I know a man (Matt Barber) who was fired from a job with a Fortune 500 company a few years ago because on his own time, on his own computer, at his own home, he posted a blog expressing his own opinion, opposing same sex marriage. He was confronted by his boss at the office and asked if he was the same Matt Barber as on the blog. He was.

Those were his opinions, although they were not politically correct, and for expressing them, he was canned from the Fortune 500 company.

Thankfully, today, he works as an attorney fighting for religious liberties with the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel.

Liberty Counsel has now defended someone else, who got in trouble for expressing his own opinion, on his own time, with his own computer.

Last year’s “Teacher of the Year” at Mount Dora High School in central Florida (Jerry Buell) was suspended as a teacher because on his Facebook page, he expressed his disapproval of New York’s adoption of same-sex marriage.

Buell has for 22 years had a spotless record. But Chris Patton of Lake County Schools said, “We took the allegations seriously.”

Apparently, the allegations are that Buell is unfit to serve as a teacher in that he doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage about which he says (correctly), that it contradicts what the Bible says about marriage. Patton went on to say, “All teachers are bound by a code of special ethics (and) this is a code ethics violation investigation.”

Buell was amazed at the charges, “It was my own personal comment on my own personal time on my own personal computer in my own personal house, exercising what I believed as a social studies teacher to be my First Amendment rights.”

I guess the First Amendment only applies these days to expressing politically correct opinions. Especially on an issue like same-sex marriage.

Remember Miss California in 2009?

Carrie Prejean appeared on her way to possibly winning the Miss USA pageant, until she made the fateful mistake of expressing a politically incorrect view on same-sex marriage.

When asked her views on same-sex marriage, she replied: “Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And, you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.”

For that, it would appear she lost out on any chance of winning.

The moral of the story?

If your opinion is politically incorrect—especially on an issue like same-sex marriage—you’re best off keeping it to yourself. So much for the sacred right of conscience. But this is America, and the sacred right of conscience is…well, just that, sacred.

Thomas Jefferson declared, “Almighty God has created the mind free.” Any attempt to force people into opinions they don’t share is wrong. Especially in America. Not that we’ve always gotten it right. But the ideal is great, and we seem to be losing that in our time.

The settlers of this country and the founders highly valued the sacred right of conscience. British North America was first settled by Christian dissidents seeking to worship Christ according to the dictates of conscience.

Dissident Puritan leader, Rev. Roger Williams, who out-Puritaned the Puritans in his goal to be a purist, founded Rhode Island on the premise that it would be a haven for people with various opinions: “I desired . . . it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience.”

Williams stated, “the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is most evidently and lamentably contrary to the doctrine of Christ Jesus the Prince of Peace.”

In 1648, in their document, “The American Church Manual,” the Puritans wrote, “God alone is Lord of the conscience.”

In 1701, when William Penn founded the colony named in honor of his father (Pennsylvania), he declared in the charter, “Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience,” therefore, the right of conscience was to be protected.

It’s still protected. You don’t see the Amish being drafted into our military.

In 1776, when Pennsylvania became a state, they stated in A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH OR STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, that “no authority” was in any way to interfere with “the right of conscience in the free exercise of religious worship.”

Examples like this from our history abound.

Perhaps some of the greatest affirmations of the sacred right of conscience come from George Washington himself. In 1789, President Washington said to a group representing the United Baptist Churches of Virginia: “if I could now conceive that the general Government might ever be so administered as to render liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.…”

Why? Because Washington believed “that any man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

George Washington and other founders said we must never violate the sacred right of conscience—certainly not for merely holding and stating unpopular opinions.

Thankfully, a positive outcome took place in Florida on the case of the Teacher of the Year on the very day of this writing. He prevailed, as did common sense. But why did he go through the whole ordeal in the first place?

 

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Categories: 2011 Columns

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