On Monday, an Orthodox Jewish man was beaten at a Brooklyn, New York subway station while the assailants hurled anti-Semitic insults at him. A 15-year-old boy, part of a trio who allegedly attacked the man, was in police custody Wednesday morning, and charged with a hate crime. A witness, who was also attacked after intervening, confirmed that the boy screamed 'dirty bloody Jew' as he beat the 53-year-old Israeli tourist.
Last week, an upstate New York couple was fined $10,000 following their decision not to host the wedding of a lesbian couple on the property they live and work on. Unbeknownst to Liberty Ridge Farm owner Cynthia Gifford, the couple recorded their three minute conversation, and then filed a complaint with the state Division of Human Rights after being informed that same-sex weddings were not hosted at the farm. The state also demanded that the Giffords pay each woman $1,500 for mental anguish.
At the end of last month, national outrage was sparked after a subpoena was given to Houston, Texas area pastors demanding that they turn over all communications and sermon notes discussing homosexuality. Just a few days before 'I Stand Sunday' on Nov. 2, an event where thousands converged on Houston to support the pastors, Mayor Annise Parker - the city's first openly homosexual mayor - had the subpoenas withdrawn.
As cases like these increase and are brought to light, the fate of religious freedom in America for certain religions is unknown - specifically Christianity and Judaism. While American citizens are guaranteed religious freedom through the First Amendment, this freedom is slipping away as Christian persecution and anti-Semitism swells.
And while Americans are promised this freedom without interference from the government, verbal or physical attacks carried out by other Americans - and in the case in Brooklyn, a teen boy - increases the level of fear for those whose religious freedom is being threatened and diminished.
"This is scary,'' said Gifford, who opened up her family farm to the public in 1999. "It's scary for all Americans."
In recent months, former Sen. Rick Santorum has been urging Americans to push back against this stripping of religious liberties in the U.S. In 'One Generation Away,' a documentary he coproduced, the escalation of Christian persecution in the U.S. is brought to light through interviews with politicians, business owners, experts on religious liberty, and individuals with opposing views.
The documentary covers recent accounts of battles over religious freedom, including Hobby Lobby's fight to provide healthcare benefits that agree with the owner's Christian beliefs, the ACLU filed suit against a Gresham, Ore. baker who chose not to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, and the potential removal of the well-known cross at Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, Calif.
As the government continues to step in and make arbitrary rulings, a clear message of intolerance is sent - not only to Americans - but to a watching world. By targeting specific religious groups, the government itself is cultivating a spirit of hatred toward those practicing the religions it openly and freely regulates.
"We've gone from tolerance to compulsion,'' the Giffords' lawyer, James Trainor, told the New York Post. But for Christians in the U.S., increasing levels of persecution - with the potential to lose one's livelihood - should not be a surprise nor should it cause a loss of hope. As John 15:18 says, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you."
In his blog post on Monday, John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., said that Christians know persecution is coming, but they can rest in the truth that Christ is their advocate, and has experienced the ultimate persecution.
"Because of the immense value of having confidence in your salvation, you're willing to suffer the pains and hardships of persecution," he wrote. "You don't try to escape it; you accept it as the Lord's preordained proving ground for your faith."
While believers experience different levels of persecution, MacArthur wrote, all will know what it means to suffer for the sake of the Lord. Believers can be comforted in knowing that God uses persecution to build their spiritual strength.
"Many believers feel the pressure to keep silent about the Lord and His Word, often with the threat of losing their position in an organization or some other social structure. All Christians face those kinds of persecution at one time or another," he wrote.
God is not surprised when Christians suffer, and persecution isn't an indication that he is not in control of His own divine plan, MacArthur wrote, quoting James 1:12, "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
While the U.S. government continues to send a message of intolerance for religious freedom, and subsequently encourages citizen-on-citizen attacks toward those of a religious group whose beliefs it does not agree with, Christians can take up the full armor of God knowing that He will continue to strengthen them to face such persecution.
"Whatever the degree of persecution you might face, how you respond is dictated by your perspective. If you can't see beyond your own suffering and fear, persecution will be a hindrance to your spiritual growth and usefulness," MacArthur wrote, "But if you view persecution from heaven's perspective, you'll be able to endure, and even thrive in the midst of it."
And a right perspective of heaven is one thing that no government can take away.