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Religious Liberty and Dominion

By R. J. Rushdoony
December 08, 2013

When the Supreme Court, in early June, 1985, ruled against prayer in the "public" schools, even if it were silent prayer, there was much jubilation in humanistic circles and some dismay in church responses. Prayer in state schools dedicated to humanism and anti-Christianity was in itself no great advantage. Prayer in these schools for illiteracy and paganism would be inappropriate, as would be mandatory prayers in houses of prostitution. How can there be a blessing on the systematic neglect of the triune God? If faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26), so too is prayer without works. We cannot ask God to bless what is against His will, nor us if we are where we ought not to be.

Some very important issues were raised, however, by the Supreme Court's decision. Implicit in the Court's perspective and decision was what The Stockton (California) Record made explicit in an editorial, June 6,1985, "School Prayer Ruling Sound" (p.12): "The Know-Nothings are at it already, calling the latest Supreme Court ruling on prayer in the schools ‘an act of war against this nation's heritage.' The ruling, quite to the contrary, is an affirmation of this nation's religious heritage. That heritage was religion is a private, personal matter and that government can neither promote nor proscribe its practice."

It is emphatically true that the U.S. Constitution held "that government can neither promote or proscribe" religious practice on the federal level. In recent years, this has been extended to the states. The premise of this perspective is that God's Kingdom cannot be controlled by the state. The early church fought for this, as did the medieval and the modern church. Limits were thereby placed on the power and jurisdiction of the state, limits which the courts now treat as non-existent. If the church enjoys any immunities, it is viewed as a state grant and subject to statist change and control.

The central evil of the modern view is that "religion is a private, personal matter." This is a revolutionary idea, a product of the modern era and of revolutionary ideologies. Basic to the western world has been the premise that, because the God of the Scriptures is the living God, the Maker of heaven and earth and all things therein, any attempt to establish man and society apart from Him and His law is suicidal. Because the triune God is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), any attempt to establish anything apart from Him is a lie and a deadly venture (Ps. 127:l; Prov. 8:36). In terms of this, the free exercise of religion is a necessity in order that the wellsprings of human life be nourished, personally and socially.

To say that "religion is a private, personal matter" is to say that it is irrelevant. You and I may enjoy crossword puzzles, but such things are not public concerns, merely private ones.

On the contrary, however, the faith of a people is the most public of all concerns. In a very real sense, the life of the people depends upon its faith. What the state is, and its strength and virtue, depends upon the faith and character of the people, and the integrity of the church's witness. The state can be no stronger than its people and their faith. Our problem in the modern world is that nations confuse strength with armament and with controls over the people.

When the state limits the scope and freedom of Christianity, it limits its own strength and paves the way for its destruction. It is not an accident that the de-Christianization of schools and state since World War II have been followed by a great increase in crime, drug use, illegitimacy, sexual crimes, perversions, pornography, and more.

In this process, it must be noted, the churches have had a great part. By their growing modernism, their socialist gospel, and their faith in statist salvation, they have become gravediggers for both church and state. Religion is both a public and a private concern. To restrict ir to a personal matter is to deny its truth and to deny Christianity religious liberty. If "religion is a private, personal matter," then religious liberty has a very narrow scope; the area of religious freedom then, as attorney William Bently Ball has noted, is the distance between our two ears. if "religion is a private, personal matter" then it has no legitimate place on the public scene. It should then be barred, as the courts have progressively done, from the schools, the state, and all public agencies.

Of course, what is not barred is the new established religion, humanism. It is the new public faith, and irs articles of faith are routinely affirmed by public figures as a public duty. The obscurantists deny that humanism exists or dominates; this does not say much for their honesty.

The Stockton Record went on to say, "It is a mis-reading of the Supreme Court's 1962 decision on organized prayer in public schools and its ruling this week to suggest the court has banned prayer in public schools. It has only prohibited government involvement in a private matter. Anyone can silently pray any time, any place and for any reason; government cannot suggest such prayer or ban it."

Again, this limits religious freedom to a purely private and personal realm. Such editorial writers are silent when Christian Home School parents, and Christian Schools, are on trial. Court ordered testing has repeatedly demonstrated the far greater scholastic achievements of such students, but the courts show no regard for their religious freedom. Do such people really believe in religious freedom for Christians? The past decade has seen the persecution and at times imprisonment of pastors and parents. The press which heralded this recent Supreme Court decision has usually been silent in these other cases. Is this not hypocrisy? And how long will the state respect freedom of the press when it destroys freedom of religion? The press, by approving the court's growing fascism, is preparing the way for its own destruction.

