When Mike Adams was denied a promotion to full professor in criminology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2006, it wasn’t because he was failing in the classroom. On the contrary, Adams had been showered with accolades and awards for teaching, research and service.
What landed Adams in the political correctness doghouse was that the former atheist and leftist committed his life to Jesus Christ in 2000 and became bold in his faith. As his life changed, so did his political persuasion, and he voiced his conservative opinions via a nationally syndicated column. Stands that Adams took on social and moral issues ruffled feathers and didn’t sit well with more liberal university officials and academic colleagues. And so, in 2006, UNC Wilmington blocked his promotion, in spite of his stellar performance record since 1993.
Adams sued, citing academic harassment and bias. He claimed the university illegally retaliated against him by denying him a promotion because he expressed his contrary religious and political views—thereby trampling upon his First Amendment rights to free speech.
After seven years of court battles, a federal jury ruled this past March in Adams’ favor. UNCW appealed, but the two parties settled in July. Under the settlement, the university agreed to drop its March appeal and to promote Adams from associate professor to full professor at an annual salary of $75,000. In addition, he was awarded $50,000 in back pay and $615,000 in attorneys’ fees.
“This is one of the largest amounts awarded in the academic freedom context,” said David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the professor. “It’s a shame university officials wasted taxpayer money all because they didn’t want to promote a conservative Christian.”
This case marked a substantial victory for religious liberty. Two major—yet close—U.S. Supreme Court decisions in May and June also garnered praise from conservatives. In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the court narrowly upheld that the Constitution allows the centuries-old tradition of opening government meetings with prayer. Then, in a similar 5-4 decision, the court agreed that “closely held” companies may exercise their religious beliefs and conscientiously object to providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to employees through their health insurance plans.
“These were very significant rulings,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Any incursion of religious liberty or freedom of conscience for anyone, Christian or not, is a danger to all of us. If the Hobby Lobby ruling had gone in the other direction, it would have been a setback for religious liberty, the implications of which we would be facing for the next 100 years.”
Todd Starnes, host of Fox News & Commentary, also applauded these Supreme Court rulings. “They were certainly good news,” he said. “But at the same time, they’re not the end of the battle. The war goes on.”
Indeed it does. Despite these recent religious liberty victories, evidence is mounting that the Christian voice is becoming marginalized, if not criminalized. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, American Humanists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation are intent on ripping out any mention of God from public life and erasing the influence of Christians.
Consider the plight of Bob Eschliman, the former editor-in-chief of the Newton Daily News in Newton, Iowa. He was fired in May for comments made on his personal blog daring to defend what the Bible teaches about marriage between a man and a woman. In that piece, Eschliman criticized the “Queen James Bible,” a new edition of the King James Bible in which liberal editors rewrote eight key verses that speak against homosexual practice.
The day after firing Eschliman, Shaw Media president John Rung lambasted him in a stinging editorial: “The First Amendment does not eliminate responsibility and accountability for one’s words and actions. While he [Eschliman] is entitled to his opinion, his public airing of it compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it.”
Eschliman has filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Shaw Media and the Newton Daily News. The Liberty Institute is pushing Eschliman’s lawsuit forward.
Another high-profile example of alleged discrimination involved Dr. Eric Walsh, the former public health director for the city of Pasadena, Calif., and an associate pastor. Walsh was placed on paid leave in May after some of his sermons surfaced, expressing his views on homosexuality and evolution. He subsequently resigned from his public health position. The sermons came to light after Walsh was invited to be Pasadena City College’s commencement speaker. Students researched his beliefs, published them on social media and sent them to media outlets in protest. Walsh’s saga took another negative turn when the state of Georgia two weeks later retracted a job offer made to him after learning that Walsh had been put on leave in California.
Other legal challenges are drawing attention. Religious symbols, including the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross in San Diego, are being threatened, if they haven’t disappeared already. Students are being told they can’t speak about God on campus. Military chaplains are being suppressed. Business owners are being penalized if they take stands of conscience.
“We used to think in this country that religion held a special place, that it was important to foster religious expression,” Liberty Institute general counsel Jeff Mateer said. “Now we’re seeing an extremely troubling shift toward the notion that religion is a hindrance and should no longer be tolerated. That’s certainly the opposite of what our founders envisioned for America.”
But America isn’t the only battleground. Europe has been spiraling downward for much longer and at a faster clip. As churches empty at an alarming rate and secular humanism grabs hold, the Christian faith is often viewed as irrelevant, if not subversive.
Here are some headlines from Europe:
- In Denmark, the country’s parliament overwhelmingly passed a new law that requires all churches to conduct gay marriages. In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to offer civil unions for gay couples.
- In Sweden, a midwife was fired for refusing to perform abortions. A Scandinavian rights group has filed suit against the Swedish government on her behalf.
- In Great Britain, Christians have been threatened or have lost jobs and/or business for supporting biblical marriage. David Burrowes, a member of parliament and founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, became the target of death threats and hate mail after supporting traditional marriage. Burrowes’ children have even faced bullying at school because of his positions.
- In Northern Ireland, the national Equality Commission has threatened court action against the owners of a bakery, who refused, based on their Christian convictions, to prepare a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage.”
“The battle to protect religious freedom is global,” ADF’s Cortman said. “Christians in the U.S. must remain vigilant, not only on their own behalf but on behalf of our brothers and sisters in other countries.”
So what should Christians do in their vigilance? First of all, believers must pray, recognizing this ultimately is a spiritual battle. Second, become educated about the issues. Next, get active in your own community, particularly with organizations like your local school board. Let your voice be heard. Fourth, vote your values, including the upcoming November elections.
“And if necessary, choose to litigate,” said Mateer of the Liberty Institute. “The Apostle Paul used the Roman system to further the Kingdom of God by going through what essentially was a civil appellate process.”
Fox’s Starnes said pastors must be willing to take tough stands and possibly engage in civil disobedience when such action is warranted. “Too many churches have been trying to be culturally relevant but are now becoming spiritually irrelevant,” he said. “In the Bible, we’re called to be salt and light, but unfortunately the church is on a salt-free diet these days.”
The SBC’s Moore concurs, stating that the American church needs to preach a costly, cross-bearing Christianity that includes with it the possibility of social marginalization within the prevailing culture.
“We need strong, robust preaching and discipleship that models the principles of the coming Kingdom of God,” Moore said. ©2014 BGEA