INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
U.S. state attacked over religious liberty law
, April 25, 2015
Why the outcry in the U.S. over Indiana’s new religious liberty law?
Ryan T. Anderson
After all, it is based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993),which was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton after it passed in the federal Senate by 97 votes and by unanimous voice vote in the House of Representatives.
Nineteen other US states have similar laws and a further 11 have religious liberty protections that state courts have interpreted to provide a similar level of protection.
These laws and legal projections prohibit governments from placing substantial burdens on the exercise of religious faith, unless governments can demonstrate a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty, in the least restrictive means.
“These acts have, for example, protected a Sikh woman’s freedom to carry religious articles at her workplace. They have allowed a Native American boy to wear his hair long, according to his religious beliefs, at his school,” write the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson and Edwin Meese, who was U.S. attorney-general from 1985 to 1988 (Washington Post, April 1, 2015).
Despite such laws operating for more than 20 years without undermining anti-discrimination law, there is now strong opposition from the same-sex marriage and radical secularist lobbies to any legislation that “might protect those who hold the belief – attested to from the beginning of the Hebrew Bible to the end of the Christian Bible and throughout the Quran – that marriage is the union of man and woman”.
“[These] well-funded special-interest groups refuse to respect the liberty of people of faith who simply ask to be left alone by government to run their charities, schools and businesses in
accordance with their beliefs about marriage,” say Anderson and Meese.
These lobbies are determined to use government legislation to force people to provide their services for same-sex weddings under threat of prosecution.
There are an increasing number of cases in which florists, bakers, photographers, wedding reception venues and even farmers have been prosecuted, or are facing prosecution, for exercising their religious freedom in refusing to provide services to a same-sex wedding.
Their objection is not to a couple’s lifestyle but to celebrating same-sex weddings when they believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman only.
Many people, regardless of whether they support or oppose same-sex marriage, are opposed to governments using the law to coerce people against their religious beliefs.
Historically until now, this understanding of religious liberty has been almost universally respected in the U.S.
Of course, religious liberty is not an absolute right. It is “balanced with concerns for a compelling state interest that’s being pursued in the least restrictive means possible”, write Anderson and William E. Simon, also from the Heritage Foundation (The Daily Signal, March 26, 2015).
“But it isn’t clear that forcing every photographer and every baker and every florist to help celebrate same-sex weddings is advancing a compelling state interest in the least-restrictive way possible. Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience doesn’t infringe on anyone’s sexual freedoms.
“No one has the right to have the government force a particular minister to marry them, or a certain photographer to capture the first kiss or a baker to bake the wedding cake. Declining to perform these services doesn’t violate anyone’s sexual freedoms.
“The government should not force them to choose between their religious beliefs and their livelihood.”
Some have tried to argue that opposing same-sex marriage is like racism, referring to an earlier time in the U.S. when interracial marriage was banned in some states.
This is a false argument. Banning interracial marriages was an unjust restriction on eligibility of a couple to marry. It was not a requirement for changing the definition of marriage, as is being demanded by the same-sex marriage and radical secularist lobbies.
In this current debate, religious liberty laws are not just about same-sex marriage. Last year the U.S. federal religious freedom law also protected the owners of Hobby Lobby, a national chain of retail arts and crafts stores based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Hobby Lobby sought an exemption from President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which mandated that companies provide their workers access to the morning-after abortion pill.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Hobby Lobby could choose to be exempt from the law under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Religious freedom laws and protections not only guard the rights of those with religious beliefs but also ensure a pluralistic society.
If radical secularists and their allies are truly committed to tolerance then they should be embracing these laws, not opposing them.
Ryan T. Anderson and Edwin Meese, “Religious-liberty protections promote tolerance”, Washington Post, April 1, 2015.
Ryan T. Anderson, “New Indiana law protects religious liberty”, The Daily Signal, March 26, 2015.