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“Freedom of Religion” According to Evangelicals


I spent fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Bible college in the 1970s. Most of my Christian life was spent either attending or pastoring Baptist churches. As a young aspiring pastor, I was taught that there was a strict separation between church and state; that freedom of religion was absolutely crucial to the life of the American Republic and to the status of religion. Church and state were on equal planes, each having its sphere of influence. Churches and preachers didn’t meddle in matters of state, and the government was expected to keep its nose out of church business. In the late 1970s, things began to change with the establishment of the Moral Majority by Paul Weyrich, Ed McAteer, and Jerry Falwell. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, scores of parachurch groups were started for the express purpose of reclaiming America for God. These promoters of American nationalism and exceptionalism flexed their muscles during the 2016 presidential election, delivering to Americans their next president, Donald Trump.

The last thirty-plus years have brought a radical change in Evangelical thinking concerning the freedom of religion and separation of church and state. The impenetrable barrier between church and state that President John F. Kennedy spoke of in the 1960s is now considered a fabrication of libtards who are hellbent on destroying Evangelical, conservative Catholic, and Mormon Christianity. One former presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, even went so far as to say that the separation of church and state is a myth; that the founding fathers never meant to exclude Christians and their religion from influencing and controlling government. These deniers of separation of church and state believe, to the man, that the United States has been uniquely chosen by God — a special nation above all others. Believing that the United States is a Christian nation, these theocrats spend their waking hours attempting to take over government at every level. Having trampled over the wall of separation of church and state, these warriors for God intend on returning America to what they consider its Christian roots.

While Evangelicals have discarded the notion of the separation between church and state, considering it a myth, they continue to say that they support the First Amendment and the idea of freedom of religion. However, their idea of freedom of religion is far different from what has generally been understood in the past. Freedom of religion and separation of church and state go hand in hand. Can we have the freedom to worship or not worship as we please if the government gives preference to Christianity? No! As history clearly shows, any time religion and state are joined at the hip, freedoms and liberty are lost and people die. Who is it that is clamoring for the national registration of Muslims and the banning of immigrants from non-Christian countries? Who is it that is demanding that teacher-led prayer and Bible study be permitted in public schools?  Who is it that wants creationism taught as science and the Ten Commandments posted on public school classroom walls? Who is it that is tirelessly working to overturn societal progress on same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, and abortion? Who is it that is clamoring for the government to adopt a nationwide voucher program that will pay for students to attend private Christian schools? Evangelicals and their conservative compatriots in other sects, that’s who.

So, when Evangelicals talk about the freedom of religion, remember what they really mean is freedom for THEIR religion, and their religion alone. While they with their lips say that they support the freedom of all religions, what they really mean is that they support your right to worship your God freely as long as it doesn’t interfere with or influence the American religion, Christianity, and its control of government. Muslims, Buddhists, and other non-Christian religions will be tolerated only so far as they stay out of the way. According to theocratic Evangelicals, their God alone is the one true ruler over all, and the Bible is the standard by which we should govern our lives socially and politically. And those atheists who have tirelessly worked to make sure the wall of separation of church and state is absolute? They will be expected to stop harassing fine Christian school officials and government leaders who only want to follow the dictates of God and the Bible. People who spent their lives working to change the legal system and its brutal punishment of the poor and people of color will likely see a return to the days of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Again, appeals will be made to the Bible and its code of justice. It should not surprise anyone when Evangelicals call for re-criminalizing homosexuality, adultery, fornication, abortion, and marijuana use.

Remember these things the next time your Evangelical friends, family members, or coworkers say they support the freedom of religion. You might want to ask them what they mean by “freedom of religion.” Do they mean freedom equally for all religions? Do they mean freedom to not believe in any gods at all?  Do they support the separation of church and state? If not, do they believe America is a Christian nation? Would they be okay with a Muslim president or building a mosque next door to their Baptist church?  If Christian prayers and Bible readings are permitted in public schools, would they be okay with Muslim prayers and Buddhist teachings being given the same level of support? As you ask these types of questions, you will likely find out that what your Evangelical acquaintances really mean when they say “freedom of religion” is freedom for the Christian religion, for “Biblical” Christianity. Believing that secularism equals socialism and communism, these worshipers of the Christian God want a culture that is dominated and controlled by Christian beliefs and philosophies.

