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Acton on Tap event to provide forum to discuss threats to religious liberty

Tuesday evening's Acton on Tap event, "The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty," to focus on current controversies regarding freedom of religion

Acton on Tap at San Chez Bistro, Tuesday, 6-8 p.m.

Acton on Tap will meet at San Chez Bistro, 38 W Fulton St., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 6-8 p.m.

The evening's theme will be “The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty.”  Ray Nothstine, managing editor of Acton’s Religion and Liberty magazine, will host the event. 

Tuesday’s event is open to the public and admission is free.  Reservations are recommended.  For more information, contact Nick Porter at [email protected] or 616-454-3080.

/Acton Institute

Ray Nothstine teaching at Acton University

Ray Nothstine teaching at Acton University /Acton Institute

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Thus states the First Amendment. 

But is religious liberty in the U.S. being eroded?

That question will be discussed Tuesday evening at San Chez Bistro, 38 W Fulton St.,  when Acton Institute holds its first “Acton on Tap” event of 2014, “The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty.”

Ray Nothstine, managing editor of Acton’s Religion and Liberty magazine, will host the event.  He said the event’s theme is timely because of recent news stories involving threats to religious freedom.

Nothstine specifically mentioned stories concerning the Health and Human Service mandate, New York City’s policy against renting public school rooms for church meetings and a Colorado baker ordered to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple despite his religious objections.

“More and more the courts reflect our relativistic culture as long established rights are redefined or simply pushed aside,” Nothstine said.

Nothstine voiced concern about the Obama administration’s tendency to use the term “freedom of worship” instead of the traditional term “freedom of religion.”  Nothstine believes “freedom of worship” departs from the language of the First Amendment and implies appropriate religious activity should be relegated to within the walls of established houses of worship.

“There’s a push to move the freedom of religion into the private sphere instead of the public sphere,” Nothstine said.  “You’re free to believe what you want as long as you don’t push that into the public sphere.” 

Nothstine said both President Barack Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have used the phrase “freedom of worship” in speeches.

Nothstine said the push to restrict religiously motivated activities goes contrary to the emphasis on religious liberty given by framers of the U.S. Constitution such as James Madison. 

“He [Madison] said that all men are equally entitled to the freedom to follow the dictates of their consciences,” Nothstine said. 

Nothstine said the framers wanted religious convictions to play prominent roles in how citizens lived.

“They wanted a very high degree of religious influence,” he said.  “I want to recover this high degree of religious influence.”

Nothstine believes progressive efforts to divorce religion from the public sphere has been ironically counterproductive to the pursuit of freedom. 

“The progressive scheme has been about freeing man from the perceived restraints of the higher order,” he said.  He said that apart from the traditional American emphasis on religion “we’d have far fewer rights and space for freedom.”

Tuesday’s event will follow Acton on Tap’s usual format, with informal conversation beginning at 6 p.m., a roughly 20-minute talk by the Acton host at 6:30 and group discussion continuing until the event’s 8 p.m. conclusion.

The event’s theme lends itself to controversy. When asked to comment on Nothstine’s concerns, Ed Brayton, a member of the advisory board of Center for Inquiry Michigan, expressed disagreement about various issues.

Brayton challenged the idea Obama’s references to “freedom of worship” constitutes a threat to religious liberty.

“Obama has used ‘freedom of worship’ a handful of times,” said Brayton, “but so did George W. Bush, Ronald Regan and many other presidents who weren’t met with this hysterical response.”

Brayton also denied that requiring businesses to service same-sex marriage or commitment ceremonies endangers religious liberty.

“Telling a business that they can’t discriminate against LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people is no more a threat to religious freedom than all [the] other anti-discrimination laws that have existed for half a century,” he said.

Nothstine, who has led several past Acton on Tap events, recognizes the controversial nature of Tuesday’s theme.  But he is confident Tuesday’s discussion will be civil.

“Most people I’ve found to be really polite,” he said.  “Opposition really doesn’t bother me.”

Nothstine said Acton on Tap events are designed to foster thoughtful conversation among participants.

“The purpose of Acton on Tap is not to make decisions for people,” he said. “We want to help people think critically about the issues. . . . We’re not there to tell people how to make a decision about the issues.”

Nothstine said he also hopes to briefly address the persecution of Christians around the world. He said both the U.S. press and U.S. churches have paid insufficient attention to this issue.

He specifically noted the persecution of Christians in Iraq since the U.S. invasion.

“I think there has been an unfortunate unintended consequence in Iraq,” he said.

Acton Institute began hosting Acton on Tap in February 2010.  Event themes have included “The End of Liberty,” “Faith and Public Life in Ronald Regan’s America,” “Lessons Our Society can Learn from Rome” and “The Economics of the Heidelberg Catechism.”

Tuesday’s event is open to the public and admission is free.  Reservations are recommended.  For more information, contact Nick Porter at [email protected] or 616-454-3080.

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Thank you, Ed and Rachel, for your questions, comments, and contributions.  

Do either of you plan to attend on Tuesday?

Thank you Joseph, Arthur, Jordan, and John for your comments.  Are any of you planning to attend the event Tuesday?