In ancient Rome, every man was required to worship the emperor by placing a pinch of incense on the fire burning upon his altar. If he refused, he lost his life. Is Congress ready to pass a law requiring religious compliance with modern Caesar's social aims and enforced by loss of tax-exemption? President Reagan's proposed bill, which would tax the religious practice of many, seems to do just that. It would make Congress the judge of what is acceptable religious belief. Religion that affirms allegiance to the social gospel of civil rights (and when the time is "right," women's rights, homosexuals' rights, etc.) would become America's national religion. Upon all other religion it would exact a penalty.

It all began so well. The Reagan administration should be cheered, not cursed, for its Jan. 8 decision restraining the IRS from further playing the tyrant. Every American who loves his freedom of religion breathed more easily when the Justice Department announced on that day restoration of tax-exemption to Bob Jones University. That action righted a wrong that had existed for 11 years. Eleven years is an eternity for a beleaguered, independent Christian institution of limited resources that accepts no federal funds and exists only to help young people live lives that honor Jesus Christ. A nation that is founded on "justice for all" should applaud Reagan's decisiveness, which ended a grave injustice.

Bob Jones University's religious convictions are not on trial. Whether they are right or wrong, biblical or unbiblical, held by a majority or a minority of Christians, is immaterial. The fundamental point at issue is freedom--freedom to exercise a sincere religious faith without taxation because an agency disagrees with your beliefs.

Of far more significance than BJU's personal struggle is the nightmarish possibility that a bill spawned by headline-grabbing extremists might pass in Congress without significant alteration providing for specific and strongly worded protections for religious freedom. Prayerful Americans must ask their national legislators to resist all efforts that would pressure them into hasty passage of a bill that reeks of hysteria.

No social issue is worth delivering this nation into the place where religious belief is subordinate to government censorship. Should that occur, those who strongly disagree with BJU's beliefs have as much to lose as we do--the right to practice their faith without having it put through the sieve of government acceptance. Who is to say what belief will be attacked next by a special law? Religion by its very nature presupposes a certain discrimination. Black Muslim religion is primarily for black people. Orthodox Jews require men and women to sit on opposite sides of the temple. Catholics deny women seminary admission. Are those people and others, such as the Mormons, going to let Congress legislate a state religion by taxation of offensive beliefs? I pray not. I think not.

The BJU case, which was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, was not about discrimination or segregation. It was a religious case. BJU has a racially integrated student body and educates its students without discrimination. Notwithstanding, BJU was met head on by the IRS tax "club." The IRS was acting illegally. Now Congress is about to act unconstitutionally by making a law respecting an establishment of religion.

I am optimistic about Americans. Most of them love freedom too much and are too independent to allow the outburst of radical hysteria--which brought the White House to the frenzied production of an ill-advised bill--to rule their will, paralyze their pens and enslave their churches. They must let their U.S. representatives know that this proposed legislation is intolerable without major alteration.

The people of America who mandated Ronald Reagan into office, believing his promise that he would get government off their backs, are betrayed by his legislation. He has listened to the voice of his enemies. Now his friends must plead with him and with Congress not to place worse oppression on them through legislation that is overtly hostile to religious rights.

The present bill would make enforcement of taxation retroactive to July 9, 1970, the exact date the IRS began discriminating against BJU. Why is Congress being asked to take dead aim on this religious, non-federally funded institution? Do they want to make this institution an extinct species? America's laws take better care of birds, animals and fish. Is protection from discrimination for blacks only? Are BJU's beliefs to be declared illegal while Congress grants tax-exemptions and federal funding to abortion clinics that murder babies every day? What kind of perverted sense of values and morality do we have up there?

Our confidence is in the Lord Jesus Christ, the high King of heaven, Who holds the hearts of rulers in His omnipotent hand. And His sovereignty is able to turn congressional hearts to our deliverance and to that of the nation.