Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Above the Law?

There’s been a lot of discussion concerning freedom of religion recently. To mention a few things, there is the Obama Care issue in which Christians may be forced to purchase insurance that pays for abortions. Then there is the New York schools trying to prevent churches from using their facilities when they are not otherwise used, but allowing other organizations to meet. Most recently, I heard about a couple in Orange County California fined for holding a Bible study in their home.

With the first two, it is clear were Christians ought to be standing. The government should not be forcing people to purchase something that violates their beliefs, nor should it exclude a group from meeting just because it is religious. But what about the last one? It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? What right does the government have to tell people they can’t have a Bible study in their own home? And that’s the way people on Facebook were looking at it. They seemed to think this was a violation of freedom of religion.

But let’s back up and look at this again. The images you get when you think of a home Bible study are those of a few friends sitting around a table with Bibles in front of them. That’s not what is happening. Instead, there are around fifty people gathering in the home twice a week. The city says that is a church and if they intend to use a home in a residential neighborhood for that purpose they must pay for a parking and environmental impact study, as well as equip the home for handicap access.

Home Bible study? Church? It really is a matter of semantics. Every denomination has their own way of defining what a church is. These folks are Catholic, so even though they are holding a worship service with fifty people twice a week, they aren’t likely to call it a church because it doesn’t involve a priest and all the other stuff they expect in a church. The city, however, sees an assembly of fifty people, many of whom are parking in front of the neighbors’ houses and they see a potential safety issue.

Here’s the thing. The government should not put undue restrictions on religious activities. At the same time, churches should not feel that they are exempt from the law just because they are religious. It isn’t good enough for someone to tell the government they have nothing to be concerned about because they are putting parking cones out in front of houses where the residents don’t want people parking. Studies have to be done to determine the impact. Rather than causing a stink about such things, we Christians should be an example for doing what’s right. We should not be trying to exempt ourselves from laws meant to protect us and those around us.