Explaining at the Supreme Court Why Kids at Churches Need Public Safety Protection, Too

I spoke yesterday outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in a court case over whether the Government can exclude kids who play on church-owned playgrounds from safety programs. The case could have broad implications across the nation for how governments treat faith-based institutions and individuals.

I really appreciated working together with colleagues from groups like Concerned Women for America (CWA) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to highlight the message that Government should not set up a religious test for which kids get safety protections.

Check out photo and video highlights from CWA and ADF: (see 4/19 ADF video posted at 10:17 a.m. Apr 19). My remarks at the Court are on the ADF video noted above at around the 34:00-minute mark.
Following is text of my presentation:

I am Jonathan Imbody, and I represent the Christian Medical Association and our partner organization, Freedom2Care. We filed a brief in support of the children who play at the Trinity Lutheran playground and in support of the principles of freedom at stake in this case.

Our position is that the government should not set up a religious test for which kids get protection on playgrounds. And that if religious freedom means anything, it means that a government cannot discriminate against a religious group just because of their faith.

So that means that children who play on the playground of a religious group should have equal access to public safety measures. In this case, rubber tire scraps can mean the difference between a child falling and crying a little and a child falling and suffering a traumatic brain injury.

That principle of the government not discriminating against citizens on the basis of their religion just seems like common sense. But apparently these days, as Will Rogers observed, "Common sense ain't common."

In years past, virtually everyone knew that America existed because of the search for religious freedom. We knew that as Americans, we could live out our faith and convictions without fear of government coercion or discrimination.

So what has changed?

Well, if we're candid, what has changed is that a growing number of Americans do not personally hold to any faith, And it's become more acceptable to express hostility toward people of faith and institutions of faith.

If you are watching a movie, and that movie has a character who is a Christian, do you think it is more likely that that character will be a villain or a hero?

Much of the hostility seems to focus on the fact that people of faith often hold convictions on hotly debated topics like abortion, sex and marriage—convictions that differ from some people who do not share in that faith.

So if you don't like those convictions, what is the easiest way to beat your religious opponents on these issues? Shut them up, marginalize them, exclude them from the public square. Make them the one group that it's okay to discriminate against.

And I would suggest that that way of thinking has resulted in a concerted pressure to reduce religious freedom to something more like religious permission.

Religious permission means, okay, you can believe whatever you want—but only as long as you keep it inside the four walls of your church, synagogue or mosque. Your religious views will not be allowed in public.

Religious permission means you can sing your little religious songs, pray to whatever gods you imagine inside your head, talk about love and peace and sing around the campfire.

But actually living out your religious beliefs, your conscience, your convictions in the public square?

Well, that's where religious permission draws the line.

Because under religious permission, you don't get to live out your beliefs if those beliefs do not fall in line with the popular culture … or with the political party in power.

But we have come out here today to remind us all that our shared First Amendment rights benefit not just people of faith, but every one of us, regardless of religion.

These First Amendment protections mean that in America, you don't have to ask the government's permission for how to think, what to believe or whether or not you can live out your convictions.

That's because our First Amendment freedoms of faith and speech are a right--not a permission granted by government--but an inalienable human right, given by God.

As Thomas Jefferson put it, "Our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them.  The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God."

And as our Constitution's First Amendment puts it:

The government cannot force you to believe in a certain religion. And the government cannot prohibit you from freely exercising your religious convictions.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…."

The government can't coerce you, shut you up or discriminate against you. Those are protections we all need to live, think, act and speak freely.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."


So we are here to remind us all that if Government can take away the rights of one of us, Government can take away the rights of all of us. Thank you.

About Jonathan Imbody

Jonathan previously served as CMDA's Federal Policy Analyst and as CMDA's liaison with the federal government in Washington, D.C. A veteran writer of more than 30 years, Jonathan authored Faith Steps, which encourages and equips Christians to engage in public policy issues. He has published more than 100 commentaries in The Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and many other national publications. Jonathan's writing focuses on public policy issues including freedom of faith, conscience and speech; human trafficking; abortion; assisted suicide; stem cell research; the role of faith in health; international health; healthcare policy; sexual risk avoidance and HIV/AIDS. Jonathan received his bachelor's degree in journalism and speech communications from the Pennsylvania State University, a master's degree from Penn State in counseling and education and a certificate in biblical and theological studies from the Alliance Theological Seminary in New York. Jonathan's wife Amy is an author and leads the Redemptive Education movement. They have four children and four grandchildren.

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