“A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated.”
So said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday at the Department of Justice Religious Liberty Summit, where he announced the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force – a new initiative that will further the DOJ’s work to protect and promote religious liberty.
At Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), we are all too familiar with the increasing threats to our religious liberty.
“Too many of the clients ADF represents are risking their businesses, their life savings, and their safety to follow their conscience,” said ADF Senior Vice President of the U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner. “All Americans should be free to peacefully live and act consistent with their convictions and faith without threat of government punishment. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to political and cultural whims; they are constitutional guarantees, and we are grateful that this administration recognizes that reality and is taking serious steps to correct injustice and protect the freedom of religion.”
The speakers and panelists at the DOJ Religious Liberty Summit, from a variety of faith backgrounds, also stressed the importance of protecting religious liberty. Here are a few takeaways.
1. Religious people cannot leave their faith at home.
Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips, the ADF client at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, explained how his faith informed the way he chose to operate his business when he and his wife first opened the cakeshop.
They decided they would not be open on Sundays, and that they would not design cakes for certain events – such as Halloween. Both of these decisions had financial consequences. They don’t get business on Sundays, and Halloween is the third largest season for cakes, behind the graduation and Christmas seasons.
But Jack cannot separate his faith from his business – his faith informs everything he does. That’s true for religious people across the country. Their faith is a part of who they are, their identity. Every decision they make is filtered through the lens of their beliefs.
2. It is their faith that inspires religious people and organizations to serve the community.
Several of the panelists discussed how it is their faith that motivates them to serve those around them. Whether by providing education for low-income students, homes for children who need to be adopted, or disaster relief, their faith inspires them to act.
And the service of religious people and organizations provide a great benefit to society.
As David French wrote at National Review: “Christian charity simply can’t be disconnected from the rest of the Christian faith. Instead, it’s an expression of the whole, without which it would diminish… For millions of Americans, faith drives love, and love drives charity. Attack their faith, and you attack the foundation of their virtue.”
That’s why it is so important to protect the rights of religious people and organizations to operate consistently with their beliefs. Groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which care for the elderly and poor, should not be forced by the government to provide abortion pills or contraceptives in their health plans. Doing so forces them to choose between the faith that motivates their service and burdensome financial penalties that threaten to close their doors.
3. We must provide the space for people to live according to their convictions, even if we disagree.
Tolerance is a two-way street. Every American should be able to live and work freely according to their conscience without fear of government punishment.
Yet we have seen increasing government hostility toward people of faith who hold beliefs in conflict with government-favored viewpoints. Across the country, creative professionals like Jack face burdensome fines and even jail time for choosing what messages to express and events to celebrate through their art. Faith-based adoption and foster care providers have been forced to shut down rather than violate their religious beliefs. Religious and pro-life organizations have been forced to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans.
This should not happen in a free society.
4. Our civil liberties travel together. The loss of religious liberty leads to the loss of other liberties.
“Religious liberty doesn’t exist because there’s an America,” said U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-OK). “Quite frankly, America exists because of religious liberty.”
At a time when religious liberty is under attack across the globe, we have an opportunity to lead the way. Our civil liberties do travel together, which means that what happens to First Amendment freedoms matters for all of us, regardless of what our viewpoints might be. If we limit the freedoms of someone we disagree with, we in turn limit our own freedoms. Our fundamental freedoms have flourished in America in large part because of our respect for religious freedom.
And that is something worth fighting to protect.