Commentary Magazine


Topic: religious freedom

Obama, Kerry Ignore Law on Cemetery Desecration

Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the “Protect Cemeteries Act” which amended the International Religious Freedom Act to include cemetery desecration as a violation of religious freedom. The full text of the bill, as signed into law by Obama, is here.

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Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the “Protect Cemeteries Act” which amended the International Religious Freedom Act to include cemetery desecration as a violation of religious freedom. The full text of the bill, as signed into law by Obama, is here.

The Islamic Republic of Iran—a country which President Obama increasingly treats as a diplomatic partner—now presents the first challenge to the new law. From the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has resumed its destruction of a Baha’i cemetery in the city of Shiraz, while a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the President earlier this month – known as the “Protect Cemeteries Act” – makes this type of cemetery desecration a sanctionable religious freedom violation. The Guard began excavating the site in April 2014, but temporarily suspended its activity following an international outcry. The cemetery is the site of 950 Baha’i graves, including those of 10 Baha’i women who were hanged in 1983, the youngest of whom was 17 years old. In June, the Guard held a public celebration of its progress in clearing the site, which it plans to turn into a cultural and sports complex. Reports from Iran indicate that the Guard has now removed human remains from some 30 of the 50 graves in the cemetery and placed them into an open canal.

In my recent study of engaging rogue regimes, one of the clear costs of such diplomacy—in almost every single example—is augmented abuse of religious freedom by the targets of America’s diplomacy. Rogues know that once the White House or State Department starts a process, it is loath to criticize rogue regimes for fear that they will walk away from the negotiating table. American outreach is akin to a free pass on accountability for any domestic repression.

The Obama presidency has been marked by disdain for the checks and balances inherent in the American system. Obama may be frustrated that he cannot achieve his agenda in the face of a recalcitrant Congress or dubious court; in this he would be joined by his 43 predecessors. But while the president may feel the end justifies the means as he bypasses laws that he did not support or sign, the “Protect Cemeteries Act” is a law which the president supported and which he signed just two weeks ago. Laws should be more than simply about a photo-op at a signing ceremony; it’s time for the president and Secretary of State John Kerry to stand up and sanction Iran for its clear and blatant violation of the amended International Religious Freedom Act, and for Congress to demand the president uphold the law he signed, and use its power of the purse both to make its displeasure felt and simultaneously to stand up for religious liberty.

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Justice Ginsberg’s Blind Spot

The fallout from the Hobby Lobby decision continues to be a top Democratic Party talking point as liberals hope to rally female voters to the polls. But the leading dissenter on the court in this decision isn’t content to stay on the sidelines of that debate. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only reason the majority decided that religious freedom trumped a newly-minted right to free contraception is their gender.

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The fallout from the Hobby Lobby decision continues to be a top Democratic Party talking point as liberals hope to rally female voters to the polls. But the leading dissenter on the court in this decision isn’t content to stay on the sidelines of that debate. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only reason the majority decided that religious freedom trumped a newly-minted right to free contraception is their gender.

In an interview with Katie Couric on Yahoo Global News, Ginsburg said she thinks the five male conservative justices who voted to uphold the rights of religious owners of corporations had a “blind spot” toward women.

Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?” Couric asked Ginsburg of the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, which cleared the way for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to female workers on religious grounds.

“I would have to say no,” the 81-year-old justice replied. Asked if the five justices revealed a “blind spot” in their decision, Ginsburg said yes.

The feisty leader of the court’s minority liberal bloc compared the decision of her five male peers to an old Supreme Court ruling that found discriminating against pregnant women was legal.

“But justices continue to think and can change,” she added, hopefully. “They have wives. They have daughters. By the way, I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers.

In response one could say that Ginsburg seems to have a “blind spot” toward the First Amendment and its protections of religious liberty. But just imagine if one of her five colleagues in the majority had said the only reason Ginsburg and Justices Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor had voted against the Hobby Lobby Corporation was because they were women. They would be excoriated as chauvinists who didn’t respect women or believe they were capable of reaching principled decisions on constitutional issues simply because of their gender. Such a statement would be universally condemned, and rightly so.

Let’s remember what was at stake in this decision. The ruling did not invalidate past Supreme Court cases that established a right to contraception, the use of which was once illegal in some municipalities or states. Rather it merely said that the Health and Human Services Department’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act did not trump the First Amendment. The HHS Mandate proclaimed not so much a right to access to contraception—something that is not in dispute—as a right to free contraception. Rather than protecting a long established or settled right, the mandate was a newly-minted government fiat that threatened to run roughshod over the rights of religious believers who were told they had a choice between violating their religious beliefs or forfeiting their businesses.

That has nothing to do with the rights of women who can easily obtain contraception on their own without their employers paying the bill. The notion of free contraception is merely a policy prescription by the Obama administration, not a principle grounded in law or the Constitution.

The point is, one doesn’t have to share the religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby owners or the many others who had similar objections to understand that if their religious freedom could be violated in this manner, no one’s rights were safe against the power of a government that was no longer constrained by the protections afforded citizens by the First Amendment. Nor does that have anything to do with being male or a particular variety of religious believer.

Justice Ginsburg is rightly held in great respect by the country. But what she did in her Hobby Lobby dissent is to confuse liberal ideology with the Constitution. Perhaps someday the Congress will pass laws mandating free contraception for all—something that is actually not in the ObamaCare law—but if so it cannot compel religious business owners to pay the bill. Women, like men, deserve the protections of the First Amendment. To say that its defense is an act of insensitivity toward women is not merely incorrect; it is an act of rank partisanship that shows little respect for the Constitution or the high court.

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Can We Talk About Muslim Intolerance?

In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

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In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

Despite its shortcomings, Kristof deserves some credit for raising an issue that has heretofore been treated as a taboo in the pages of the liberal flagship of the mainstream print media establishment. The Times has been one of the loudest voices touting the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims. It has campaigned against efforts to monitor homegrown Islamists and treated any concern about extremist Muslims as an expression of bigotry. It has also soft-pedaled Islamist extremism around the globe and rarely sought to explain the deep religious roots of this violent movement.

