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Opinion: Justice sees ‘growing hostility’ to traditional religious beliefs

Since 2007, statistics show that religion has been in decline in nearly every high-income nation, and in America, the faith crisis has reached record levels.

A new Gallup poll showed fewer Americans than ever believe in God and fewer than half of those who are believers (42 percent) say that God hears and responds to prayers.

There has also been a decline in relevancy of the Bible, the holy Scripture of the Christian religion. A Values and Beliefs survey taken in May showed a record-low 20 percent of Americans now say the Bible is the literal word of God, half of what it was at its high points in 1980 and 1984. A new high of 29 percent say the Bible is a collection of “fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.”

Pew Research projects that by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion) and Christians (2.9 billion).

In a recent speech at Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Summit in Rome, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said the problem is not just ignorance about religion, but that there’s a “growing hostility” to traditional religious beliefs. Alito expressed concern that as the world becomes more secular in nature, people will no longer understand the vital role that religion plays in society.

During his 37-minute address, Alito discussed the current challenge for religious liberty in the United States and Europe, where large percentages of the population have abandoned religion and are therefore no longer interested in safeguarding it. He warned that a growth of secularism in society and a simultaneous reduction of religious involvement will jeopardize the free exercise of religion.

The justice pointed out how Christians have been persecuted for centuries, listing examples of how faith-filled individuals endured horrific torture, including the Christian blood sports inside the Roman Colosseum and Roman Emperor Nero’s use of Christians “as human torches” outside the arena. People of various other faiths have also suffered, including the victims of the Holocaust, the slaughter of Yazidi in Iraq by ISIS, and China’s “unspeakable treatment” of the Uyghurs.

While hostility to religion escalates, Alito said it also threatens our fundamental right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which also involves other forms of religious exercise such as a spoken or written prayer, the recitation of Scripture, a homily, a religious book or article.

Regarding the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, such as a religious service in a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, Alito posed a question to his audience: “If a government can ban those assemblies, will it hesitate to outlaw others?”

In his challenge against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions, Pastor Rob McCoy of Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks said the edicts intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings, and argued that the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that government doesn’t have the authority to shut down houses of worship at all.

McCoy said at the time of his ongoing legal battles, during which he faced imprisonment for preaching and defying lockdowns, that more people were coming to his church northwest of Los Angeles because it remained open. They came, he said, because their freedoms had been taken and they wanted to find the source of liberty in a Divine Savior.

Liberty, he stressed, is not man’s idea, it’s God’s idea.

Under the onslaught of personal attacks, Christian stalwarts like McCoy and Alito remain unfazed by the hate campaign waged by many on the left.

A major objective of Alito’s speech in Rome was to inform or remind people of how fragile religious freedom really is. He wonders what historians may say centuries from now about the contribution of this nation to world civilization.

“No human achievement is ever permanent, and unless the people can be convinced that robust religious liberty is worth protecting, it will not endure,” he warned.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.