But religious liberty is fragile, too easily taken for granted, and too often neglected. A leading religious liberty scholar, Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia, recently warned: "For the first time in nearly 300 years, important forces in American society are questioning the free exercise of religion in principle—suggesting that free exercise of religion may be a bad idea, or at least, a right to be minimized."
Congress’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) was a singular achievement. For two decades, RFRA has stood as the preeminent federal protection of all Americans’ religious liberty. RFRA ensures a level playing field for Americans of all faiths. It puts "minority" faiths on an equal footing with any "majority" faith.
Yet RFRA has recently become a prime target for those who would deny robust protection to religious liberty. Congress may soon come under pressure to amend RFRA and diminish its protection, if the Supreme Court upholds RFRA’s protection of Americans whose religious consciences will not allow them to comply with the HHS mandate. Congress must withstand such pressure in order to protect religious liberty in America.
RFRA creates a level playing field for Americans of all faiths, putting "minority" faiths on an equal footing with "majority" faiths. Essentially, RFRA makes religious liberty the default position in any conflict between religious conscience and federal regulation.
The oft-heard argument that America must limit religious freedom because it has become more religiously diverse has it precisely backwards. Robust religious liberty is the reason for America’s dramatic diversity and remains essential to maintaining that diversity. RFRA ensures religious diversity by protecting all religions, including the hundreds of numerically disadvantaged faiths, by increasing the likelihood that those faiths will obtain sensible exemptions from well-intentioned laws that unknowingly restrict their religious practices.
In the long term, RFRA maximizes social stability in a religiously diverse society and minimizes the likelihood of political divisions along religious lines. The reason is simple. As Laycock puts it, "religious liberty reduces social conflict; there is much less reason to fight about religion if everyone is guaranteed the right to practice his religion." In other words, RFRA implements the Golden Rule in the context of religious liberty: in protecting others’ religious liberty, we protect our own religious liberty.
The author of this piece, colleague Kim Colby of the Christian Legal Society, is one of a cadre of smart and savvy attorneys forming a bulwark of religious freedom through landmark litigation. CMDA has participated with Christian Legal Society, Alliance Defending Freedom, Americans United for Life and others in over 40 court cases. We meet regularly in Washington, DC to discuss legal strategy, messaging and culture-changing strategies to preserve the religious freedoms ensconced in the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Protection Act and three federal laws protecting conscience in healthcare.
Such freedoms are never free, and we remember that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." So I hope you will take a moment now to use the quick and easy form at our Freedom2Care legislative action website to tell your legislators to protect your conscience freedoms:
Protect conscience rights - HR.940
End discrimination in health care - S.1204
- Urge your U.S. senators to support (or thank your senator for already co-sponsoring) the Health Care Conscience Rights Act - S. 1204 , to protect religious liberty and preserve patient access by providing conscience protections for health care professionals. (Note: You will be provided with editable text based on your senator's sponsorship or non-sponsorship of this bill.)
- Urge your U.S. Representative to support (or thank your Rep. for already co-sponsoring) the Health Care Conscience Rights Act - H.R. 940.
CMDA's Freedom2Care website: Freedom of faith, conscience and speech
CMDA's Freedom2Care commentaries in national newspapers
CMDA Freedom of Faith and Conscience resources