But confronted with the widespread evidence of religious persecution of non-Muslims throughout the Arab and Islamic world, Kristof does not avert his gaze. The opening of his column speaks for itself:

A Sudanese court in May sentences a Christian woman married to an American to be hanged, after first being lashed 100 times, after she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.

Muslim extremists in Iraq demand that Christians pay a tax or face crucifixion, according to the Iraqi government.

In Malaysia, courts ban some non-Muslims from using the word “Allah.”

In country after country, Islamic fundamentalists are measuring their own religious devotion by the degree to which they suppress or assault those they see as heretics, creating a human-rights catastrophe as people are punished or murdered for their religious beliefs.

These examples are, as Kristof makes clear, not isolated examples or the product of outlier forces. The trend he writes about is mainstream opinion in much of the Muslim world, even in countries that are often somewhat misleadingly labeled as “moderate” because they are supporting terrorist attacks on the West. As he rightly notes, Saudi Arabia is just as repressive toward minority faiths as Iran or Sudan. Though there are places, such as in China, where Muslim minorities are themselves the victims of religious persecution, the pattern of Islamic intolerance is almost uniform across the globe where they are in power.

But the consequences of this trend are not limited to the unfortunate fate of Christians who are being driven out of their homes in places where they have lived for millennia. Muslim aggression against non-believers is integral to the conflict with Islamist forces waging terrorist wars throughout the Middle East as well as parts of Africa.

American leaders have been at pains to try and differentiate our war against terror from a war against Islam and Muslims. They are right to do so because the West has no interest in a general war against any religion or its adherents. But you can’t understand what is driving the efforts of al-Qaeda and its many affiliates and allies, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq, without examining the way these groups exploit religious fervor and intolerance for non-Muslims. Islamist terror in the West cannot be separated from the intolerance against non-Muslims that Kristof laments. It is a sickness within Muslim culture and must be confronted (hopefully by Muslims) and openly discussed if it is ever to be contained.

But even as he finds his voice to speak out for the victims of this trend, Kristof pulls his punches, lest he be labeled as an Islamophobe, as so many others who have raised the alarm about this problem have been:

This is a sensitive area I’m wading into here, I realize. Islam-haters in America and the West seize upon incidents like these to denounce Islam as a malignant religion of violence, while politically correct liberals are reluctant to say anything for fear of feeding bigotry. Yet there is a real issue here of religious tolerance, affecting millions of people, and we should be able to discuss it. …

I hesitated to write this column because religious repression is an awkward topic when it thrives in Muslim countries. Muslims from Gaza to Syria, Western Sahara to Myanmar, are already enduring plenty without also being scolded for intolerance. It’s also true that we in the West live in glass houses, and I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia.

Muslims do have a lot on their plate these days. But as much as Kristof deserves applauses for having broken ranks with his Times brethren, he fails to connect the dots between the troubles Muslims are enduring in Gaza, Syria, and other hot spots and the virus in their political and religious culture that promotes not only religious intolerance but jihad against the West and Muslims who hesitate to join the dark forces spreading conflict.

More importantly, it’s really not possible to sound the alarm about widespread global Muslim religious persecution while at the same time still trying to stay within the boundaries of liberal political correct dogma about Islamophobia. While anti-Muslim bigots do exist and must be denounced, the use of the term Islamophobia is a buzzword for attempts to silence those seeking to highlight the very trend that Kristof seeks to bring to the attention of the readers of the Times.

Thinking seriously about Muslim intolerance and violence isn’t a function of chauvinism or hate. It’s simply a matter of acknowledging a fact about the world that can’t be ignored. A tentative step, such as the one Kristof took today, is better than none at all. But even this groundbreaking column illustrates the difficulty liberals have in talking about this subject.

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Free Contraception v. the Constitution

Liberal anger over last week’s Hobby Lobby decision increased on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a provisional exemption to a Christian college that objected to being compelled to pay or even be complicit in the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. This will cause the left to redouble efforts to recycle its “war on women” meme. But like many of the recent criticisms of the court, this argument seemed to have everything to do with politics and nothing with the Constitution.

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Liberal anger over last week’s Hobby Lobby decision increased on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a provisional exemption to a Christian college that objected to being compelled to pay or even be complicit in the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. This will cause the left to redouble efforts to recycle its “war on women” meme. But like many of the recent criticisms of the court, this argument seemed to have everything to do with politics and nothing with the Constitution.

The decision that granted Wheaton College the right to avoid even the appearance of complicity in the use of such drugs provoked a particularly angry response from the court’s three female members. Speaking on behalf of the liberal trio, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that allowing Wheaton to opt out of the Health and Human Services Department’s ObamaCare contraception mandate gave the lie to the conservative majority’s assurances in Hobby Lobby. In that decision, Justice Samuel Alito ruled that all they were doing was ensuring that requirements to provide free contraception coverage in insurance plans were enforced in the manner that would not place a “substantial burden” on the religious freedom of those affected.

Sotomayor believed the plan proposed by the government that would require religious non-profits like Wheaton to submit forms to their insurance carriers instructing them to provide the drugs, albeit without payment from the institutions in question, was an adequate fix. The majority rightly disagreed. While a provision to allow the government to step in and pay for the drugs was legal, demanding those with religious objections to the use of such drugs to take part in their distribution in this manner clearly violated the First Amendment protections of religious freedom.

But the debate about this decision, and the subsequent distortions of it on the Sunday talk shows and on MSNBC, demonstrate something far more insidious than merely the latest iteration of what is generally put down as a “culture war” issue. After all, no one, not even Wheaton College or the Green family that owns the Hobby Lobby company are advocating for the ban of contraception or believe that what they are doing in these suits is part of a campaign to end or even limit legal abortions in this country. Rather, what we are witnessing is a liberal meltdown in which they have come to believe the First Amendment is a technicality that should brushed aside when it comes into conflict with the “right” to free contraception.

