by Jorge Gomez & Mia Gradick, Contributing Writers • 5 min read
Featured below is a monthly round-up of critical actions unfolding on Capitol Hill, policy changes happening in the executive branch, as well as how the U.S. State Department is taking America’s longstanding commitment to religious freedom at home as the basis to protect this fundamental First Freedom in countries across the globe.
Recently, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and nine other senators sent a letter to President Trump asking him to take action in light of the many discriminatory policies being issued against houses of worship by state and local officials.
The letter states that such action would “send the nation and government leaders a clear and unequivocal message that religious liberty matters…and no state or locality can unilaterally strip away protected constitutional rights.”
Additionally, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, recently introduced the Safeguarding Americans from Coronavirus and Religious Exercise Discrimination (SACRED) Act, legislation that would block federal funding for COVID relief to state and local governments that discriminate against religious individuals or institutions, violating their First Amendment rights.
First Liberty is also leading the charge in Capitol Hill to protect houses of worship during the current constitutional crisis. Recently, our legal team submitted testimony and a letter signed by more than 250 religious leaders urging Congress to protect America’s houses of worship from a wave of pandemic-related lawsuits that would force many to cease their operations.
Outraged by the unashamed bias and attacks against churches?
As houses of worship attempt to reopen, they need to be protected from lawsuits from radical opponents seeking to destroy them.
Tell Congress: Houses of worship are essential. Protect them today.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently took some important steps to protect religious freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services worked with the University of Maryland Medical System to update visitation guidelines for all 13 of its hospitals. This will allow patients, including those in COVID-19 care units, to receive visits from pastors, priests, or other clergy—provided they wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (masks, etc.)
Second, HHS announced that the religious beliefs of a medical student at the Staten Island University Hospital in New York City will be accommodated, allowing him to wear a beard in accordance with his faith while using personal protective equipment.
Roger Severino, director of the OCR, commented on these recent actions:
“We can protect people’s physical safety and their spiritual and emotional well-being at the same time. Those two things are not in tension and when we protect both, we actually protect the mental health as well as the physical health.”
At a time when many local government officials have imposed policies that run counter to the Constitutional protection of religious freedom, these recent accommodations by HHS avoid forcing people to choose between their profession or following their faith.
The President recently signed an Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom. This order comes in the midst of a surge of violence against people of faith worldwide, one that’s made its way to America’s shores as witnessed by multiple incidents of vandalism and destruction of religious property.
As a complement to this recent order, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a stirring speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, highlighting that over two thirds of people around the world live in places that are extremely challenged with the absence of religious freedom. He also noted that religious liberty is foremost among human rights and the flourishing of a free society:
“No one can enjoy the pursuit of happiness if you cannot own the fruits of your own labor, and no society…can retain its legitimacy or a virtuous character without religious freedom.”
These are just the two most recent actions by the administration and the Secretary of State that are helping to secure religious freedom globally, which also help to safeguard and reclaim religious freedom here in the United States, as well.
In this unprecedented time when our republic and our cherished constitutional system is under ceaseless attack, the actions above are indeed “essential” to preserving our most fundamental freedom: religious liberty.
But even with these positive developments, it’s undeniable that a wave of religious intolerance poses an existential threat to the very foundation of our country. Right now, it’s clearer than ever before that the fight for religious freedom is the tip of the spear in the intensely-heated war over our nation’s future.
First Liberty is proud to bear the torch of liberty on the legal battlefront, stopping opponents in their tracks and winning key battles to reclaim religious freedom nationwide. In fact, we are undefeated in all legal matters we’ve taken on during the pandemic.
This is a fight we can win—but the All Out war on faith demand resources, and we cannot continue taking winning these frontline fights without YOUR financial support. Will you go All In with First Liberty today?