The End of Religious Liberty?

Newt Gingrich is right to warn us of the threat to religious freedom in America.

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A coming Supreme Court case will test our dedication to the free exercise of religion.

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Never one to mince words, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said recently that Americans may soon find their ability to exercise the religious liberties they have long enjoyed severely curtailed.

“I think we’re in grave danger of losing our liberty and losing our religious liberty,” the former speaker of the House told The Foundry, published by The Heritage Foundation. “I think it’s inconceivable that you could argue that the First Amendment doesn’t mean what the First Amendment says."

His remarks are tied at least in part to the coming date on which the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases where the doctrine of religious liberty is being tested against the abortion mandates in the new health care law championed by President Barack Obama. At issue is whether the government can force, through mandates and “crippling fines,” the owners of two family businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, to violate their personal religious convictions as regards the health care plans they make available to their employees.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

“Clearly, whether it’s Little Sisters of the Poor [an order of nuns that is fighting the same Obamacare mandate] or it’s Hobby Lobby or a variety of other cases,” Gingrich said, “you have a coercive government that is on certain grounds trying to create a totalitarian society in which you do what they say, whatever your beliefs are. And that’s a fundamental denial of being American.”

Gingrich is, of course, right. The issues raised by what is before the nation’s highest court are only the latest in an ongoing struggle between those who believe the right to religious liberty is virtually sacrosanct and those who want any discussion of God or a universal creator driven from the public square. The predominance of the “establishment” clause as the gauge for whether a policy passes constitutional muster at the expense of any consideration of the “free exercise” where matters of religious liberty are concerned is bringing the nation closer and closer to a crisis point.

Remember how the insertion of “God” into the Democratic Party platform at its 2012 national convention in Charlotte, N.C., was voted down thrice before the chairman shoehorned it in over concerns about the message that would be sent to middle America if the author of the universe went unmentioned in the party’s philosophical statement? The delegates on the floor of that convention were not only speaking for themselves but for a movement that regards the very idea of a Supreme Being as a not very cute, antiquated notion that is holding back the progress of mankind. Their position, apparently, is simple: They are not prepared to allow superstitious notions that have been discredited by the advent of science to prevent them from achieving their objectives.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

The doctrine of religious liberty is the founding cornerstone of the American republic. The founders recognized what wars between religions had done to their European ancestry and determined that this was a problem their new nation would avoid at all costs. Regrettably, there are those who have over the last 60 years taken this idea and turned it on its head to elevate the anti-religious creed to a position of equal standing. At its very basis, we must, as a community of common interests, work to insure that those “who believe” do not find their ability to act freely according to the dictates of individual conscience subordinated to the requirements of the state. If it comes to that, our cherished religious liberties will become a fiction, more honored in the breech than in the observance.