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Now that God’s Only Party (GOP) controls most state governments, and will likely regain control of Congress in 2022, we can expect to see attempts to derail and destroy the social progress of the last sixty years. I suspect that savvy Evangelical parachurch groups will use state and federal courts to bulldoze the wall of separation of church and state, leaving its rubble as a monument to the days when social progressives thought they could challenge the authority of the Christian God. And it is for this reason that those of us who value religious freedom must not idly stand by while Evangelicals attempt to remake America into a new version of the 1950s. Don’t think for a moment that such monumental societal change cannot happen. It can and it will if we stand by and do nothing. One need only watch what is happening with abortion rights and transgender rights to see how quickly things can change. Just because Joe Biden and the Democrats currently control the government doesn’t mean the culture war is over. It’s not, and if we don’t fight, we are sure to wake up one morning and see the Christian Flag flying over the White House.


If you do not support the following groups, I encourage you to do so.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Freedom from Religion Foundation

American Atheists

American Humanist Association

American Civil Liberties Union

People For the American Way

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    Bruce. Thank you for writing this article. We readers of your blog who are mainline Christians are just as scared to death of the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals as you atheists, agnostics, humanists, nones, and folks of other religions are—especially under the Trump regime. They hate us with the same “perfect hatred” they have for you folks. We must—absolutely must—find a way to stop these fundie crazies from destroying the true and traditional freedom of religion that has served this country well since about 1790. Roger Williams in the 1600s and the later Baptists, just as you wrote, set the original bar on religious freedom, and that bar needs to remain just where they set it and where James Madison and Thomas Jefferson sealed it for all time in the First Amendment. We all need to be alert and do everything we can to fight against these radical fundie morons.

    From a purely Christian perspective, God gives every man and woman a free right to choose with regard to religion or nonreligion. I am not aware of any place in scripture where God forces people to be Jews or Christians. He wants people to choose according to their own free will and consciences. In light of that, it seems to me that it would be more especially wrong for any human to undo God’s position on this matter and force people to believe in Christian fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism.

    As some of your readers may be aware, certain elements in the Southern Baptist Convention have long believed that Southern Baptists should remove all of their children from our public schools. In effect, these people want to destroy public education in the United States. Personally, I see school vouchers as a key part of their plan to do this. If every child in the United States one day becomes eligible for a school voucher, public education will die—and the fundies will get what they have most wanted for decades. Public schools will die off. In my opinion, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Southern Baptist Convention will suddenly and miraculously create their own religious school systems all over the nation to replace our dying public schools systems. With no public schools left, I predict they will get their back pocket politicians to outlaw homeschooling as an option for all nonfundie parents. The only schools left for people to send their children to will be fundie religious schools. Then they will have our children—mine and yours—right where they have always wanted them—so they can fill their heads with a moronic view of Christianity, fill their hearts with hatred for their fellow man, and brainwash the children with right wing extremist propaganda. They have already done this to a limited extent in Texas, where textbook publishers are required to describe the Biblical patriarch Moses as one of the founding fathers of the United States. You read that correctly. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Moses, Benjamin Franklin, etc. They have actually done that in Texas—signed, sealed, and delivered.

    Finally, by now I think everyone knows that racism and bigotry are alive and well in Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism today. The fundies claim they want to give vouchers to African-American children because public schools are failing them. That might be part of it, but I think they want these vouchers for another and more important reason—in their worldview. I live in Tennessee—and I would bet my last nickel that a majority of Republicans in Tennessee believe African-American children are all “niggers.” They see cities like Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga as vast, wild, and untamed jungles overrun by great hordes of wild natives saturated in “nigger culture.” I can just hear one of these Jesus-loving Republicans now in the quiet corner of a Memphis bar:

    “You know Bill. If we can get these vouchers in place and move these nigger kids into religious schools, we will have them right where we have always wanted them. Forget reading, writing, and math at first. The most important thing is to begin implementing a school policy of “deniggeration.” We need to strip these nigger kids of their African-American history and cultural heritage—and cull out everything they have learned on the streets. Get it Bill. We have a chance to turn all these violent “jungle bunnies” into civilized people. Then and only then will we be able to teach them geography, math, and science. We need to bleach these “nigger” kids white on the inside. Oh Bill. I can just see it now—a long line of Jesus-blessed Oreo cookies of our own baking marching through the line at graduation.”

