Why religious liberty matters to the black church

Created by 2017 BJC Fellow Corey Mitchell, this two-sided resource examines the term religious liberty and how the struggle for freedom and justice is tied to the fight for religious liberty. 

The back page includes quotes on the topic from a variety of leaders. 

Click here to view this guide as a printable PDF. Click here to see more resources on the BJC.

What is religious liberty?

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) defines religious liberty as our God-given right to choose how, when, where and if we worship. It is the freedom of the individual conscience to choose to worship God, or not, according to the dictates of one’s heart and mind. Religious liberty enables one to embrace biblical truth freely (or one’s sacred scripture or no scripture). For American citizens, it is also a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.


What does the Constitution say about religious liberty?

The First Amendment provides two clauses with safeguards for religious liberty. The first 16 words state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”


What does “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” mean?

This is known as the Establishment Clause, and it prevents the federal government from establishing a national religion or state-controlled church. It also prevents the government from advancing, privileging or funding religion.


What about “prohibiting the free exercise thereof”?

This is known as the Free Exercise Clause, and it keeps the government from unnecessarily interfering with religious practices.


Why is this important to the black church?

The black church has always struggled for its freedom in the U.S. This struggle is our heritage; it is in our DNA. Since the days of slavery, African-Americans have fought to worship God freely: first in secret and then through small plantation churches under the master’s watch. Our struggle for religious liberty is connected to our struggle for freedom and justice in America. Since we historically have experienced this injustice, it is important for us to fight for the religious freedom of all Americans and faith traditions.


How can the black church help support the cause of religious liberty in America?

Religious liberty is a civil rights issue — its moral basis is the recognition that freedom of conscience is fundamental to human dignity. The black church should continue in the tradition of advocating for “the least of these,” which also should include those whose religious freedoms are being compromised.

A threat to anyone’s religious liberty is a threat to everyone’s religious liberty.


How can my church support the cause for religious liberty in America and stay informed?

• Invite the BJC to speak to your congregation about religious liberty issues. Email us at [email protected]
• Help the BJC educate young people about religious liberty by asking your church to support the BJC’s ministry through its mission budget.
• Subscribe to the BJC’s bi-monthly magazine, Report From the Capital.