Thursday, July 19, 2018
Not an absolute right. . .
The act mandated that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” An exception is only allowed if two conditions are met: (1) In the “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” This is defined as an interest that is not just routine and is not just about improving government efficiency. Rather, it must directly relate to core constitutional issues. (2) Even then, the interest must be applied in “the least restrictive way.”
Today the landscape has changed. Abortion has widened to include life issues like physician assisted suicide and even euthanasia. The then emerging gay rights movement has come mainstream and accomplish its original goals and more. Same sex marriage was handled the way the Supreme Court decided abortion and with the same controversy in its wake. Now the same law is being used to protect Christians opposed to even prevailing opinions about all of these issues. Obamacare has created its own conflicts and the same Christians ask for that law to give way in the face of their religious objections. Now some of those voices in favor of that law have thought better of it and are working to restrict its protections.
While we wait for the courts to balance protected religious liberty with anti-discrimination laws, there are those who want to anticipate that decision. What could this mean for churches? It is hard to overestimate how the rule of law might be used to restrain and prevent religious liberty from publicly teaching and preaching against what the courts and Congress have deemed the law of the land. I am not attempting to be Chicken Little here except to say that the powers of the government always include taking back privileges once thought sacred.
Democrats are working to amend the 25-year-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act so that it cannot be used under religious freedom to discriminate against people, including gay, lesbian and transgender citizens. It would deny the protection of religious liberty of one individual when the civil rights of another individual would be impinged. They claim that one liberty cannot be used against another liberty. The proposed bill would add to the 1993 law to specifically prevent the RFRA from exempting civil rights laws, employment law, protections against child abuse or access to health care for the sake of religious claims.
So we see the future. Obama already spoke of religious liberty simply as freedom of worship and thus placing boundaries on the exercise of this freedom within the public square. Now come restrictions to this religious liberty in other areas. What is most troubling is that the right of religious freedom is being abridged in favor of other rights deemed more important. So what is to prevent the same logic from being used against the very causes the Democrats are seeking to protect? Of course, there is little chance of this passing today. What happens in the future is a guessing game. Be warned, however, because this is clearly the direction being charted by one party and its leaders.