The importance of religious freedom

Like Jerry Risser who recently wrote about the hysteria surrounding the passage and signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, I am a Hoosier, having lived almost all of my life in Indiana. I agree with his concern about the unexpected hysteria involved in the passage of this legislation and I agree that we who follow Jesus Christ need to be calm and caring in our communication with everyone.

However, I do think that religious liberty is an issue that we should take a stand on. Back when Charles Colson, Robert George and Timothy George drafted the Manhattan Declaration in 2009 they chose religious liberty along with the sanctity of life and the integrity of marriage as one of he three most pressing moral issues that Christians need to take a stand on, they were questioned about why they chose to include religious liberty. Timothy George has presented reasons for this choice in an article in First Things, titled “Let Religious Freedom Ring”.

We live in a world in which religious freedom is not a given. It is something that we need to stand up for. When radical Islamists terrorize and kill Jews, Christians and those in other Islamic groups who will not renounce what they believe we need to stand up to them. When a church in Ukraine is burned we need to do something. Even in the US where religious freedom is one of the founding principles of our government, there is a move toward limiting religious freedom. In bioethics we see it in OB-GYN physicians being required to refer for abortions against their beliefs, pharmacists being required to fill prescriptions for types of contraception the believe are wrong, and private businesses and church related organizations being required by law to provide insurance coverage for things they believe to be wrong. The underlying principle in all of these cases is the same. People should be free to live according to their faith without being coerced to do things that violate their deeply held moral convictions.

Hysteria surrounding the recently passed Indiana law centers on the fact that, even thought the law is similar to the federal law and the laws of 19 other states, it was passed after the advocates of same sex marriage had used the courts in other states to attempt to coerce individuals who did business as florists and photographers to participate in same sex wedding ceremonies that they had declined to participate in because of their religious convictions. As Jerry noted the people of Indiana tend not to be the first to do anything. After the federal RFRA was passed no need was seen to pass a similar state law, but as the number of situations increased in which people were being coerced by law or by the courts to do things against their religious convictions the need for such a state law was seen and the law was passed. Those who wish to convert negative rights into positive rights and to have the ability to coerce others to do what they want them to do in spite of their religious objections have reacted vehemently. I hope that people will be able to see that upholding the fundamental principle of religious freedom is something that still should be important in our nation.

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Jon Holmlund
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Jon Holmlund

Agreed–and I note that First Things editor R.R. Reno used Jerry’s term “hysteria” in a post on that journal’s website yesterday. The question is where will this end. The progressive agenda has become pretty darn absolutist–see for example Ross Douthat’s NY Times column (“Questions for Indiana’s Critics,” March 30). Regarding more narrowly bioethical issues, it’s not immediately clear that the current flap will change things much. Although I’m not competent in matters of law it’s hard to imagine a big effect on the Hobby Lobby outcome, for example, or on physicians’ conscience rights when it comes to performing abortions, to… Read more »

Mark McQuain
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Mark McQuain

I think the logical answers to Douthat’s seven questions by those opposed to the Indiana RFRA would be “obviously yes”. I am not as optimistic as Steve Phillips that “people will be able to see that upholding the fundamental principle of religious freedom is something that should still be important in our nation.” But I think they should. If I am not permitted to claim my religious faith as a defense against a positive rights claim (i.e. you must perform action X for me), I am no longer protected as an individual against judicial or democratic fiat. First amendment rights… Read more »