BLOGThe Weekly Digest: The Continuing Threat to Religious Liberty

By James Arnold Posted on: | August 09, 2017
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The Continuing Threat to Religious Liberty


Over at National Review, Ryan Anderson has a long but worthwhile read about the threats that religious liberty currently faces.

Here are the highlights.

Anderson introduces the current flashpoint of the threats to religious liberty, Jack Phillips:

Two years to the day after the Supreme Court redefined marriage in Obergefell, the Court announced that it would hear a case about the extent to which private parties may be forced to embrace this new vision of marriage. The case involves Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex-wedding reception.

There was nothing remarkable about Phillips’s decision. With every cake he designs, Jack believes he is serving Christ. He had previously turned down requests to create Halloween-themed cakes, lewd bachelor-party cakes, and a cake celebrating a divorce. Yet Jack was never reprimanded over those decisions. He found himself in hot water only with the same-sex-wedding cake.

This, Anderson argues, is the culmination of many other religious liberty cases, including the Obamacare HHS mandate that attempted to force Catholic nuns to provide insurance covering abortifacients and birth control. The list continues:

The HHS mandate garnered the most headlines, but it’s far from the only flashpoint. In several jurisdictions, Catholic Charities and other faith-based adoption agencies have been forced to abandon their invaluable work simply because they want to place needy children only in homes with married moms and dads. The government calls that discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Add to this religious schools with traditional views on marriage that stand to lose accreditation and nonprofit tax status. Also add doctors who "refuse to remove a healthy and harmless uterus" and therefore stand to be prosecuted for "discrimination based on gender identity," despite the fact that the doctors believe (rightly) that their purpose is to heal, not cause harm.

Anderson continues at length about the history of these issues, and the entire piece is worth your time. But let's just point out one particularly noteworthy fact. When President Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, the ACLU was one of its chief supporters. Anderson points to what Nadine Strossen, then president of the ACLU's national board of directors, had to say:

Strossen explained that “in order for government to infringe on a liberty, including religious liberty, it has to show some compelling interest, and it has to show that the measure is narrowly tailored so as to do as little damage as possible.” She embraced this legal standard, identifying it as “strict scrutiny” and saying it was “hardly a radical approach.” She even stated that RFRA was needed to protect “such familiar practices” as “permitting religiously sponsored hospitals to decline to provide abortion or contraception services” and ensuring “the inapplicability of highly intrusive educational rules to parochial schools.” She concluded that “these were decisions . . . that society had previously assumed that religious groups had the right to make for themselves and could not be compelled to change just because society thought otherwise.”

That defense of religious freedom is at odds with much of what the ACLU currently contends for, including when they fought to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortions and sex-reassignment surgeries.

The bottom line is this: There are many threats to religious liberty these days. The issue used to be something that garnered bipartisan support. When cultural orthodoxy shifted in favor of same-sex marriage and abortion, and against religious beliefs that have been and are held by billions of people, suddenly religious freedom is less popular.

But a society that only protects the popular is one that doesn't allow for disagreement or tolerance of any sort. As Anderson says near the end of his piece, you are free to try to convince Jack that he should bake the cake, or that he should support same-sex marriage. But the government should not be able to force him to do either.

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James Arnold

News and Research Manager

James Arnold manages and edits the Alliance Alert, a daily repository of news in all forms—written, spoken, or in video format.

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