On December 5, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shared some powerful words on the importance of religious freedom. In his speech, he passionately defended the religious freedom of all Americans and criticized those seeking to restrain it to a shadow of what the Founders intended it to be.
“Religious freedom in America has never meant, and will never mean, solely the freedom to worship privately,” said McConnell. “It has never meant, and will never mean, the ability to practice only a subset of faiths acceptable to some subset of politicians.”
But today, it seems like many politicians are forgetting the importance of this First-Amendment freedom.
For example, appointing federal judges used to be a relatively short procedure that occurred without much debate or controversy. But in recent years, some politicians have decided that judicial appointees must demonstrate that they are sufficiently irreligious to qualify for these positions. In McConnell’s words, these politicians “take the No Religious Test Clause and the First Amendment and throw them right out the window.”
McConnell highlighted some particularly egregious examples of this, including a district judge in Nebraska who was aggressively questioned during his confirmation hearing—all because of his Catholic faith. He was even attacked for being “a member of the mainstream, worldwide Catholic group, the Knights of Columbus.” McConnell recounted in his speech that “in written questions, one senator called standard Catholic teachings ‘extreme positions’ and asked if he’d dial down his personal faith if confirmed.”
This is not how government officials should conduct themselves. Far from it. In fact, our nation was founded on the principle of religious freedom.
As McConnell highlighted in his speech, “James Madison wrote that religion ‘must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man, and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.’”
Similarly, in the summer that Americans declared their independence in 1776, Samuel Adams said America would be “the last asylum” for “freedom of thought and the right of private judgment.”
America was uniquely founded on the principle of religious freedom, and our Founders took great care to guarantee that people of various religions could all live according to their conscience. In light of the views of our Founders, McConnell said the meaning of religious freedom in America is perfectly clear.
“It means the right to live your life according to the dictates of your faith and conscience—free from government coercion.”