Destroying Religious Freedom to Save It
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published July 5, 2015 by The Washington Times.
Even before the U.S. Supreme Court announced the previously unknown constitutional “right” to impose same-sex “marriage” on all 50 states, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was readying its next volley.
For two decades, the ACLU has cited the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a defense of religious liberty in various worthy and some not-so-worthy cases. No more.
The ACLU has decided that the unalienable right to religious freedom embodied in the First Amendment must give way to newly coined claims by newly empowered groups.
In a Washington Post column, ACLU Deputy Director Louise Melling called on Congress to make RFRA essentially toothless. Of course, that’s not the way she put. Here’s her signature sentence: “It’s time for Congress to amend the RFRA so that it cannot be used as a defense for discrimination. Religious freedom will be undermined only if we continue to tolerate and enable abuses in its name.”
As with the proverbial village in Vietnam, we apparently have to destroy religious freedom in order to save it. As a prime example of “abuses,” Ms. Melling cited the Supreme Court’s decision last year in favor of Hobby Lobby’s refusal to provide employees coverage for abortifacients, which she described misleadingly as “contraception.” She warned that this sort of liberty could proliferate:
“Religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations such as universities are taking the argument further,” she wrote. “They invoke the RFRA to argue not only that they should not have to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, but also that they should not even have to notify the government that they refuse to do so.”
Can’t have that. The ACLU seems more concerned than ever that conservative religious people might retain some rights of conscience in the face of ever-increasing demands. Its website sports a “Using Religion to Discriminate” page that bemoans all sorts of religious freedom claims.
New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer, writing in Time magazine, cuts right to the chase. In his June 28 piece, “Now’s the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions,” he argues, “Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.”
Like many on the left, Mr. Oppenheimer sees religious tax exemptions not as a recognition that the state has no authority over churches and church property, which belong to another kingdom entirely, but as a favor that the state has extended. Viewed that way, it’s not a stretch to have the government assert taxing power over ecclesiastical property.
As for “settled public policy,” he means that the high court’s ruling is final, something that those on the left never accept when they lose. For example, the ACLU and others stepped up their legal attacks on the Boy Scouts after the Supreme Court in 2000 upheld the group’s right to enforce their moral standards. Whenever the pendulum swings left, we’re told the law is “settled.” If it swings right, well, that’s just a provocation to do more.
In the coming days, conservative religious business owners, academic institutions and any individual who will not genuflect before the left’s version of reality will face subtle and outright discrimination. The furor in Indiana over the legislature’s enactment of a state RFRA last March was only a taste of the kind of hysteria that the left and its media enablers will gin up over any resistance to the latest demands.
Not missing a beat, atheist activist Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has uncorked yet another call for the Pentagon to weed out conservative Christians. In a Daily Kos posting, he wrote that chaplains who teach biblical marriage “don’t belong in the military. At this stage, the only honorable thing that these losers can do is to fold up their uniforms, turn in their papers, and get the hell out of the American military chaplaincy. If they are unwilling or too cowardly to do so, then the Department of Defense must expeditiously cleanse itself of the intolerant filth that insists on lingering in the ranks of our armed forces.”
Given that this is what passes for tolerance, it’s not surprising that the ACLU and others on the left want to render meaningless the free exercise of religion guarantee of the First Amendment and any federal and state laws that fortify religious freedom.
Deploying the language of inevitability, such as “being on the wrong side of history,” they seek to persuade the vast majority of Americans that resistance is futile.
Are they right? The answer will depend on a vigorous, renewed fight for liberty in the land of the free and the home of the brave.