A Supreme Court case over an Arizona town's discriminatory treatment of church signs serves as a reminder of the inseparability of First Amendment free speech and religious exercise.
In an effort to cabin the influence of faith values in the public square and to force compliance with faith-violating government policies and ideologies, some have suggested that the First Amendment merely protects the right to privately hold beliefs about God or to pray.
That would be a meaningless protection. Even the most oppressive government cannot possibly regulate our private thoughts or prayer; it can only regulate the expression and the exercise of our beliefs through public speech and actions.That's why the First Amendment provides that government may not prohibit the free exercise of faith, whether in speech or in actions. Public policy advocates of all stripes do well to remember that if the government can restrict, coerce and punish one group or viewpoint today, it can restrict, coerce and punish the opposite tomorrow.
As an imprisoned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."