The following story is told by Chike Uzuegbunam. In 2016, he was a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, a public university in Lawrenceville Georgia. 

“One day a security guard approached, telling me I could not talk publicly about [my religion] except in one of the college’s two “speech zones” — and a reservation would be needed. I went along with the policy, even though the zones made up 0.0015 percent of campus — the equivalent of a piece of paper on a football field — and were open only about 10 percent of the week.

But as I spoke for the first time in the zone I’d reserved, campus police stopped me again. They said someone had complained (I never learned the nature of the complaint), and — speech zone or not — I’d have to stop or face some unspecified punishment. All I was doing was speaking with students about something that mattered to me, the sort of thing I saw others doing in and out of the speech zones every day. Nonetheless, I stopped.”

Chike Uzuegbunam was prohibited from speaking about his Christian religion simply because it was not popular. However, the first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The government can’t stop you from believing in a religion, practicing that religion, or talking to others about it. They also can’t force you to believe in any religion, whether it be Christianity, Atheism, or all of the above. 

But today, people are confused about what the first amendment really means. 

Since COVID-19 started spreading, many states have restricted businesses and organizations from operating, including religious organizations. Of course, it doesn’t matter that religious freedom is the first and foremost of all the liberties granted in the Bill of Rights. It doesn’t matter that thousands of Americans have given their lives defending it. None of that matters anymore because of the virus. As crazy as it may seem, that’s the thought process going through the minds of public officials across the nation, and unfortunately, this mindset is wearing off on the people.

A recent University of Chicago Divinity School/Associated Press poll reported that 42% of Americans think in-person religious services should be allowed with restrictions, and 48% think they should not be allowed at all.

That’s half of Americans who believe churches should be banned from meeting, even if they follow the same restrictions and all safety protocols as businesses, retail, liquor and other stores which are allowed to be open. That’s pure discrimination, and the sad thing is, we’re just letting it slide. 

Of course, nobody should under any circumstances have religion forced upon them, but the fact is, America was founded on religious principles. From the motto “In God we trust” printed on every coin and dollar bill that rolls off the printing press, to the words “One nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance, we can see that religion has been a big part of  America’s past. The men who founded this great country believed in and relied on God. We can see this in the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” 

John Adams said “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion…Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

We need God to survive as a nation. If you’re a Christian like me, you won’t need any convincing of that, but even if you don’t believe in God, religious freedom is still essential. 

Seriously, how can religious freedom hurt anyone? As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 Gods, or no God.” Having the freedom to believe as we choose is essential if we want to be free at all.

There’s a reason that religious liberty is the first freedom granted in the Bill of Rights. The freedom to believe as we choose is a foundation for all other freedoms. In a study by Christos A. Makridis1, a research professor at Arizona State University, it is shown that countries with more religious freedom have greater economic freedom. It makes perfect sense. 

The sad thing is, oppressive governments are always trying to stomp out religion. Take Hitler, who murdered 6 million Jews. It is estimated that the USSR murdered 12 to 20 million Christians.2 Uighur Muslims are currently being held and killed in concentration camps by the Chinese communist government. Religious freedom has not been widespread in the past, and it isn’t widespread outside of America. George Washington said, “The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States of worshipping Almighty God, agreeable to their consciences, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights.” We are so blessed to be able to worship and believe as we choose, without government intervention. 

Luckily for Chike Uzuegbunam, the Alliance Defending Freedom took up his case and the college backed down before it got to court, but his story is a reminder that we all need to be vigilant in defending our rights.

As long as we are free to be one nation under God, we will be indivisible, and as long as we are free to trust in God, we will prosper.