The Stockton Record quoted Justice John Paul Stevens (our John Paul III?) as insisting, in the majority opinion of the Court, that the school prayer violates the "established principle that the government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion." The state can have such a neutrality only after the Court can negate gravity and float in space as it renders its godlike decisions! The state rests on law; all law is enacted morality and represents as such a religious foundation and a religious faith about good and evil, right and wrong. Neutral laws cannot exist. Laws against murder rest on the premise that man is created in God's image and must live by God's law.

Peter J. Ferrara, in The Wall Street Journal ("Reading Between the Lines of the School-Prayer Decision," Tuesday, June 11, 1985, p. 32), said: "The fact that a moment of silence is inherently neutral between prayer and other forms of meditation or contemplation should have been sufficient for the court to uphold the Alabama law. The majority's suggestion that students would somehow be bullied into praying by the history of the Alabama statute or the expressed hope by some legislators that students would use the time to pray, surpasses fantasy. Moreover, in straining so mightily to hold the statute unconstitutional, the court communicated a message to the public of hostility to religion."

In this century, we have seen a massive persecution of various religions (Buddhists in Tibet, Jews in the Soviet Union, Moslems in Albania, Bahais in Iran), but most of all of Christianity. The Marxist states have, since World War I, slaughtered millions; Turkey massacred Christian Armenians and Greeks; Africa has seen countless massacres in recent years, as has southeast Asia; Cuba has persecuted Christians, as have many other states. The Christian victims number into many tens of millions. The world press has been largely silent on these matters, and increasingly so.

In fact, many editorial writers act and write on the premise that Christians are persecuting them when they protest such treatment! This should not surprise us: a bully with a bad conscience hates and resents his victims because he knows their presence is an indictment of him. I was told of a schoolyard bully who loved to pick on and mercilessly pummel boys smaller than himself. Then, as he started to leave, he would turn on his victim, or a bystander, saying, "You don't like it, do you?," and, whatever the answer, beat up on them at once. Not even an unspoken dissent is tolerable to a bully. The bully press has a very loud voice, and it knows that its enemies have a very small one.

The new definition of religious liberty is tailor-made to destroy Christianity. By reducing its freedom to "a private, personal" realm, it is doing what the Soviet Union has done. This kind of "religious freedom" exists in the Soviet Union. Practically, it means that parents cannot speak about their faith to their children. In some states of the U.S., parents can be jailed for educating their own children, i.e., by applying their Christian faith to education. In the Soviet Union, husband and wife are often silent about their faith one to another; in a time of trouble, such knowledge can be used against them.

As the Soviet Union defines religious liberty, i.e., as a private personal matter, it can and does boast of its record of religious freedom. What faith men hold between their two ears, they are free to hold!

But Christianity cannot be so restricted. It governs our lives, our marriages, children, homes, schools, churches, civil governments, vocations, arts, sciences, and all things else. It governs them by governing us and making us instruments of God's law and order. It makes us dominion men so that God's Kingdom is manifested in and through us.

To do this, Christian faith transforms old institutions into new ones and creates new agencies for the new life. It can only do this if our faith is for us a personal and a public concern, the way of life for man and for society. If Christianity does not do this, it perishes.

This is what our Lord means when He says, "I am come to shed fire on the earth" (Luke 12:49). What He gives is not a purely private and personal matter: it is a transforming power which will destroy what needs destruction, renovate what needs renovation, and build what needs to be built and established.

The Lord declares, "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Where men prefer their ways to God's justice, they will resent and wage war against God's remaking of all things. Because they see themselves as their own gods, and man as his own source of law (Gen. 3:5) they want no part of the faith. They will seek to suppress and destroy it without being honest enough to say so.

This should not surprise us. It is logical on the part of unbelievers. It has been this way all through history.

The important question is this: what will those who call themselves Christians do about this? Will they be silent "mummified" churchmen, as General William Booth described them, or will they be the Lord's dominion men? (July, 1985)

(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 287; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 64)


Topics: Culture , Dominion, Government, Justice, Statism, Theology

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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