The notion of such a right dates only to the aftermath of the passage of ObamaCare in 2010 when HHS interpreted the law as an authorization for a mandate that would require all employers, regardless of whether they were religious institutions or not, or the beliefs of their owners, to pay for a wide range of contraception, including those drugs that are believed to cause abortions.

Most Americans are not opposed to any form of contraception and may even approve of drugs or devices that some believers see as abortion inducers. But one doesn’t have to share the convictions of the Greens or the board at Wheaton to understand that a bureaucratic mandate that runs roughshod over their faith trashes the First Amendment protection of free exercise of religion that all Americans rely upon.

Yet for the political left, the concept of religious liberty has been re-interpreted as to only mean the right to be allowed to pray in private but not to live one’s faith in the public square. When faith conflicts with policy initiatives such as the free contraception mandate, they assume that religion must always lose. However, the court majority has rightly reminded us that the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment cannot be trashed simply because a lot of Americans want not only access to contraception but also think their employers ought to be compelled to pay for it.

But to liberals, a decision that reaffirms the primacy of religious freedom is just the latest iteration of a Republican “war on women.” As a political slogan, that meme has been political gold for Democrats who believe its use guarantees their stranglehold on the votes of unmarried women. But as infuriating and wrongheaded the war on women arguments may be, what is really troubling about them is that they reflect a utilitarian approach to the Constitution that regards any of its protections as expendable if they are obstacles to a liberal policy goal.

It should be pointed out again that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that the court has rightly referenced in its decisions granting relief to opponents of the HHS mandate once had bipartisan support. But Democrats appear to be willing to sacrifice it now that its protections for faith are making implementation of this notion of free contraception for all difficult.

This is significant not because that goal is unreasonable or immoral. No-cost contraception is no more absurd than many other federal entitlements, though even its most fervent advocates must understand that the cause of free condoms and birth control pills has none of the moral authority that efforts to guarantee food, shelter, or even basic health care for the poor can command. But even if we were to agree that this particular prooposal is a laudable program, the idea that providing these items free of charge at the expense of all employers—including those with deep religious convictions—is so important that it must take precedence over religious freedom is insupportable. Indeed, it can only be asserted in the context of a belief that no constitutional protections of any kind can stand against it.

Do single women truly believe that their desire for free contraception is a principle of such importance that it trumps the First Amendment? That is a doubtful proposition. But it makes sense in a liberal political environment in which the Constitution no longer commands the respect of one side of the political aisle.

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Dems Overreach in War on Women Reboot

Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby made it clear that religious liberty trumps ObamaCare’s policy dictates. That’s bad news for liberals who believe their vision of universal health care can override the Constitution as well as Republicans. But the silver lining for Democrats is that they think the decision will allow them to reboot their war on women theme just at the moment when it seemed the public might be tiring of it.

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Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby made it clear that religious liberty trumps ObamaCare’s policy dictates. That’s bad news for liberals who believe their vision of universal health care can override the Constitution as well as Republicans. But the silver lining for Democrats is that they think the decision will allow them to reboot their war on women theme just at the moment when it seemed the public might be tiring of it.

In Hobby Lobby, the court’s 5-4 majority established that the only guarantees that counted in the case were those of the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act that set a high standard for the government to prove that it had a compelling interest to force citizens to violate their religious beliefs. As the decision stated, when it came to matters such as employment discrimination, faith cannot be an excuse for open bias. But the notion of the “right” of citizens to have free contraception or abortion-inducing drugs paid for by an employer who thinks such services violate their religion doesn’t meet the test.

The only parties that were potentially deprived of their rights in Hobby Lobby were the religious owners of the chain stores and other business people in a similar situation. The ObamaCare mandate treated their faith-based opposition to abortion drugs as irrelevant to the desire not for access to such drugs but to compel employers to pay for them. The court rightly decided that to do so to closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby was to create a situation in which the owners must choose between their faith and the right to do business. This would have been an intolerable violation of their rights that would create a cribbed definition of religious liberty in which faith must be abandoned in the public square.

Yet for Democrats, this commonsense reassertion of First Amendment protections is a new war on women being waged not by congressional Republicans but by conservative justices.

That’s the message being repeated endlessly on the left as it attempts to turn Hobby Lobby into a judicial version of Todd Akin’s infamous comments about rape and abortion. As Politico reports, it didn’t take long for Democratic operatives to begin ginning up their war machine in which the decision is now framed as an effort to impose fundamentalist religion on non-believers and to tell women what they can or cannot do with their bodies.

But what the Democrats are forgetting is that a Supreme Court decision protecting constitutional rights is not the moral equivalent of a political gaffe. Try as they might, Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling is not a repeat of Rush Limbaugh’s line about contraception advocate Sandra Fluke being a “slut.”

No one, not even the Green family that owns Hobby Lobby, is telling Fluke or any other women who wants free contraception or abortion drugs not to have sex or to use these products. But they are making it clear that they should not be forced to pay for these widely available items. Do the Democrats think Americans are so stupid as to misconstrue this entirely reasonable position as a war on women?

Given the events of 2012 when a few stray remarks by Limbaugh and then Akin morphed into a media-driven campaign meme about Republicans and women, perhaps they’re not far off. Limbaugh’s foolish comments about Fluke after she testified before Congress against the mandate helped transform a debate that up until that moment had been correctly focused on the Catholic Church’s principled opposition to the federal plan. Soon, everyone, at least in the mainstream media, was discussing how mean conservatives were to women, not religious freedom.

But a court decision is not so easily hyped into that kind of a distortion. Whether Americans agree with the Greens about abortion, and most probably do not, the reasonable center of American politics understands that this case is about balancing one demand for a benefit against rights. Turning that sort of a nuanced ruling, which limited the impact to a specific kind of company and which also set limits on how far faith could override policy mandates, into a one-liner requires more than an ad buy; it can only work when political operatives are in “big lie” mode.

The Democratic push will fire up their base and that is probably all they really want. But they must also be careful. No one liked it when Limbaugh insulted Fluke and Akin’s comments were as stupid as they were indefensible. But Alito’s decision is the sort of commonsense approach to policy that most Americans crave in that it defended principle while also recognized that even faith can go too far. If Democrats go all-in on an attack on religious liberty, barring a similar error such as that of Limbaugh, they may be the ones overreaching on the issue.

