The Right to Say What You Believe

I recently found myself in full agreement with a tweet posted by Rep. Ilhan Omar. That has not happened very often, but this time I think the Democratic congresswoman spoke important truth. It all started with a post on X (formerly Twitter) by Lizzie Marbach, a Republican political activist from Ohio. Marbach wrote, “There’s no hope for any of us outside of having faith in Jesus Christ alone.”

Her statement received much more attention when it was retweeted by Republican congressman, Max Miller. However, Miller, a practicing Jew, found the post offensive. He wrote, “This is one of the most bigoted tweets I have ever seen. Delete, it, Lizzie. Religious freedom in the United States applies to every religion. You have gone too far.”

As angry comments accumulated under both posts, Rep. Omar decided to enter the fray. Rebuking her fellow member of Congress, she wrote, “No! Stating the core beliefs or principles of your faith isn’t bigoted. It’s religious freedom and no one should be scolded for that. It’s also wrong to speak about religious freedom while simultaneously harassing people who freely express their beliefs.” Within minutes, one of Omar’s followers pushed back, suggesting that Marbach’s initial tweet might have crossed the line by claiming there is no hope outside of Christianity. Omar immediately responded, explaining to her nearly three million followers, “That’s her actual belief. You can disagree, but it is not bigoted for her to say what her beliefs are.” Rep. Miller then issued a somewhat ambiguous apology for his response to what Marbach had said.

Now, as a Christian, I am in complete agreement with the substance of Lizzie Marbach’s remarks. The Bible indeed teaches (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) that there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ. That is an important Christian teaching. I realize that Rep. Omar does not share that belief. As a Muslim, she has a very different understanding of Jesus and salvation than Marbach or I have. What the congresswoman and I do share is a conviction that people should be able express their religious beliefs without being labeled as “bigots.” The United States Constitution’s guarantee of the “free exercise of religion” applies not just to private religious practices, but also to public religious speech. Now, there are certainly limits as to when or where religious or any other type of speech is appropriate, yet our nation’s tradition of religious liberty insists that people’s beliefs should be respected.

Rep. Miller is clearly mistaken when he implies that disagreeing with a belief is the same as disrespecting it. No one’s beliefs, religious or otherwise, should be immune from questions, challenges, and disagreement. Miller has the right to say Christianity is wrong when it claims salvation is found exclusively in Jesus. Marbach has the right to say Judaism is wrong to reject Jesus as Messiah. Omar has the right to say both Christianity and Judaism are wrong to deny that Muhammad is the true prophet of God. Within the American tradition, the goal has been that religious, political, and other beliefs could be discussed and debated in a reasonable and civil manner. In that context, the hope is that “the marketplace of ideas” will allow people to better discern what is true. As a Christian, I believe God wants us to seek and discover the truth.

Attempting to shout down or “cancel” voices with whom we disagree has become quite common in our current culture. I welcome Rep. Omar’s expressed support of the “free exercise of religion.” I hope that others, of various religious and political persuasions, will join in supporting this most important constitutional right.
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Pastor Dan Erickson