July 4 in the United States is often marked by fireworks, homes and buildings decorated with red, white and blue bunting, and community festivals, picnics and cookouts. The national holiday is dedicated to the celebration of freedom, with particular focus on the joys of freedom.
“I was especially mindful this July 4, with the holiday falling on a Sunday, of our religious freedom that has allowed The Wesleyan Church to flourish in the United States,” said General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt. “I do not take lightly the privilege of being able to worship God publicly, as well as the ability to gather socially with friends and family at a time and place of my choosing.”
Religious freedom is a right guaranteed to United States’ citizens since the ratification of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1791. In recent years, concerns have grown due to legislation that, if passed, could negatively impact religious freedom.
Two years ago, religious freedom was listed as a potential risk to The Wesleyan Church by the General Board-appointed Risk Management Committee. The Communication and Administration and the Education and Clergy Development divisions have been monitoring legislative actions since then and maintaining a microsite that contains relevant information and updates for local churches and ministries.
Bills under consideration by the 117th U.S. Congress include two addressing religious freedom:
- The Equality Act, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 17, 2019, 116th Congress, was not acted upon in the U.S. Senate. On February 18, 2021, the Equality Act was reintroduced as H.R. 5, 117th Congress. The bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives a week later, on February 25. The bill has been moved on to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
- The Fairness for All Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on December 6, 2019, 116th Congress, and referred on January 30, 2020, to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. On February 26, 2021, the Fairness for All Act was reintroduced as H.R. 1440, 117th Congress, and referred on April 28, 2021, to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
“TWC leaders in the United States deeply respect the impact religious freedom has on our ministries,” said Schmidt.
“We, as Wesleyans, are collectively encouraged by the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia; there have been other past rulings that were not encouraging.” Schmidt added, “I am grateful for our perseverance regardless of legislative activity in being disciples who make disciples. We are unwavering in our focus while being mindful of ways to proceed, confident in faith and prayer.”
TWC educational institutions, partnering with the Education and Clergy Development Division, have been actively engaged in religious freedom legislation information gathering and strategic planning. Each of the four U.S. schools assist their students through government funding, the availability of which could be significantly affected by changes to existing religious freedom legislation.
“The risk of loss of religious freedoms is one of the greatest threats facing the Church today, particularly as it relates to our educational institutions,” said Risk Management Committee Chair Carl Shepherd. “Potential impacts on our schools include restrictions on mission-based employment decisions, restrictions on certain student conduct policies, undesirable residential housing and campus access requirements, loss of federal financial aid and grants, loss of accreditation, and loss of tax-exempt status. These outcomes could be devastating to the operations, and even the very existence, of those institutions.”
“Christian universities live at the intersection of some of the most powerful cultural, political and spiritual currents sweeping our country today,” said Indiana Wesleyan University President David Wright and vice chair of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Board of Directors. “Some of these pose a serious threat to our existence without the constitutional protections of religious freedom and freedom of assembly.”
“This historical moment requires clarity of purpose and mission, steadfast resolve, and wisdom to pursue good political and economic strategies. But this is also a moment of great promise for our ministry as Christ-centered, biblically faithful university communities. We need the support of our church like never before,” Wright said. “Please pray for us as we seek to serve our students and our world in a time of profound cultural upheaval.”
“I pray daily for Wesleyans around the world that we will continue, regardless of national laws and circumstances, to be disciples dependent on the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to be faithful witnesses,” said Schmidt. “Our spiritual freedom, given us by Jesus Christ our Lord, is a constant source of joy. It is never-ending and never changing. That fact is truly worth celebrating!”
Wayne Schmidt is General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church.
Janelle Vernon is the executive director of Communication and Administration for The Wesleyan Church.