January 16 marked National Religious Freedom Day. While religious liberty is one of our most cherished freedoms, it’s a right that is under increasing threat from burdensome government policies. In his proclamation for National Religious Freedom Day last year, President Obama wrote:“Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose.” That might sound nice, but it gets the American conception of religious freedom wrong.
Religious freedom in America isn’t merely the “freedom to worship.” The American model of religious liberty protects Americans’ freedom to exercise their religious beliefs within their private spheres as well as to engage publicly on the basis of religion. That includes the ability to practice one’s faith at one’s home, place of worship, and work.
Increasingly, however, public policies—particularly under Obamacare—have watered down this robust conception of religious freedom to a mere “freedom to worship”—limiting the idea of religious liberty to a notion of private religious exercise—at home or in a house of worship.
This is evident in the Obama Administration’s anti-conscience mandate, which forces employers to provide and pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization—regardless of moral or religious objections. A November survey showed that nearly 60 percent of likely voters oppose the Obamacare abortion-inducing drug mandate. As Heritage policy analyst Sarah Torre comments:
Americans have every reason to be concerned that the one-size-fits-all regime of Obamacare will restrict their ability to choose coverage for themselves and their families and run roughshod over their values. The law is a blank check for unelected bureaucrats to create complex rules that can trample on freedom.
Efforts to redefine marriage and increasing pressure in states to pass sexual orientation and gender identity laws is increasingly turning differences of opinion into actionable offenses. For instance, in December, Cakeshop Masterpiece joined the line of wedding-related family businesses being punished by state sexual orientation and gender identity laws. Last summer, an Oregon bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, was forced to shut its doors to evade fines for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, was fined $2,000 for running her business in accordance with her religious beliefs, choosing not to design floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.
These laws are creating a climate of intolerance and even intimidation for Americans who believe that we are created male and female, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage.
Religious freedom is not just for weekends in your home or place or worship. It’s a freedom that allows individuals to live out their beliefs and values every day of the week.
The President’s 2014 Proclamation sounds closer to this principle when it says: “America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose.” The proof, however, will be in the policy.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to the President’s 2014 proclamation in the first paragraph.