Our View: Religious liberty
Posted: January 18, 2013
It’s not one of Official Washington’s more noticeable observances, but each Jan. 16 the federal government pays official (albeit, these days, understated) homage to America’s tradition of religious liberty, as enshrined in the First Amendment.
There’s a reason this right is celebrated on Jan. 16, and it has purely Virginia roots. It was on this date in 1786 that the General Assembly passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, penned by none other than Thomas Jefferson. “No man,” Mr. Jefferson wrote, “shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever,” but “shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, [his] opinion in matters of religion.”
To his dubious credit, President Obama, when he wasn’t signing executive orders relative to gun control, did take the time recognized this right, this tradition of religious freedom. He did issue a proclamation asking Americans to “remember the legacy of faith and independence we have inherited, and let us honor it by forever upholding our right to exercise our beliefs free from prejudice or persecution.”
If only Mr. Obama himself would adhere to these sentiments. His administration has been something less than hospitable to beliefs deeply held by certain Americans.
Freedom from prejudice? Try selling that to pro-life American institutions — most notably those associated with the Roman Catholic Church — that, under the noxious Health and Human Services mandates, are required to provide for contraception and abortifacients in employees’ health-care plans, or face a stiff fine.
Is that honoring a “legacy of faith and independence”? If it were, more than 100 plaintiffs would not be fighting this mandate in court.
But these are not the only legal battles now being waged on behalf of religious freedom. In fact, one has already been won. A year ago last week, in the matter of Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the doctrine of “ministerial exception” that forbids the government from interfering with the hiring practices of religious entities — in this instance a church firing an employee, a teacher. This was an embarrassing defeat for the Obama Justice Department, which had injected itself into the case.
It can also be argued that through its repudiation of the Defense of Marriage Act and its endorsement of same-sex unions the Obama administration has assumed stances antithetical to the beliefs of millions of devout Americans. These stances, however philosophical in nature, are not without their deleterious side effects. In some locales, religiously oriented social service agencies — most notably, Catholic Charities — have shuttered their adoption services rather than risk government-mandated changes in their policies.
None of this, we feel certain, is what Mr. Jefferson had in mind when he rose to the defense of religious freedom more than 225 years ago.