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The Opposition to Religious Liberty Is Partisan–And That’s What Is Dangerous

Anyone watching Congressman Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, on Fox News Sunday yesterday saw the one significant aspect of the Hobby Lobby case that the Supreme Court would not have solved no matter how it ruled today. Of course, it helped that the high court defended some space for religious freedom in its ruling. But Becerra’s talking points demonstrated just why religious protections must be in place and defended vigorously: religious freedom for its own sake is now a partisan issue.

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Anyone watching Congressman Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, on Fox News Sunday yesterday saw the one significant aspect of the Hobby Lobby case that the Supreme Court would not have solved no matter how it ruled today. Of course, it helped that the high court defended some space for religious freedom in its ruling. But Becerra’s talking points demonstrated just why religious protections must be in place and defended vigorously: religious freedom for its own sake is now a partisan issue.

Becerra was asked by host Chris Wallace whether business owners must violate their beliefs if the government mandates it. Here is the ensuing exchange (sic throughout; from the transcript):

BECERRA: The government will not violate anyone’s religious beliefs. But no one has the right to discriminate against a woman because of her own beliefs. I believe that the Supreme Court will find that no business –

WALLACE: She doesn’t have to work with the company.

BECERRA: – no business should be allowed to discrimination against women. And we’ve gone beyond that. We should also try to pay them equally for the work they do.

WALLACE: We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the birth control mandate.

BECERRA: Let’s protect the woman’s rights to be able to earn the same pay and live their lives –

WALLACE: What about the owner’s right to his religious freedom, his religious beliefs?

BECERRA: The owner has a right to his or her religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean you get to discriminate against women if a woman have different beliefs than what the owner has and the woman wants to exercise her rights under the Constitution.

Notice Becerra–twice–compares “religious beliefs” to any “beliefs.” The owner may hold religious beliefs that would be violated by the contraception mandate. But the employee believes the owner should provide her with any form of birth control she wants. Now we’re at an impasse, according to Becerra’s remarkably preposterous gibberish. According to Becerra’s mindset–and remember, he is offering the Democratic Party take on this case–religious beliefs are no different from political opinions. That is, for the purposes of constitutional law and practice, they don’t exist separate from any random employee demand.

Of course, the Supreme Court did not rule this way, because Becerra’s reasoning, such as it is, discounts the very first passage of the very First Amendment to the Constitution. But the violence Becerra wants to inflict on the Constitution should not be ignored even after the high court rejected it, because it reflects the reason we have this case to begin with: when forced to choose between religious freedom and government coercion, the left will choose government coercion. Combine that with the extent to which the left seeks to expand government power, and you have a troubling erosion of civil society and the private sphere.

That’s evident from this piece by Yishai Schwartz in the New Republic. Schwartz argues that the left is wrong to dismiss the religious freedom issues at play here. He knocks the deeply silly talking point so popular on the left that “corporations aren’t people” and “corporations don’t have beliefs.” He writes: “I certainly hope The New Republic has free-speech rights and the local church has free-exercise rights, even though they are corporations.”

Having acknowledged the legitimacy of the religious protections Hobby Lobby sought, Schwartz also praises the religious freedom “consensus” that has prevailed … until now. What happened? Here Schwartz makes a novel, though thoroughly noxious, attempt at misdirection: “the GOP’s scorched-earth attack of the Affordable Care Act has already claimed its primary victim: religious freedom.”

Schwartz then tries, in vain, to defend his assertion that the party fighting on behalf of religious freedom is really its enemy, and the party assaulting the religious freedom consensus is innocent:

But as conservative media seized on religious freedom suits like Hobby Lobby to bludgeon Obama, the left has increasingly abandoned RFRA. Where liberals once championed a law meant to protect small religious groups from callous majorities, they now see an endless slippery slope of religious conservatives obeying whatever laws they happen to find acceptable.  In religious freedom, the left now sees only a shield that will allow religious conservatives to discriminate against gays and harm women’s reproductive health. In the partisan rancor that has consumed today’s Washington, the consensus in favor of religious accommodations has been shattered.

ObamaCare’s HHS regulations infringed on the religious freedom of Christians. After that infringement, Americans fought for their previously recognized religious rights. According to Schwartz, conservatives should have silently accepted this abrogation of constitutional protections because if they made a scene, liberals would finally concede that they don’t really believe in those protections, and in a fit of rage revolt against the very idea of religious freedom–simply because conservatives are loudly defending it.

I don’t know the Democrats that Schwartz is talking about, but they seem consumed by anger and absolutism. And they–and their apologists like Schwartz–are living proof of just how important it is to fight for and codify these rights. Any political movement that hates conservatives enough to abandon the Constitution because conservatives support it, as does the version of American liberalism Schwartz profiles, is a perpetual argument in favor of conservatives’ effort to preserve religious liberty.

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Religious Liberty Trumps ObamaCare

In ruling against the ObamaCare contraception mandate today in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a fundamental principle of American law. While the administration hoped to establish a precedent that would have ensured that its policy goals about free contraception and abortion overrode the rights of individuals, the court said no. Religious freedom trumps ObamaCare and the government’s war on faith.

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In ruling against the ObamaCare contraception mandate today in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a fundamental principle of American law. While the administration hoped to establish a precedent that would have ensured that its policy goals about free contraception and abortion overrode the rights of individuals, the court said no. Religious freedom trumps ObamaCare and the government’s war on faith.

At stake in this case was the question of whether the government could compel companies to pay for services that its owners asserted violated their right to religious freedom. In this case, it was the abortion-inducing drugs that the Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of stores refused to include in the insurance coverage they offered employees. The government’s position was that such companies do not have First Amendment rights that protect free exercise of religion. But what the court has done today is to make clear that no policy goal justifies abrogating religious freedom.