    They tried this same cultural genocide with American Indian children in Special Federal Indian Schools in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The primary purpose of these schools was to strip all American Indian culture and heritage from the children. They were not allowed to speak even one word in their American Indian languages at school—or suffer severe punishment. Basically, they were brainwashing centers just as surely as any you would find in North Korea. American Indian children were to go out into the world as “little bleached white people” as they walked through the graduation line. Sociologists and anthropologists have long documented the suffering these American Indian children went through in these special schools and the awful psychological and social fallout that haunted these children for the rest of their lives. History remembers these schools and what they did as “pure evil.”

    We gotta fight folks. We gotta fight hard. The Trump train leaves the station on January 20, 2017. Every two-bit fundie bastard you have ever known will be riding on that train and fanning out all over our nation to implement “evil” under the guise of “good.” Those of us who are mainline Christians will pray and fight. Those of you who are not can just fight. Every right-thinking American will need to stand in the gap with his brother or sister and turn back these hordes of Hell before they destroy every basic good our beloved country ever had. May God bless you all and help you—even if you do not believe in him.

    • Avatar

      ” We readers of your blog who are mainline Christians are just as scared to death of the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals”

      then be loud and stand up against them.

      But that happens rarely. I guess that since you all claim the same baseless nonsense, it is a tendency to circle the wagons.

      “From a purely Christian perspective, God gives every man and woman a free right to choose with regard to religion or nonreligion. I am not aware of any place in scripture where God forces people to be Jews or Christians. ”

      It’s called the Book of Revelation. Be a Christian or be murdered. Same in luke 19, and in Romans 9, Matthew 13, etc we have that this god has already chosen who will be “saved” and the rest of us are damned to eternal torture for no fault of our own.

      “Those of us who are mainline Christians will pray and fight. Those of you who are not can just fight. ”

      which means we just fight since your prayers are no more worthwhile than anyone elses since you are praying to the same god the other Christians pray to.

  2. Avatar

    Great post! Thank you. I was raised in the Evangelical church and lifestyle, and remember being taught that contrary to “biased” historical writings that have been taken out of context because of the “liberal agenda,” America was founded to be a Christian nation and should remain as such. There was a man from Washington DC who’d “researched” the founding of this country and wrote books about it and toured the country, visiting churches to teach folks the “truth” about how the founding fathers meant for it to be a Christian nation. He visited our church to spread his message and sell his wares. I think he also had DVD’s. Thankfully I am no longer a sheep belonging to the great shepherd, so the wool doesn’t obstruct my view anymore. Thanks again!

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I’m not sure what you mean here.

      The government has no business involving themselves in churches feeding and helping the homeless. The government does, however,have the responsibility to enforce safety, fire, and building laws. Churches should be required to play by the same rules as other businesses.

      • Avatar

        I mean, obviously these Christians are doing harm in their community by feeding homeless people and those people hang out. They’re a general problem and the codes need to be enforced to separate these Christians from society! Get the churches out of the State (Maryland)! Shut them down!

        Nobody can take money from the homeless, but the State can drain cash from churches. Then we’d all be better off.

        • Avatar
          Bruce Gerencser

          Most churches do very little for the poor. Most of their money is spent on buildings, salaries, utilities, employee benefits, and programs for club members. I’m all for taxing churches just like businesses are taxed. As it stands now, taxpayers are subsidizing churches (Clubs) and their ministers.

          Let me know when you are ready to have a serious conversation.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Yep. And there’s literally nothing we can do except express our outrage and use the courts to turn back this patently unconstitutional law. Christian Republicans are in control of Ohio. They hold every major political office and have a super majority in the legislature. The most liberal Christian among them is John Kasich. ?

    • Avatar

      What? How can this be in any constitutional? Well clearly it’s not, and I see the politician referring to having to fight the matter in the courts. It’s disgusting that women’s freedom is, once again, being so blatantly taken away. I wonder how the conservative SCOTUS is going to deal with the issue, which seems to be infecting ever more states.

  3. Avatar

    Watching the video makes me wonder; Exactly how and when have these Christian families been hassled? Is their church now being taxed? Are people coming to their door hassling them? Are their rights being taken away?
    Inquiring minds want to know!

