Commentary: We need to fight to keep our religious freedom, or we will lose it


In 1787, while Benjamin Franklin was walking out of the convention hall, a woman approached him and asked him if she could just ask him just one question. He granted her permission. She asked, “What have you given us?” Franklin said, “A republic, if you can keep it!”

You see, this coincides with something that God said to the nation of Israel when he gave them the promised land in Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

 19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: 20That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. 

God basically said to Israel that He had given them the promised land, if they could keep it. And He told them how and why they should in Deut. 30. I believe that we have practically the same situation here in our country. When we go back to the founding of our country we can see it from the same providential perspective.

I am reminded of what John Winthrop said in 1630 in a message entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.” He said, “We shall be as a city set upon a hill.” Winthrop was referring to the founding of our nation that started back in 1620 when the pilgrims came over and founded Plymouth and later the Puritans founded Salem in 1628.

It is interesting that former President Ronald Reagan in the 1970s saw John Winthrop’s statement as a point of emphasis on why our nation was founded. He used Winthrop’s statement about being “a city set upon a hill” to explain American exceptionalism.

Reagan said, “There was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.”

When we see the term “divine plan” used, we know that it means that God had a purpose in the founding of our nation. We know that purpose was not that we be a “Christian nation” but that we be a nation that IS Christian.

We are not talking about Christian Nationalism. We're talking about the fact that Christianity is first and foremost a relationship, not a religion, and therefore determines the character of who we are, what we are, and how we conduct our lives in our environment.

When we go back to Winthrop’s statement about the “city on a hill” we understand that this comes from what Jesus said in the book of Matthew 5:14 referring to the nature and the character of true believers. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”

As we look at this context of our founding, this means that as a nation our purpose before God was to be a witness to the world of the life-changing power of the gospel. You see, the Lord has used the United States for more than 200 years to be one of the greatest “missionary sending countries” that has ever existed.

Now, I have read that back in 2010, for the first time, there were more missionaries coming to America than were going to other nations. You see, we are a nation that is in moral decline and needs help!

That's why Benjamin Franklin's statement about being able to keep our republic also applies to our religious freedoms - if we can keep them!  And, if we keep religious freedom at the level at which our founding fathers intended, we will continue to be a witness to the world and a missionary sending nation.

But if we don't stand up for religious freedom, we're going to lose it. We are reminded in the Book of Revelation 2:5 that the Ephesians were told that if they did not repent and go back and do their first works, they were going to lose their “candlestick.” That means, if we as a nation do not go back to the original intent in both our actions and our attitude, we are going to lose our “national candlestick” as a witness for Christ.

Again, as Benjamin Franklin reminded us, we are in a republic not a monarchy. Our first responsibility in a monarchy is to obey. Our first responsibility in a republic is to participate. As citizens of the United States who are Christians, we have a responsibility to make sure that we participate (with the salt and the light that Christ has made us) before it is too late.

God has given us the responsibility to maintain our nation in the same way that He gave the responsibility to the Israelites to maintain the promised land that He had given them.

God has given us three institutions to maintain this earth. He has given us the home, the church and, yes, God is the one who has given us government according to the book of Romans chapter 13.

We have a responsibility to maintain these institutions from a Biblical perspective. And the more we do that, the greater the witness for the gospel that is going to be seen in a lost and dying world.

Our First Amendment Rights must be protected now, more than ever. This is precisely why we need a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in every state, including Georgia!

Religious freedom is important for several reasons:

  • Scope of Religious Freedom: The First Amendment is not designed to restrict the practice of religion to the confines of a church building.
  • The Conscience of Religious Freedom: The underlying premise of religious freedom is that the government should not set itself up as Lord of the conscience.
  • The Principle of Religious Freedom: True religious freedom is based upon an order of authority that exalts God!
  • The Freedom of Religious Freedom: The defense of religious freedom is not the same thing as promoting religious and moral relativism.
  • The Responsibility of Religious Freedom: Biblical Christianity requires that we stand up for religious freedom.

We are living in a day when persecution is increasing against people of faith, particularly those there are “Biblically-minded Christians.” The ultimate goal in persecuting Christians is to silence the gospel. And because we are in a Republic, we cannot disengage from our responsibility to be a part of protecting religious freedom that will ultimately further the proclamation of the gospel through evangelism and missions.

If we, as Christians, do not fulfill our duty as citizens to protect our religious freedom, we actually become a part of the persecution! Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been credited for the influence of this statement:

 “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

This means that we as Christians are not going to be able to blame others for the loss of religious freedom in our time if we are not carrying out our God-given right to participate in government from a Biblical perspective!

Now is the time to standup for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in the state of Georgia. There are a number of reasons we should do so: 

  • This act restores the original intent of the 1st Amendment.

It is hard to contemplate that anyone who is in favor of the 1st Amendment would be against restoring the original intent. The religious freedom restoration act adds nothing that was not originally intended by the founding fathers.

  • This act protects people of faith from government intrusion.

The problem here is not about us being involved in government, but the government forcing itself upon us. (Note this video from 2017 GBC on religious freedom issues in Georgia.)

  • This act provides a proper balancing test for the rights of citizens and the responsibility of government.

It requires the government to have a compelling reason to limit our rights. (This is even true with freedom of speech.) It requires the government to use the least restrictive means possible to limit our first amendment rights.

It is interesting that at least 36 states have already passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act on a state level. And nowhere where this legislation has been enacted has it caused any discrimination. In fact, its purpose is to protect people of faith from being discriminated against because of their deeply held religious Beliefs.

This video explains some of the details of what a religious freedom restoration act can do in protecting our citizens’ rights and giving the proper responsibility to government.

I have heard it put this way, “today's complacency will lead to tomorrow's captivity.” Now is the time to stand in support of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act!

In the book of I Kings chapter 21:3, “… Naboth said to Ahab, the Lord forbid me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.” This story is about the King trying to make Naboth sell his vineyard. The bottom line was that God did not want him to give up what He had given him.

Well, friends, we are living in the same kind of day. Our founding fathers were willing to give their lives and their fortunes and their sacred honor to establish our nation. We have an inheritance that has been fought and died for.

It will take nothing less to protect our country than what it took to establish our country. We have future generations who are looking to us to protect for them what God has given to us as a responsibility to keep. If we don't keep it, we will lose it!

Now is the time to contact your Georgia House and Senate member and ask them to enthusiastically support the passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act during the 2025 legislative session.

Thank you, because future generations are looking to you.


Mike Griffin is the Public Affairs Representative of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.