Doing so does not overturn the Affordable Care Act or make it unworkable. Indeed, the decision will probably not even affect the ability of individuals who work for such companies to get free coverage for such drugs since it is likely that the government will now step in and pay for them. Nor does it claim that all companies can assert such rights since the decision restricts itself to the fate of closely held corporations rather than public companies run by people with diverse views and interests. But it does deal a devastating blow to the concept that government mandates can run roughshod over religious freedom when applied to those who do business.

Had the government prevailed, the result would have been a new cribbed version of religious freedom that would have allowed it only in houses of worship or at home but not in the public square. Under those circumstances, those choosing to operate businesses or to avail themselves of the protections afforded those who incorporate enterprises would be forced to make a choice between their faith and their economic interests. As Justice Alito rightly notes in the majority decision, when Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it “designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty and did not intend to put merchants to such a choice.”

Liberals have mocked the idea that corporations are individuals with rights, whether of political speech (which the court protected in the Citizens United decision) or religious liberty as in this case. But the point here is that by extending free exercise rights to corporations, the Constitution is guaranteeing them to the individuals who own them. Citizens are not stripped of their religious freedom when they incorporate.

Similarly, opponents of Hobby Lobby and the other companies associated with this case have asserted that granting religious liberty to such entities creates a slippery slope that will enable all sorts of discrimination in the name of faith. But, as the court held, the government has a compelling interest in protecting citizens against such actions. It could make no such case for forcing business owners to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.

The mandate’s supporters have sought to frame this issue as one of women’s rights or health but that is utterly specious. No one is preventing anyone from obtaining contraception or abortions in this case. But it does not follow that the government has the right to compel companies to pay for such services when they contradict the religious beliefs of its owners. Those who wish not to be forced to pay for such services are not imposing their faith on others. It is, instead, the government that is trying to force people of faith to abandon their values if they want to operate publicly.

This precedent will not apply to companies with diverse ownership that do not all agree about religion. Yet by carving out a place in the public sphere for companies like Hobby Lobby, whose proprietors live out their faiths even when they do business, the court has reminded a government whose appetite for power seems unquenchable that the First Amendment protections of religious expression apply in the business world as much as they do in churches, synagogues, or mosques.

One needn’t agree with the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, or with the Catholic Church that successfully campaigned for exempting religious institutions and non-profits from the mandate, about either contraception or abortion, to understand that if the government can take their rights away, no one’s freedom is safe.

At the heart of this case was more than a government regulation. Universal healthcare is, in principle, a noble goal. But when it is interpreted to mean that the government guarantees those who wish to avail themselves of contraception or abortion services may compel those whose faith opposes these things to give it to them for free, it becomes a form of tyranny. Even if we were to concede that the Affordable Care Act is good for the country, which I do not, its ambition to expand insurance coverage is not sufficient to justify mandates that treat religious liberty as an afterthought at best.

As with so many other difficult cases being decided by the court these days, Hobby Lobby hinged on the attempt to balance the desire of liberals to expand the power of government with constitutional principles. Religious liberty may not be set aside merely because it can, under some circumstances, interfere with the liberal project. The Constitution can be a very inconvenient document for those who want to ignore its restrictions on the ability of government to do what it likes. But at least in this instance, the court has reminded us that religious freedom cannot be sacrificed on the altar of President Obama’s signature health-care law.

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Hobby Lobby Critics Demonize Belief

The legal and political world is awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case with bated breath. The court’s ruling will determine whether the Obama administration’s efforts to restrict religious freedom or the plaintiffs’ belief that faith may be practiced in the public square will prevail. The arguments over the merits of the case in which the government’s attempt to impose a contraception and abortion drug mandate on private businesses as well as religious institutions have been endlessly rehearsed as a sidebar to the general debate about ObamaCare. But, as I noted earlier this year, rather than confining the debate to the question of constitutional rights, critics of the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius have done their best to portray the business owners who seek to strike down the government mandate as not merely wrong but a threat to liberty.

In order to do this, the administration and its cheering section in the mainstream media have sought to transform the debate from one that centers on government using its power to force people of faith to choose between their religion and their business to the dubious notion that dissenters from the mandate wish to impose their beliefs on others. This is a false premise since even if the owners of Hobby Lobby win, its employees won’t be prevented from obtaining birth control or abortion-inducing drugs. The only thing that will change is whether their Christian employers will be forced to pay for them.

But efforts to demonize Hobby Lobby are not confined to these specious arguments. As today’s feature in Politico on the Green family shows, the goal of the liberal critics of Hobby Lobby isn’t so much to draw the line on religious freedom as it is to depict their foes as crazy religious extremists who want to transform America into a “Christian nation.” That this is an unfair distortion of their intent as well as the point of the court case goes without saying. But the fact that mainstream publications feel free to mock the Greens in this manner tells us exactly why the plaintiffs’ fears about restrictions on religious freedom may be justified.

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The legal and political world is awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case with bated breath. The court’s ruling will determine whether the Obama administration’s efforts to restrict religious freedom or the plaintiffs’ belief that faith may be practiced in the public square will prevail. The arguments over the merits of the case in which the government’s attempt to impose a contraception and abortion drug mandate on private businesses as well as religious institutions have been endlessly rehearsed as a sidebar to the general debate about ObamaCare. But, as I noted earlier this year, rather than confining the debate to the question of constitutional rights, critics of the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius have done their best to portray the business owners who seek to strike down the government mandate as not merely wrong but a threat to liberty.

In order to do this, the administration and its cheering section in the mainstream media have sought to transform the debate from one that centers on government using its power to force people of faith to choose between their religion and their business to the dubious notion that dissenters from the mandate wish to impose their beliefs on others. This is a false premise since even if the owners of Hobby Lobby win, its employees won’t be prevented from obtaining birth control or abortion-inducing drugs. The only thing that will change is whether their Christian employers will be forced to pay for them.

