Becoming one of the greatest science fiction thrillers of all time, The Matrix exploded on the screen in 1999 and brought to wide knowledge the dystopian world where reality was not quite what it appeared to be. The antagonist in the film was called Mr. Smith.
Agent Smith to be exact.
No matter where you turned in that world, Mr. Smith could be lurking. A police officer?
Say hello to Mr. Smith.
In a dark alley?
There was no escaping him and he could not be defeated. The protagonist was told early in the film:
“A little piece of advice…you see an agent (Smith) you do what we do- Run!”This reminded me of another Smith. A Smith just as devastating in its world as the famous agent. I am talking about the free exercise of religion and a largely forgotten Supreme Court case called Employment Division v Smith. This was a case way back in 1990 in which some people demanded the right to smoke dope.
What? How so?
Previously, they had acknowledged that this First Amendment freedom deserved heightened protection (like the rest of the Bill of Rights). The Government could not violate it unless it could show it had a “compelling reason that was narrowly tailored” or in other words they had better have a darn good reason for violating this essential right and had better do it in the least restrictive way possible.
In reaching this decision, they said that a law that was generally applicable to the population (like drug laws) did not have to meet this exacting standard.
Agent Smith was born.
Since then, if someone claimed a violation of their Constitutional right to the free exercise of religion they would have to face Agent Smith and their chances of success were about as likely as the average rebel in The Matrix.
What about cases like Burwell v Hobby Lobby, you might ask? The government tried to mandate that they had to pay for abortifacients but Hobby Lobby claimed a violation of their religious freedom and won.
Hobby Lobby did not argue a “free exercise” case however. They knew they could not defeat Smith. No, they argued based on a violation of a law Congress had passed. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
This is what lawyers have had to resort to in order to gain success when religious freedom is violated. Because they cannot defeat “Agent Smith” they have been forced to try arguing based on other things. They have tried the freedom of speech but have failed as it really does not apply.
Lawyers, though, have had success arguing based on a law passed by the people’s representatives either in Congress or State Houses. The federal RFRA, state RFRAs, employment laws, the 1964 Civil Rights Act etc.
If religious freedom is still maintained, then what is the problem?
The problem is that religious freedom is now only maintained if a majority of people choose to allow it.
If a majority chooses not to, then they will sooner or later direct their representatives to remove protection.
When the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, it was to protect minorities from abuse by majorities. It represented basic fundamental rights that all people should have whether they were in the majority or not. With the Supreme Court effectively removing religious freedom from this protection, by placing the indefatigable Agent Smith before it, believers are placed at the mercy of the general population.
How would believers gain security in their lives if a majority of the American population were to turn against them?They can't.In The Matrix, the only way Agent Smith could be defeated was by someone referred to as “The One”. Someone who was prophesied, someone who would die but be miraculously raised to life, someone who was beyond the Matrix. someone new- as it says in the Greek, Neos.
Unless a majority of Americans choose to support religious freedom, unless Jesus the Christ is revived in the American heart, then Mr. Smith and his hordes will never be defeated.
As Morpheus explained in the Matrix:
"At first, all they wanted was to be treated as equals, entitled to the same human inalienable rights. Whatever they were given, it was not enough...all they needed to control...was something to occupy our mind."
Until American hearts and minds are released, there will be no sure footing for religious adherents.
Come quickly, long ago prophesied one. America needs You.