Jeffrey MacDonald reports on an interesting development: left-of-center religious groups invoking religious liberty much as right-of-center groups have in recent years. A church wants to install solar panels despite the objections of a local historic district commission; elsewhere, groups serving the homeless are looking to faith-based partners to protect their ability to do so. The story provides a lens on the classic questions about what counts as religious exercise and who decides.
Yet it’s a little odd that MacDonald’s framing takes as given this very recent use of the term “religious liberty”—more strategy than principle, an argument to advance a cause.
In the 1990s the U.S. Supreme Court decided a handful of religious liberty cases on the basis of the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The most significant of these was Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995). In that case, the University of Virginia had denied funding to a religious student publication called Wide Awake. The case began with a focus on the establishment clause, and it might have been based on the free exercise of religion—but it ended up being about free speech.
It starts off as a standard writeup of a protest and counter-protest of a mosque’s Friday prayers. An accompanying video portrays the two sides as polarized not just in rhetoric but in various cultural markers, starting with the fact that one side is packing the kind of firepower that would have shocked people not so long ago (and would still if the heat-packers weren’t so white).
You know, just a slice of 21st-century American life.
“Many religious liberty accommodations will have absolutely no effect on the rights of third parties. Those are easier cases.”
by David Heim
A federal judge in Eastern Missouri has upheld the government mandate that insurance policies cover birth control. Judge Carol E. Jackson ruled that the mandate is not a violation of religious liberty. Religious freedom is “a shield, not a sword,” she said, and religious liberty claims cannot be used as a “means to force one’s religious practices upon others.” Her argument closely aligns with points that the Century made some months ago in an editorial and that I tried to make in a blog post.
I've so far declined to comment on Wheaton College's decision to join the election-year culture war skirmish du jour by suing the feds for stomping all over its religious freedom requiring insurers to cover basic women's health needs while allowing faith-based employers to themselves stay out of it. I was sad but not surprised to learn of this move. Wheaton takes it as not only one legitimate view but an article of evangelical conviction that the morning after pill is unacceptable? Sure, okay. I disagree with my alma mater, but it's hardly the first time.
First the bishops sought an expanded exemption. Now they claim the contraception mandate itself violates religious liberty. It doesn't.
Recent advances for same-sex marriage have raised important issues concerning religious liberty. The four New England states (Con necticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) that recently recognized same-sex marriage have all had to consider how broadly to protect churches, organizations and individuals that object to participating in or facilitating such marriages. A national TV ad against gay marriage sounded alarms about religious liberty and triggered parodies from gay rights groups (and Stephen Colbert).