But efforts to demonize Hobby Lobby are not confined to these specious arguments. As today’s feature in Politico on the Green family shows, the goal of the liberal critics of Hobby Lobby isn’t so much to draw the line on religious freedom as it is to depict their foes as crazy religious extremists who want to transform America into a “Christian nation.” That this is an unfair distortion of their intent as well as the point of the court case goes without saying. But the fact that mainstream publications feel free to mock the Greens in this manner tells us exactly why the plaintiffs’ fears about restrictions on religious freedom may be justified.

In Politico’s telling, the Greens are religious fanatics who not only are willing to conduct their businesses along religious lines, including closing their chain of hobby stores on Sunday, but also want to promote their beliefs to others. The Greens may wind up investing hundreds of millions of their vast fortune to the building of a Bible museum in Washington D.C. The also want to promote Bible study and a funding a textbook and curriculum about religious studies they’d like to see be adopted by school systems. According to Politico, these efforts are stirring concern in the ranks of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and other liberal organs.

Were one of the Greens running for national political office, all this would, of course, be fair game. But it bears repeating that these people are private individuals who are merely using their personal resources to do exactly what the Founders sought to guarantee for all Americans: express their opinions and practice their faith without government interference.

As with their views about contraception or abortion, you don’t have to agree with the Greens to understand that they have every right to practice their faith and to promote their ideas. These are, as Politico admits, not your typical tycoons. They are more interested in faith than profit and are willing to stake their fortune on a fight to preserve their ability to conduct business without being forced to violate their religious beliefs. That may be alien to the mindset of many Americans in an era where much of our popular culture rests on the premise that we live in a world where there is no God and that those whose lives are built on faith are somewhat screwy. But the notion that such people, even very rich ones who build museums and promote Bible study, are a threat to non-believers is utterly fanciful.

Contrary to their government opponents in their lawsuit, the Hobby Lobby owners are not trying to force the actions of others to conform to their beliefs. What they want is to be left alone to practice their faith while also trying to persuade others to share it. Bible study may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the notion that it is a threat to democracy would have been hard to sell to this nation’s Founders. The attacks on the Greens illustrate the intolerance of openly expressed faith that is at the core of the mandate the administration is seeking to enforce. The Greens are no threat to the liberty of non-believers who need not visit their bible museum nor read the religious materials they publish. But a government, egged on by a liberal media establishment, that can’t tolerate Hobby Lobby’s practices is one that has little interest in defending anyone’s religious freedom. In such an atmosphere, it’s little wonder that Hobby Lobby’s advocates see the outcome of this case as a crucial moment in the fight to defend constitutional liberty.

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Don’t Abet Academia’s Crackdown on Religious Liberty

By far the most strategically canny aspect of liberal institutions’ multifront attack on religious freedom in America has been the (alas, successful) bid to divide and conquer. From within the Jewish world, for example, it’s been sad to watch Jews insist that obvious violations of religious freedom of Catholics shouldn’t concern Jews, because the Democratic White House has not yet come for them.

The latest instance of non-Christian acquiescence in state-sponsored religious bigotry is on the issue of religious groups on public college campuses. The New York Times reports on the trend of religious groups, usually evangelicals, losing their college affiliation for refusing to sign the loyalty oath masquerading as an “anti-discrimination” agreement.

The Times centers the story on Bowdoin College, but notes that the real issue is the California State University’s public system–the largest of its kind in the country–joining the campaign, which Christian students and leaders understandably see as a possible tipping point against them. Like the Constitutional clergy of revolutionary France who took the oath of allegiance to the new secular state, the Times reports that “At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems.”

Yet it’s easy to understand the evangelical groups’ concern with the extent, though not the spirit, of the oath:

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

No kidding! Would a Jewish group be comfortable with a non-Jew leading prayer services? In charge of the group’s Torah study? The evangelical groups do not forbid non-believers from participating in their activities. They simply want their religious practice to be led by members of their religious community. And for this, they are paying the price:

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By far the most strategically canny aspect of liberal institutions’ multifront attack on religious freedom in America has been the (alas, successful) bid to divide and conquer. From within the Jewish world, for example, it’s been sad to watch Jews insist that obvious violations of religious freedom of Catholics shouldn’t concern Jews, because the Democratic White House has not yet come for them.

The latest instance of non-Christian acquiescence in state-sponsored religious bigotry is on the issue of religious groups on public college campuses. The New York Times reports on the trend of religious groups, usually evangelicals, losing their college affiliation for refusing to sign the loyalty oath masquerading as an “anti-discrimination” agreement.

The Times centers the story on Bowdoin College, but notes that the real issue is the California State University’s public system–the largest of its kind in the country–joining the campaign, which Christian students and leaders understandably see as a possible tipping point against them. Like the Constitutional clergy of revolutionary France who took the oath of allegiance to the new secular state, the Times reports that “At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems.”

Yet it’s easy to understand the evangelical groups’ concern with the extent, though not the spirit, of the oath:

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

No kidding! Would a Jewish group be comfortable with a non-Jew leading prayer services? In charge of the group’s Torah study? The evangelical groups do not forbid non-believers from participating in their activities. They simply want their religious practice to be led by members of their religious community. And for this, they are paying the price:

The consequences for evangelical groups that refuse to agree to the nondiscrimination policies, and therefore lose their official standing, vary by campus. The students can still meet informally on campus, but in most cases their groups lose access to student activity fee money as well as first claim to low-cost or free university spaces for meetings and worship; they also lose access to standard on-campus recruiting tools, such as activities fairs and bulletin boards, and may lose the right to use the universities’ names.

“It’s absurd,” said Alec Hill, the president of InterVarsity, a national association of evangelical student groups, including the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. “The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”

Some institutions, including the University of Florida, the University of Houston, the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas, have opted to exempt religious groups from nondiscrimination policies, according to the Christian Legal Society. But evangelical groups have lost official status at Tufts University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Rollins College in Florida, among others, and their advocates are worried that Cal State could be a tipping point.

The Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, mainline Protestant, and other non-evangelical groups that have signed this modern-day Civil Constitution of the Clergy probably think they are simply avoiding a fight that doesn’t pertain to them. That’s plain madness, and shameful to boot.