  4. Avatar
    Julia Childress

    Thank you, thank you for this post. I don’t think that younger folk have much of an idea that separation of church and state used to be a principle cherished by all. I was raised SBC and IFB, and in my young years never, never heard anyone at church, pastor or congregation, express an opinion about politics. That was considered a private topic and folks just didn’t mix religion and politics in public. When I discuss this with my children, they think I’m just looking at the rosy past of “back in my day” and not remembering things accurately. We live in dangerous times. I think we all need to be prepared to be brave and stand with those – non-Christians, LGBT, the poor, who stand to suffer most if our country takes a sharp turn toward fundamentalism.

  5. Avatar

    Freedom of Religion = Catholics could legally worship in the now independant “country” of united states.

    Catholicism was banned in the colonys, Church of England/Protestant colonys. (see PENAL codes/laws)

    Carroll brothers were the Jesuits that pushed for freedom of religion. French Navy was needed to oppose the Royal Navy, Think French Jesuit Catholics! Seriously.

    Mohammadeans? Jews? Orthodox? Hindu?LOL<LOL<LOL:)…….this was the late 1700s people, the Revolutionary Wars, the Suppression of the JESUITS. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, in the UK, is when England came back under the papal yoke.
    Clinton=Jesuit Georgetown, Trump=Jesuit IHS Fordham……. both Dems & Reps are under JESUIT CONTROL.

  6. Avatar

    In an increasingly connected world it becomes increasingly harder to live and let live while living and let living, for fundamentalism.

  7. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Hello,all. I’m listening to NPR this morning, and today a story came on about how COVID is ravaging India, much of it due to Prime Minister Mohdi, and his brand of nationalistic Hindu Fundamentalism, and yes, it’s a thing. Because of incompetence, indifference and corruption, their death rates are so high. The pervasive belief that an evil past life causes one’s present life to be filled with suffering, compassion is so lacking. But, now the population is starting to turn against Modhi. To a lesser extent we faced this with Trump, of course. I shudder to think what a second dose of him would result in. He was in an online interview regarding him running again in 2024. He says getting control of the House and Senate is key. So we’re not out of the woods by a long shot !

  8. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I was raised as a Roman Catholic. These days, I abhor the Church. But I will acknowledge that JFK, our first Catholic President, took the separation of church and state, and religion and politics , more seriously than others. So does Joe Biden, who has already done more to acknowledge them diversity of this country than any other President not named Obama.

    That said, I, as a transgender person fear that this country could turn into a partriarchical White Nationalist theocracy. What I fear most is that those who rise to power in such a system invariably re-victimize those whom they or their allies or acolytes bully and brutalize: Think of how they gaslight victims of sexual crimes or smear victims of police violence.

  9. Avatar
    dale m.

    Like Israel and Palestine, this is a continuous “tit for tat” with no end in sight. I’ve said this a hundred times already. You guys below the 49th Parallel are 2 radically different countries. Palestine and Israel will never be “one Nation”. Russia and Ukraine. Poland and Germany. The Union and the Confederacy. It’s time to put down your card-hand and fold. Otherwise ….. civil war.

    Alternatively, forget about the Separation of Church and State. Forget the written word. Get out there and compete. You don’t have any chance of ever bringing the dogs to bay by using the shield. And until the Humanist world grows out of its timidity, drops the shield and picks up the sword and this time really use it to its fullest potential, it will be only a matter of time before the Right Wing takes everything you have.

    There are very few revolutions in history that were ever bloodless. Yes. This is the real world. Not a part of some fantasy.


    • Avatar
      The DutchGuy

      You were prophetic Dale. Just look now at the slaughter in Gaza. The Jews plan to pacify the Muslims by beating them into submission. Nevermind the oppression and injustice at gunpoint. This level of injustice is so evil and so extreme that can’t be forgotten or even smoothed over if many many lifetimes. “No justice no peace” comes to mind. The Jews took the wrong lessons away from the holocaust. They learned that might makes right. Like The Nazis they will ultimately learn injustice breeds resistance and is not readily forgotten or forgiven.

  10. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    I already give money to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

    I am already afraid of Christian Nationalists because they harass anyone who is not in their group, including scientists I took classes in physics which show proof of things like the age of the universe etc. Christian Nationalists do not need experiments or observation.

    I am afraid things may come to Dale M’s prediction.

    I will keep doing what I can.

  11. Avatar

    Another former Southern Baptist chiming in (I ditched the SBC 4 years ago, when it became painfully and crystal clear how much women truly are worth there!)

    Let’s not forget, too, that God has ditched the Israelites. White, evangelical males are now his chosen people.

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