09 Apr Disappearing Religious Freedom
April 9, 2015
Disappearing Religious Freedom
Like many of you, we at United Families International have been concerned at how quickly our Constitutionally-guaranteed religious freedoms seem to be crumbling in the United States.
- The state of Washington recently ruled that a 70-year-old florist “may not only lose her business, but also her home and savings because she lives her life and operates her business according to her beliefs.”
- The California State University system has banned Christian clubs from 23 university campuses, websites, and school directories because the clubs required their leaders to be practicing Christians.
- Military Chaplains are being accused and punished for upholding the standards and doctrines of their faith.
Stories such as these should be troubling to all who believe that religious freedom is critical to the success of individuals and societies in every land.
Please remember, freedom is more than just choosing a church. It is more than just the “freedom to worship.” It is the freedom to live one’s religious beliefs in all aspects of life, in public as well as in private. As UFI Board Member Bill Duncan explained, “Religious people believe they are accountable to God in every aspect of their lives. Acting on this principle is what constitutes the ‘exercise of religion.’”
In an effort to protect this vital freedom, the state of Indiana recently passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), but after a firestorm of criticism and backlash from gay activists and corporate giants like Apple and Salesforce.com, the law was modified, and Governor Pence signed the new revised version last Thursday (with exemptions that significantly weakened religious freedom protections).
Arkansas was also working on a similar religious freedom bill, but again, under extreme pressure, it was replaced by a less-robust religious freedom protection bill which was signed by Governor Hutchinson the same day as Indiana’s bill.
(For a more complete understanding of the specifics of RFRAs and their history, we recommend this article.)
Even though 19 states already have RFRAs in place, the “rancorous uproar” surrounding these two recent bills — along with threats to “overturn RFRA laws everywhere” cause us to wonder if the window for successfully passing further religious protection legislation in the United States may be closing.
If this is the case, what can be done to protect religious freedom?
The state of Utah offered one idea, recently passing two bills called a “compromise” solution. These bills provide safeguards in housing and employment for LGBT citizens, while also securing essential religious freedom protections on many levels. In addition to exempting landlords with fewer than four units, and business owners with fewer than 15 employees, they protect religious corporations, subsidiaries, affiliates, associations, societies, and educational institutions – and the Boy Scouts of America. They also protect the freedom of individual employees to express their religious beliefs in and out of the workplace, and give county clerks a way to opt out of performing marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs or values.
In short, these two bills provide “some of the most robust” religious protections in the nation. For a more detailed description of what these Utah bills do, and a chart showing how they compare with other states, please see this excellent article by our United Families Utah chapter director, Rose Marie Murray.
Whether or not legislation ultimately proves to be an effective solution, there are important things we can all do culturally to protect religious freedom:
- Become educated and informed about issues that impact religious freedom.
- Participate in public policy debates, and support candidates who value religious freedom.
- Support public recognitions of the blessings of God, and the protection of public prayer.
- Work with people of other religions to promote religious freedom in your community.
- Include the importance of religious freedom in religious teaching opportunities.
- Include religious messages in Christmas and other holiday greeting cards. Wish people “Merry Christmas,” not just “happy holidays.”
Perhaps most importantly, model your religious beliefs and values in your everyday life. Teach them to your children, and share them with your friends whenever appropriate. Many people of faith believe it is important to be a “leaven” in society. But as Catholic Archbishop Charles J. Chaput warns, “There’s a fine line between being leaven in society, and being digested by society.”
Don’t be digested by society. Keep your religious beliefs strong by living them as fully as you can, even if the going may get tough. Laws may come and go, but truth does not.
United Families International, President
RFRAs (in darker blue) as of March 2015 (from Washington Post)