But it’s also counterproductive. When the left-liberal establishment seeks to infringe their own rights, they will have already acceded to this conformist fanaticism and surrendered any right to expect other religious groups to come to their aid. This is particularly careless for the Jewish community, which is such a demographic minority that in such cases they have no strength but in numbers–a lesson they bewilderingly seem intent on unlearning.

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Liberals’ Hobby Lobby Scare Campaign

Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court finally takes up a case that has been headed toward their courtroom since the 2010 passage of ObamaCare. Two private companies are challenging the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that requires all companies to pay for a range of services including contraception and abortion-inducing drugs that violate the religious beliefs of their owners. The two companies, the Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby craft store chain and Pennsylvania’s Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation are seeking to defend the First Amendment rights to exercise of religion against the government’s attempt to impose its beliefs and policies on all employers by threatening to ruin them with fines and penalties if they dare to refuse to obey the mandate.

But according to the administration and its liberal cheerleaders in the media, the stakes involved in this case involve nothing less than the future of women’s rights as well as those of gays. As the lead of a New York Times news story that would have been better placed on their opinion page read, this is a “case that pits religious liberty against women’s rights.” That frame of reference dovetailed nicely with a Times editorial that claimed Hobby Lobby and its supporters were “crying wolf about religious liberty” that would allow business owners to impose their beliefs on their helpless employees. Even worse, they claim it will gut health care and deny basic services to many Americans.

This is nothing less than a scare campaign aimed at intimidating the conservative members of the high court—or perhaps just Chief Justice John Roberts, whose worries about exposing his institution to political criticism allowed ObamaCare to survive a justified challenge to its constitutionality in 2012—to back away from a rigorous interpretation of the law that would obligate them to strike down the mandate. Far from setting off legal chaos that will undermine the foundation of human rights in this country, should Hobby Lobby and its fellow plaintiffs win, the result would be a reaffirmation of individual liberty and the basic protections afforded all Americans by the Constitution.

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Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court finally takes up a case that has been headed toward their courtroom since the 2010 passage of ObamaCare. Two private companies are challenging the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that requires all companies to pay for a range of services including contraception and abortion-inducing drugs that violate the religious beliefs of their owners. The two companies, the Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby craft store chain and Pennsylvania’s Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation are seeking to defend the First Amendment rights to exercise of religion against the government’s attempt to impose its beliefs and policies on all employers by threatening to ruin them with fines and penalties if they dare to refuse to obey the mandate.

But according to the administration and its liberal cheerleaders in the media, the stakes involved in this case involve nothing less than the future of women’s rights as well as those of gays. As the lead of a New York Times news story that would have been better placed on their opinion page read, this is a “case that pits religious liberty against women’s rights.” That frame of reference dovetailed nicely with a Times editorial that claimed Hobby Lobby and its supporters were “crying wolf about religious liberty” that would allow business owners to impose their beliefs on their helpless employees. Even worse, they claim it will gut health care and deny basic services to many Americans.

This is nothing less than a scare campaign aimed at intimidating the conservative members of the high court—or perhaps just Chief Justice John Roberts, whose worries about exposing his institution to political criticism allowed ObamaCare to survive a justified challenge to its constitutionality in 2012—to back away from a rigorous interpretation of the law that would obligate them to strike down the mandate. Far from setting off legal chaos that will undermine the foundation of human rights in this country, should Hobby Lobby and its fellow plaintiffs win, the result would be a reaffirmation of individual liberty and the basic protections afforded all Americans by the Constitution.

As I have noted previously, you don’t have to agree with the owners of Hobby Lobby or other persons of faith about abortion or contraception in order to understand that a defeat for them would endanger everyone’s rights. If their religious liberty is considered less important than the government’s desire to create a universal mandate for employers to pay for such services, then there is no limit to what the government can demand and no room for faith in our public square anymore. In this case the plaintiffs are merely asking the courts to remember that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) set a standard by which government would be forced to prove that they were not imposing a substantial burden on the free exercise of faith by demanding that believers bow to their dictates. This is clearly not the case with ObamaCare, since its contraception mandate forces religious business owners to participate in the provision of services that clearly violate their consciences.

Protecting their rights to abstain from the mandate does not in any way endanger the rights of women or their health since Hobby Lobby employees are free to purchase such drugs on their own. What the government wants is not to protect the freedom to use contraception—which is not in question—but to be able to make religious organizations as well as private businesses pay for it and thus compromise their principles. Their reasoning is twisted, but at its heart is the belief that government can run roughshod over rights in order to obtain some larger good such as free health services. Upholding such a mandate would mean a re-writing of the First Amendment that would protect private expressions of faith but prohibit its exercise in the public square. The administration seeks to interpret the law in such a manner as to require people to choose between their faith and the survival of their enterprises. Our framers believed that government moral coercion of this sort was beyond the pale. That is why they sought to create a constitutional framework that ensured that while we would have no established church, neither would our government seek to constrain religious freedom.

As we saw with the recent furor over a revision in the Arizona version of RFRA, it is entirely possible for concerns about the rights of women or gays to be used as a weapon in order to squelch discussions about religious liberty and the Constitution. But the Supreme Court should be immune to such cynical scare mongering by the administration and the liberal mainstream media. Let us hope the justices ignore the attempt to buffalo them into suppressing religious freedom in the name of upholding ObamaCare.

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The UK’s Growing Disregard for Religious Liberty

The debate about ritual slaughter appears to be about to erupt in Britain in a significant fashion. Already pundits there are beginning to discuss the matter in terms of religious freedom, which may seem sensible given the very real way in which this matter pertains to Jewish and Islamic practices. Yet, if anyone in Britain is hoping to make the case in defense of ritual slaughter by invoking the value of religious liberty then they are wasting their time. In recent years law makers and the courts in the United Kingdom have displayed a profound disinterest in religious liberty if and when it conflicts with the left-liberal values that Britain’s elites adhere to with a sense of conviction as strong as any religious faith.

