Overture 11-04
On Clarifying the Position of the PC(USA) Regarding Appropriate Boundaries of Religious Liberty—
Overture Advocate Statement
Daniel Williams

I grew up in the Presbyterian Church – baptized, confirmed, ordained as a ruling elder. Like a lot of cradle Presbyterians, I’ve had a lot of Sunday School teachers and pastors and confirmation teachers tell me through the years about how deeply intertwined the history of Presbyterianism is with the history of American ideals of freedom, liberty, and democracy. I remember the pride my Sunday School teacher showed when he told us that the British called the Revolution the “Presbyterian Rebellion.”

Presbyterians have a long history of advocating for religious freedom. Our first historic principle of church order, that God alone can claim sovereignty over our consciences, expresses the conviction that state power should only be involved in religious practice as far as is “necessary for protection and security” and only such that it’s “equal and common to all.” (F-3.0101b) When the United Nations promulgated the “Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief,” which includes language that explicitly links religious freedom to social justice and the undoing of ideologies of colonization and names the reality that religious freedom does not extend to the point that it violates the rights and freedoms of others, the General Assembly applauded.

Presbyterians have long understood that religious freedom is a sibling to nondiscrimination and have long called for cultures and policies of nondiscrimination in society. I’m teaching confirmation this fall and I’m excited to teach my youth – youth of color, young women, LGBTQ+ youth, youth with friends and family as diverse as God’s own family – about the Presbyterian Church’s long and beautiful history of advocating for justice and liberty and nondiscrimination. But I’m even more excited about the possibility that I will get to tell them that the Church is continuing to speak the truth, loudly and boldly, that religious freedom and discrimination can never be the same thing.

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