmas tree.

And while the Creator may be different for each of us, the bottom line is that without the Creator, there are no rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Religion,” James Madison wrote, “is the basis and foundation of government.”

It’s the government’s duty to protect these rights for us, and when they don’t, we will lose them, perhaps forever.

The U.S. Supreme Court wrote last month, “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

And that means, neither must our faith.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.

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