Freedom of Religion is one of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; it is also included in the laws of other nations. Most Americans are aware of the guarantee, but many do not understand what it means or why freedom of religion is important. Freedom of religion is now being threatened on many sides but especially by the current American leaders.
Mormonnewsroom.org has numerous articles about freedom of religion. One such article is entitled “What Religious Freedom Means.” The article is very interesting and helpful in defining religious freedom. I learned some things about freedom of religion from it; I particularly appreciate the following statement.
“Studies do suggest that most Americans grasp the basic concept. For the average citizen, religious freedom is the right enjoyed by many in the free world to believe the things about God and about moral truth that they choose to believe, as well as the right to honor those beliefs in worship, if they want to. Intuitively, this makes sense. It would not be right for someone to be coerced in matters of religious belief or morality, or prohibited from worshipping according to their conscience.
“But while these private and inward activities are vital parts of religious freedom, they do not encompass the whole of it. Religious freedom is actually much broader and deeper than this description suggests. More fundamentally, religious freedom – akin to `freedom of conscience’ – is the human right to think and believe and also to express and act upon what one deeply believes according to the dictates of his or her moral conscience. This freedom applies to those who adhere to religious beliefs and those who do not.
“The full picture of religious freedom reveals a deep liberty that goes much further than the right to believe as one chooses and that extends well beyond the right to private devotion in one’s place of worship or home. Indeed, religious freedom is not merely interior and private, to be enjoyed internally in our minds and in the privacy of personal life. It also incorporates the right to act according to one’s moral beliefs and convictions. And more than the freedom to worship privately, it is the right to live one’s faith freely and in public.
“Beliefs lead to actions, and freedom to believe, without the ability to act on that belief within the bounds of law, is no freedom at all. Most will agree that moral and religious beliefs don’t mean much if they don’t influence the way we live. In other words, we expect religious beliefs to influence the way that people behave, how they raise families and how they treat others And indeed, religious freedom protects the right of individuals to act in line with their religious beliefs and moral convictions. Religious freedom does not merely enable us to contemplate our convictions; it enables us to execute them.
“Because of this, religion cannot be confined to the sphere of private life. Certainly religious freedom protects the rights of individuals to observe their religion within the walls of private spaces. But religious and moral speech is also protected in the free air of the public domain. Whether in the town hall, in the newspaper column, on the Internet or elsewhere in the public sphere, people with moral convictions are entitled by their religious freedom to share those convictions, to reason and persuade, and to advocate their vision for society.”
Freedom of religion guarantees our freedom of conscience and our private beliefs; it also guarantees our right to discuss and act upon our beliefs openly. Like our other freedoms, our religious freedom ends where another person’s starts. We have the right to discuss our religious beliefs, but other people have the right to decline hearing them.
Religious freedom was right in the forefront of the thoughts of millions of Americans this week as the Justices at the U.S.Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday for and against a controversial Obamacare rule. Lawyers for Hobby Lobby (owned by the Green family) and Conestoga Wood Specialties (owned by the Hahn family) argued that a provision in Obamacare would force them to cover abortion-inducing drugs in the employee health plans of their employees. Members of these two families object to this demand based on their constitutionally protected religious beliefs. The health care mandate would force religious employers to act against their religious “beliefs or pay fines as high as $100 per employee per day.”
Adele Keim, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, witnessed the court proceedings as part of the legal team of Hobby Lobby and spoke about the two cases later at The Heritage Foundation. “The clients were front and center, and the sincerity of their religious beliefs. To them, the mandate is tantamount to providing abortions.”
Greg Scott, spokesman for Alliance Defending Freedom that represents Conestoga Wood, added, “We agree bosses shouldn’t be involved in women’s health care decisions – so stop using the government to get them involved.”
The two cases presented to the Supreme Court have been widely mischaracterized to be limiting the freedom of women to buy birth control. This is untrue. The cases are challenging the government’s right and power to force Americans – individuals or groups of individuals called corporations – to violate their religious beliefs. The Green family and the Hahn family are willing to provide birth control to their employees, but they are fighting against being forced to pay for abortion-inducing drugs. They are willing to pay for sixteen out of twenty forms of mandated drugs. The Justices at the Supreme Court will most likely issue their decision before June.
The Obama administration believes Americans have religious freedom in our homes and in our churches; however, once Americans enter public life – in their businesses, etc. – we lose our religious freedom. For me and for many Americans, religion is front and center in our lives every hour of every day of every week. Because freedom of religion is so very important to us, we all need to fight to retain it.