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What a New Report Gets Wrong about Religious Liberty

By Charles Snow posted on:
December 30, 2019

A new report by Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project argues that conservative Christians don’t really care about religious liberty.

The report, entitled “Whose Faith Matters? The Fight for Religious Liberty Beyond the Christian Right,” attempts to convince readers that those on the political and theological left share deep concern for religious liberty. At the same time, the report insists that Christians on the Right are trying to “redefine” religious liberty only to help themselves.

One of the report’s central claims is that conservative Christians only care about religious freedom insofar as it protects their own beliefs.

At The Hill, one of the report’s authors writes that “it offers a sweeping overview of the often-ignored religious liberty activism taking place outside of the conservative movement, including by those whose faith motivates them to assist immigrants, protect the environment, protest capital punishment, provide abortions, and preserve church-state separation.”

The authors assert that some religious freedom advocates pursue policies that protect only a “narrow set of conservative religious beliefs,” that “require … others to forego their own rights,” and that “permit discrimination against religious minorities.” The report’s authors even try to invalidate the reasons why many Alliance Defending Freedom clients bring religious liberty claims in court. In their view, it’s people of faith looking to provide abortions or perform same-sex marriages who deserve religious liberty protection.

But this is not an apt parallel. People who support same-sex marriage and abortion are able to freely live out their beliefs on these matters, and no one is forcing them to speak messages, celebrate events, or engage in actions that conflict with their beliefs.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for people of faith like Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman, who want to live and speak consistently with their Christian view of marriage.

There are two key aspects of many religious liberty cases, like those of Alliance Defending Freedom clients, that this report ignores.

First, people of faith represented by ADF are challenging unjust laws that violate their fundamental First Amendment rights. For example, Minnesota filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen of Telescope Media Group, are challenging a law that threatens them with jail time simply for following their beliefs. Jack Phillips is still being dragged through the court system for living according to his faith. And the state of Washington still seeks to punish Barronelle Stutzman for staying true to her conscience.

Second, upholding the First Amendment freedoms of people like Jack and Barronelle protects everyone who creates speech for a living, not just people who hold Christian beliefs. A government that can compel someone like Jack to violate his conscience and express messages that violate his core beliefs can certainly do the same to a left-leaning person of faith. By advocating for people like Jack, Barronelle, and the Larsens, ADF is not seeking special protections only for people of certain faiths. Far from it. It’s defending the religious freedom of all Americans.

So, whose faith really matters? Everyone’s.

The First Amendment protects religious freedom for people on both the right and the left.

No American should be harassed or threatened by the government for exercising their constitutionally protected First Amendment rights of free speech and religious exercise.

On this point, we should all be able to agree.

Charles Snow

Charles Snow

Contributing Writer

Charles is a Tennessee native and lover of books and basketball.

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