I wrote below about the battle that recently occurred in Kentucky over religious liberties, and about how responses typically line up; the fears of marginalizing the irreligious with public displays of religious sentiment, and the fears of the religious that their rights are being suppressed.
In such discussion it often comes down to what are essentially political considerations; that is what our political laws and rights allow us to do. Because our religious liberties spring primarily from a very simple constitutional structure, that is, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", ideas about it are many and varied. A good part of the court's time has been devoted to settling the issue, with little success over these last two hundred years.
In discussions about religious liberties, I tend to take a slightly different approach to the issue, which is often confusing to some. I think the political left in our country has succeeded in making the issue primarily a political one; and as much as they have, they have succeeded in limiting religious expression in the public venue. I don't think it is primarily a political issue, but a sociological one. Now up front I will admit both the political and sociological sciences are difficult frameworks by which to conduct discussions, both of them being 'soft sciences', that is studies that can't be readily conducted with in the confines of the lab (which would be expected, as they both concern human choices and the ways our societies interact; one can't exactly haul 21st century America into a lab on campus, can one?) and which don't lend themselves to readily available quantification.
Nonetheless they are important frameworks by which to consider issues in our society, albeit radically different ones. Politics concerns itself primarily with the distribution of power and methods by which decisions are made in our society; in short, who wins, and who loses; or more properly, as Laswell put it, "who gets what, when, where, and how". Sociology though concerns itself with our social lives; with the behavior of humans as they interact with each other, the formation of relationships and communities. They are related, but take different approaches.
I think in the early part of the 21st century, evangelicals have allowed themselves to become defined in our society politically. I think this has happened because they have followed the secular left's lead in dealing with our societies ills; we have approached them politically. Whether we are talking abortion, or gay rights, or public expression of prayer, both the secular left and the religious right have battled within political institutions for power. By in large, the left has won in this arena; and the reason they have is because political solutions are really about acquisitions of power, and ultimately (despite popular perception) believers in Christ aren't by and large concerned about acquiring secular power.
We are (or should be) concerned however with the sociology of our country; that is, they way humans interact and relate to one another. It is quite obviously a primary concern of our Creator, who established both societies (like Israel) and the means by which they would live, as well as commissioning communities (the Church) and structure with which they would relate. Obviously Jesus was concerned with human interaction and behavior, as exemplified in the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Good Samaritan . Our country springs in large part from the influence of such early believing communities.
Now I don't mean to say we should ignore politics all together; I think it is very important for us as good citizens to be informed and involved in our political processes. Indeed, I have spent a number of years doing just that. That involvement has allowed me to see first hand the danger; the danger of becoming political beings, seen primarily through the lens of a set of political issues. As much this is so, I think we lose influence in our society. We may stop gay marriage until the next election, but we will also be seen primarily as the political group that must lose power because they oppose gay marriage.
And that brings us back to the Kentucky revolt. I think that action came closer to what we need to be doing with a sociological rather than political approach. Rather than continue to fight the issue through the courts, the students just lived the way their community always had; they prayed. They didn't say, "this is our right", they just prayed, saying in effect, this is who we are; this is how we live, this makes our community what it is, and they acted accordingly. I think Christians on the whole could learn much from this; we need to stop trying to seek to have rights or political power granted to us, and start living according to the faith that we say we have. We pray, we celebrate God, we love our neighbor, we oppose what is evil; this is who we are, this is the way we interact – you can vote us out of office, but you cannot diminish us or the way we live in this society.