Over the past few decades, attempts to limit religious freedom in the public square have expanded into what is nearing a hostile exile.
This hostility led the then-sitting Congress to overwhelmingly enact the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to further protect First Amendment freedoms. And it is what has now led a much smaller number in Congress to introduce the Health Care Conscience Rights Act to further protect those freedoms against the Affordable Care Act’s abortion-pill mandate and other mandates that threaten freedom of conscience.
But the abortion-pill decree is perhaps the most serious and recent incarnation of the administration’s hostility to religion.
At the beginning of the year, Obama issued a proclamation declaring Jan. 16 "Religious Freedom Day," noting that "each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose." But despite this claim, throughout his administration’s first term, countless Christians, Jews and others have become prisoners of administration policy that contradicts this proclamation.
Although the president won re-election with the misleading campaign slogan "Forward," his administration has taken American liberty backward with public policy, and its limit on conscience resembles the oppressive, atheistic rule of totalitarian ages past. The president’s policies reflect a rejection of the very fabric of American society and the God-given freedoms our Founding Fathers enshrined in the Constitution — in particular, religious freedom.
The Obama administration’s many attacks on religious freedom include allowing U.S. taxpayer dollars to be transferred to non-governmental agencies that perform abortions abroad; defunding successful efforts to halt sex trafficking for advocates opposing abortion; discontinuing the White House tradition of sponsoring an event on National Prayer Day; ordering the Justice Department to stop defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act; and eliminating the reference to our "Creator" when quoting the Declaration of Independence.
The attacks on religious freedom escalated with the creation of Obamacare. The administration has ordered American employers to provide employee health insurance that covers "free" contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs — or face crippling fines. Christian business owners like Bill Newland, president of Hercules Industries, whom Alliance Defending Freedom represents in a lawsuit against the president’s mandate, must either choose to act contrary to their religious beliefs or follow the dictates of their conscience and, as a result, face steep fines that could put them out of business.
In the past, our cases at Alliance Defending Freedom were all about how the role of religion in America is defined. Sadly, today, they have become more about whether religion has a role at all.
The lawsuits we have filed against Obamacare, for example, are in sharp contrast to legal cases of the past that dealt with differences of opinion on what the state may limit when it comes to religion. With Obamacare, on the other hand, the administration is now trying to expunge religious expression altogether by arguing that Christian entrepreneurs cannot exercise their religious convictions even in running their own businesses.
The same applies in the marriage arena. Not too long ago, activists seeking to redefine marriage were content with branding Christians who believe in a biblical ethic regarding sexual behavior as "bigots." Now, advocates of the homosexual legal agenda want the courts and legislatures to make all those who dare oppose their demands pay a price — whether it be going out of business, losing their jobs or remitting a hefty fine. Recently, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission assessed a young Christian photographer, whom Alliance Defending Freedom represents, thousands of dollars for declining to use her artistic talents to celebrate a "commitment ceremony" between two women.
Colleges and universities have also abandoned their prestigious origins as institutions dedicated to truth, marking a dramatic shift in recent years in how they deal with religious expression on campus, by unjustly denying Christian students and groups access to the same rights, funding and privileges as other non-religious individuals and groups.
And on some campuses this attempt to limit religion on campus has turned into a full-scale expulsion of religious conviction. Eastern Michigan University, for example, expelled one of our clients, a counseling student, out of its master’s program and denied her a degree simply because she followed standard procedure and referred a potential patient wanting to improve her same-sex relationship to another counselor.
As Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signatory to the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they, therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure … are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments."
President Obama’s platitudes for religious freedom are never-ending. They cover up the stark reality of his rejection of our First Amendment as it was intended by our Founders.
In the president’s weekly address of Sept. 15, 2012, he stated, "We stand for religious freedom. And we reject the denigration of any religion."
It is time for the Obama administration to do what it says it will do — to abandon mere rhetoric, halt the attacks and promote public policy that preserves America’s heritage and restores religious freedom to its rightful place. It is time to set people of faith free.
Alan Sears is a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in
the Departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration.
He is president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom.