June 20, 2012

VIEW FROM ELSEWHERE: Freedom of religion isn't really under attack

Los Angeles Times

Is religious freedom suddenly under attack in America? That's what the nation's Roman Catholic bishops and some non-Catholic allies would have you believe. But reports of the demise of this fundamental liberty are greatly exaggerated.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated June 21 to July 4 as a "fortnight for freedom." During those two weeks, the church will trumpet its already well-known opposition to an Obama administration regulation that private health insurance plans include contraception services.

The rule applies not to churches but to colleges, hospitals and charities that serve and employ non-Catholics. Even so, the bishops insist that it undermines their church's religious mission to serve the larger community without compromising its beliefs.

The bishops are free to argue, including in court, that the contraceptive mandate is a violation of the church's rights under the First Amendment and a 1993 federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (We disagree.)

Some of the church's rhetoric has been shrill and simplistic. One bishop compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin, who, "at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care."

Equally excessive was the church's response to the rejection last week by North Dakota voters of a proposed Religious Freedom Amendment to the state Constitution. The measure would have allowed believers to disregard laws that offended their religious beliefs unless a "compelling government interest" were involved and the state used the least restrictive means possible to further that interest.

It's true that the amendment was modeled on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was approved overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton. It also was subjected to farfetched attacks, such as the argument that it would allow parents who beat their children to escape punishment because they were employing "biblical discipline."

In reacting to the amendment's defeat, however, the North Dakota Catholic Conference said, "We will not rest until religious freedom in North Dakota is protected in the law as a fundamental human right."

Robust religious freedom -- including an exemption for churches and religious schools from some generally applicable laws -- already is protected in North Dakota and throughout the country by the 1st Amendment and Supreme Court decisions.

Like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the North Dakota amendment would have provided protection for religion over and above what the Constitution guarantees.

The bishops and other critics can cry foul about the Obama administration's policies, but they shouldn't cry wolf.

Editorial by the Los Angeles Times

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at KJonline.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)