A question that would stun old-school left: Does religious liberty in U.S. go too far?


Given that many religious groups have some very socially undesirable beliefs and, even more, practices, how much does religious liberty in America need to be restricted?


Here’s a sketch of a very complex constellation of issues. The question provides no examples of what’s offensive but The Guy guesses that Norman is a liberal critic of religion who especially decries “socially undesirable” religious stands on moral matters like homosexuality. Such hostility from liberals, in turn, provokes deeper worries among traditionalists about religious freedom that we’ve seen since perhaps the 19th Century (something candidate Donald Trump hopes to capitalize on).

Preliminary points: Most religions and most believers agree society’s common good overrules any claimed religious justifications for heinous crimes. That would include terrorism enacted in God’s name by today’s Muslim extremists or, in centuries past, human sacrifice rituals of non-biblical faiths. Some religious activism is generally regarded as positive for society (abolition of slavery, women’s vote, civil rights) and other campaigns as negative (alcohol prohibition).

Certain “new atheists” are so intent on restricting religion that they would forbid parents from teaching their children about faith (while avoiding whether freethinkers should likewise be barred from teaching children that viewpoint). Some democratic nations have sought to discipline preachers who advocate traditional moral beliefs.

In the U.S., the Constitution erects a barrier against such extreme anti-religion tactics. But local and state legislatures, and increasingly powerful administrative rulings, have sought religious limits in various ways. For instance, a pending California law would drop a religious exemption to facilitate gay and transgender students’ discrimination suits, potentially affecting 42 colleges.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings draw the ultimate legal lines and thus provide many of the examples below. Recent cases: The court in 2012 unanimously slapped down an Obama administration bid against a Lutheran school’s employment policy and declared, “We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.” By a 5-4 breakdown, the justices ruled in 2014 that Hobby Lobby, as a family business, could avoid covering under “Obamacare” treatments the Protestant owners considered tantamount to abortion.

The Obama administration has long resisted appeals for such exemptions. Important legal theorists — not just “religious right” activists — worry that the government seeks to revise Christianity’s historic self-definition, protecting freedom to worship but applying different rules for agencies that serve the general public (schools, hospitals).

Recent actions have forced religious adoption agencies out of business. Future disputes could conceivably involve professional certification, college accreditation and admissions, government grants to charities, access to public facilities, or participation in public programs. Challenges to tax exemption would be all-important.

Continue reading "Does religious liberty in U.S. go too far?", by Richard Ostling.

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