In the 1990s the U.S. Supreme Court decided a handful of religious liberty cases on the basis of the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The most significant of these was Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995). In that case, the University of Virginia had denied funding to a religious student publication called Wide Awake. The case began with a focus on the establishment clause, and it might have been based on the free exercise of religion—but it ended up being about free speech.
On June 28 a handful of fundamentalist hecklers from the Church of Wells disrupted services at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. As reported in national and local media outlets, security removed the activists after they shouted at the popular preacher and they were arrested. While that June Sunday was not the first time the Wells hecklers visited Lakewood, it represented a bold and memorable confrontation with America’s smiling pastor.
It is easy to dismiss the Wells hecklers as fundamentalist partisans whose messages appeal to a small number of like-minded followers.
Last month, The Atlantic published an online piece by staff writer Megan Garber, “How Comedians Became Public Intellectuals.” The article documented how comedy today in both its standup and situational genres is expanding beyond its minutiae focus of the 1990s in favor of a harder-hitting, message-based style evident in the work of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Amy Schumer.
A few years after Howard Stephens started providing abortions, he became the target of local anti-abortion protesters. They picketed his home on weekends, distributed leaflets around his neighborhood calling him a murderer, followed his moves around town, and sent hate mail to his son.
Perhaps most concerning, the protesters picketed Howard’s church twice.
The anticipated publication on Thursday of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, has American conservative Protestants up in arms. Firmly grounded in Catholic teachings on social justice, the encyclical is the culmination of half a century of Catholic thinking on the environment. Why then do American conservative evangelicals so adamantly oppose environmentalism?
Since the environmental movement’s peak in the 1970s, evangelicals have pilloried environmentalists and cast doubt on problems like global warming.
In his recent biography of Billy Graham, Grant Wacker nicknamed the Baptist preacher “America’s pastor.” Owing to a prolific career that began in 1949 and has now spanned nearly 70 years, which saw him as the spiritual advisor to multiple U.S. presidents, the moniker is arguably fitting.
Graham began his career at a pivotal time in American history, as Cold War anxieties pitted American piety against “godless communists.”
Next to the First Amendment, then-President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 has perhaps come to represent the most popular understanding of religious freedom in the collective mind of America. Because of Jefferson’s “wall of separation” metaphor, some would like the letter to pass back into the shadow of obscurity under which it rested prior to the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision. Others rejoice that the letter provides the lens through which religion itself is defined and applied in contemporary America.
Jefferson’s famous metaphor is important, but it is a star drawing into its orbit the comet of our short attention span.
In the recent U.S. Supreme Court hearings on whether states have a constitutional right to ban (or refuse to recognize) same-sex marriages, the conservative justices seemed to be preoccupied with the definition of marriage. As Chief Justice Roberts stated, in response to advocate Mary Bonauto, “Every definition that I looked up prior to about a dozen years ago, defined marriage as a unity between a man and a woman as husband and wife. Obviously, if you succeed, that core definition will no longer be operable.”
Whereas this and similar comments made during the hearing are perhaps true on their surface—marriage in the past has not been defined as a relationship between same-sex couples—such comments are misleading, suggesting that the definition of marriage has been unchanged “for millennia,” or disingenuous.