By Kelly ShackelfordPresident, CEO & Chief Counsel
State legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas passed Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), and self-proclaimed “tolerant” folks across America responded with distortions, character assassination, threats, and economic blackmail. Veterans of the war to defend, and restore, religious freedom know the campaign is long, hard, filled with highs and lows, and absolutely worth it.
But my message to friends of religious liberty: Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of threats from the likes of boycotters from some who are clueless in corporate America, the mainstream media, or anyone else threatening doom over a RFRA like Indiana’s or Arkansas’s.
This is no time to waver in the defense of religious freedom. There are three main reasons to stand firm:
REASON #1: THE MAJORITY IS FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.
RFRAs are good and needed laws. The attacks against them can be repelled if Americans who believe in religious freedom—who are in the vast majority—have the courage to stand. For example, where RFRAs touch the incendiary issue of same-sex marriage, religious freedom wins and Americans retain the right to disagree.
A recent survey by the Associated Press showed a healthy majority of Americans (57%) supported the right of those with religious convictions about marriage to not participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. Despite the baseless attacks, the Indiana RFRA doesn’t even mention same-sex marriage, yet the American public would go farther than the RFRA in granting such a religious protection.
Another survey showed 81% support for individuals to openly disagree with same-sex marriage without punishment. Again, RFRA doesn’t specify this protection, but Americans would support it if it did. Friends of religious freedom are in the majority, however loud the opposition may be. The right to disagree is as fundamental as any right in America.
REASON #2: THIS IS A WORLDVIEW SHOWDOWN.
The attack on RFRAs doesn’t come from nowhere, and it doesn’t come by accident. It emerges from a secular worldview that dominates the mountaintops of power in much of our culture: government, media, education, many corporations, and even much of the military. Those holding this worldview are a minority, but they are an attention-getting minority.
The secular worldview looks at religion with suspicion at best, hostility at worst. It sees the supernatural as something far removed from relevance to everyday life, and perhaps even nonexistent. Religion, it says, is fine if it keeps to itself and stays quiet.
RFRAs are a threat to the secularist worldview. Such laws protect religious expression from hostility, and restore the traditional understanding of the First Amendment’s protection of the “free exercise” of religion. “Free exercise” means open practice and expression, not something that must be hidden behind closed doors.
The federal RFRA, which has inspired RFRAs in now 21 states, has stood since 1993. It was introduced by then-House member Charles Schumer, a liberal Democrat; passed the House of Representatives unanimously; and passed the Senate with only three votes against its passage. RFRA was signed by President Bill Clinton. This was not controversial legislation—if you thought religious freedom was a good thing.
REASON #3: TOO MUCH IS AT STAKE.
But special interests have now decided religious freedom isn’t a good idea anymore. The consensus fractured because the federal RFRA was a cornerstone to the defense of religious freedom in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of allowing Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, faith-based businesses, to refuse the government’s mandate to facilitate the provision of abortion-inducing drugs through healthcare policy. That set off an anti-RFRA firestorm.
Secularist dogmatists only want religious freedom if it doesn’t interfere with the sexual revolution. The sudden desire to eliminate RFRAs, not long ago considered by liberals as solidly within the mainstream of American protection of religion, reveals that the lords of secularist political power will no longer tolerate freedom to believe and to act on your belief. They want religious liberty redefined into non-existence.
We have never seen this before. A lot is at stake.
We have never had the very concept of religious freedom be under assault. We’ve never seen the legitimacy of religious freedom as an idea so severely questioned in our country. Yes, we’ve seen certain isolated examples of attacks on religious freedom before, but this is new. Now the opposition is going directly after the whole idea of the free exercise of religion.
In instance after instance, secularists are goading Americans to think that religious freedom is archaic and gets in the way.
Is that now our new national mantra? Will the vocal but powerful minority win? Is religious freedom becoming extinct—or instead, is the majority, when informed of the facts, going to stand up and repel these attacks?
Ronald Reagan said, “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.” Let’s take ground, whether by yards, feet, or inches. Let’s stand for the RFRAs, and encourage more. And as we do, let’s be unafraid. Too much is at stake to sit back in silence.
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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.FirstLiberty.org.