As the year draws to a close, we take a look back at a few of the victories and challenges for religious liberty during the past 12 months and look forward to greater respect and protection for religious liberty in 2012.
HHS “Preventive Service” Mandate
In August, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a rule that forces nearly all private health care plans to include coverage for certain contraceptives and surgical sterilization. The mandate’s threat to religious freedom has already caused a stir in the nation’s capital and motivated a lawsuit by a religious college affected by the rule.
Same-Sex Marriage and Charitable Services
Religious adoption and foster care agencies who object to placing children with same-sex couples are under increasing pressure to violate their beliefs or get out of the social welfare business. This year Catholic Charities in Illinois joined the growing list of religious charities that have opted to stop providing adoption or foster care services rather than violate their religious and moral convictions.
Freedom of Conscience for Pharmacy Owner
After fighting an extensive legal battle asking the state to respect their religious objections to providing Plan B, an abortifacient drug, two pro-life pharmacy owners in Illinois finally found religious liberty protection this year. A state court concluded that requiring the pharmacy owners to provide the emergency contraceptive violates both state and federal laws.
Religious Freedom on Public Campuses
One issue is whether religious student organizations at public universities should be free to select members and leaders who agree with the religious beliefs of the organizations. Just this month, for example, the Alliance Defense Fund sought Supreme Court review for two Christian student organizations that were denied official recognition by San Diego State University because the organizations wished to require members and/or leaders to agree with the religious beliefs of the organizations.
Religious Staffing by Religious Institutions
The freedom to select staff on a religious basis is, for many religious institutions, an essential tool for maintaining religious integrity and identity. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, a case described as involving “the extent to which the government can control a church’s selection of religious leaders.” In another case, the Court denied review of a federal appeals court decision that extended federal protections for religious staffing to a Christian humanitarian organization and did not limit those protections to traditional houses of worship.
Prayer at Veterans Cemeteries
In October, veterans’ groups in Houston, Texas, achieved an important victory for religious freedom. Several groups, represented by the Texas-based Liberty Institute, secured a consent decree that, according to the Liberty Institute, requires “the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to stop banning prayer and the word ‘God’ at national cemeteries.”
Rising to the Challenge: New Initiatives to Defend Religious Freedom
While challenges to religious freedom are on the rise, so is the defense of religious freedom. This year, several new initiatives were launched to protect religious freedom and the expression of religious beliefs in the public square. These include:
- congressional briefings on religious freedom sponsored by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and the Becket Fund
- the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance
- the American Religious Freedom Program by the Ethics and Public Policy Center
- the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- and more
To stay up-to-date on many of these and other religious liberty issues in the new year, subscribe to the DeVos Center’s weekly newsletter, Culture Watch.