With Denmark having recently outlawed ritual slaughter, the conversation has now come onto the agenda in Britain also. The London Times has given over its front page to a piece highlighting calls by John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, to either have ritual slaughter reformed, or if not, banned outright. Blackwell places the emphasis on the notion that slaughter without stunning causes unnecessary suffering to animals. Yet, this is an immediately problematic argument even according to the terms that it sets for itself. Since no doubt vegetarians would retort that all forms of slaughter cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Similarly, one might just as well say that the farming of battery hens causes unnecessary suffering to the birds in question. But the public likes their eggs cheap, so it goes on.

Writing at the Telegraph Christina Odone aptly titles her piece on the subject; I don’t want to live in a Britain that prizes its cows more than its Jews. But for sometime now Britain has prized a great many things over and above its religious groups. In the rights agenda that now plagues most western democracies, minorities are continuously competing to have their demands met under the banner of human rights. Yet, increasingly religious minorities are losing out in this struggle.

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The debate about ritual slaughter appears to be about to erupt in Britain in a significant fashion. Already pundits there are beginning to discuss the matter in terms of religious freedom, which may seem sensible given the very real way in which this matter pertains to Jewish and Islamic practices. Yet, if anyone in Britain is hoping to make the case in defense of ritual slaughter by invoking the value of religious liberty then they are wasting their time. In recent years law makers and the courts in the United Kingdom have displayed a profound disinterest in religious liberty if and when it conflicts with the left-liberal values that Britain’s elites adhere to with a sense of conviction as strong as any religious faith.

With Denmark having recently outlawed ritual slaughter, the conversation has now come onto the agenda in Britain also. The London Times has given over its front page to a piece highlighting calls by John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, to either have ritual slaughter reformed, or if not, banned outright. Blackwell places the emphasis on the notion that slaughter without stunning causes unnecessary suffering to animals. Yet, this is an immediately problematic argument even according to the terms that it sets for itself. Since no doubt vegetarians would retort that all forms of slaughter cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Similarly, one might just as well say that the farming of battery hens causes unnecessary suffering to the birds in question. But the public likes their eggs cheap, so it goes on.

Writing at the Telegraph Christina Odone aptly titles her piece on the subject; I don’t want to live in a Britain that prizes its cows more than its Jews. But for sometime now Britain has prized a great many things over and above its religious groups. In the rights agenda that now plagues most western democracies, minorities are continuously competing to have their demands met under the banner of human rights. Yet, increasingly religious minorities are losing out in this struggle.

In recent years there have been no shortage of lawsuits where religious individuals have been stripped of their freedoms in the name of advancing human rights. Perhaps just a couple of examples will suffice here. While in 2002 Britain changed the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt, in 2011 the High Court sided with social workers who were preventing certain Christian couples from being allowed to foster if they refused to endorse homosexuality as a lifestyle to the children they were fostering. When throwing out the case of a specific Pentecostal couple the judges stated, “we live in this country in a democratic and pluralistic society, in a secular state not a theocracy.”

In 2009 it had been the turn of the Jewish community to be subjected to this kind of thinking. That year Britain’s newly formed Supreme Court ruled that Jewish schools were practicing racial discrimination by following their tradition and only admitting children who were Jewish by religious law; be that according to matrilineal descent or Orthodox conversion. But in hyper-politically correct modern Britain, once this was framed as racism, the schools didn’t stand a chance.   

Of course, those coming out in support of a ban on ritual slaughter claim that they are in no way motivated by hostility to either Jews or Muslims. Yet, in a country where one can still go shooting deer for sport, it is surely legitimate to question the motives of those driving this campaign. Indeed, in another opinion piece featured in the Telegraph, this time by Harry de Quetteville, there is a rather striking anomaly. The article primarily consists of a fairly gritty description of an unauthorized and ad hoc slaughtering of sheep by a group of Muslims, witnessed by the author, behind some apartment buildings in Paris. What then to make of the fact that the image accompanying the piece is a photograph showing two ultra-Orthodox Jews in a darkened abattoir?

Britain, like the rest of Europe that is moving to outlaw ritual slaughter, is increasingly not only a secular but also a decidedly anti-religious place. There the interest in environmentalism and animal welfare is becoming infused with a neo-Darwinism that holds that man is really just one of the animals in any case. Ritual slaughter like circumcision, which also faces being outlawed in Europe, seeks to make a clear distinction between the animal and the human by ritualizing and elevating that which would otherwise be entirely animalistic.

Those promoting the notion of religious freedom in an attempt to defend these practices can do so all they like, but Britain and Europe now consider themselves subject to a ‘higher’ system of values.  

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Sotomayor Gives Hope to ObamaCare Foes

For most of the last three years since ObamaCare was passed by Congress, liberals have dismissed efforts to overturn the portion of the law mandating that employers pay for contraception and abortion drugs as the province solely of right-wing extremists. They have mocked the notion that the religious rights of churches, religious groups, and believers who own private businesses have been violated by the government’s order.  Even as lawsuits challenging the legality of the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate have gradually made their way through the federal system, the reaction from the White House and prominent liberal outlets such as the New York Times has been to deny the legitimacy of the debate. Even worse, they have maliciously tried to turn the discussion from one of religious liberty to a false charge that it is the plaintiffs in these suits that are trying to impose religious views on their employees.

But with the Supreme Court already agreeing to consider some challenges to the law, the effort to ignore the appeal to religious liberty received another blow this week when Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed to issue an injunction against enforcement of the mandate pending resolution of litigation. While in no way a guarantee of future success in court, the liberal Sotomayor’s ruling preventing the government from imposing fines against the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor for refusing to obey the ObamaCare dictate is a sign that the plaintiffs have not only a strong argument but a reasonable chance to prevail. This should encourage those who entertain the hope that the administration’s abuse of power may yet be reversed. But it also demonstrates the seriousness of an argument that liberals would prefer to ignore.

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For most of the last three years since ObamaCare was passed by Congress, liberals have dismissed efforts to overturn the portion of the law mandating that employers pay for contraception and abortion drugs as the province solely of right-wing extremists. They have mocked the notion that the religious rights of churches, religious groups, and believers who own private businesses have been violated by the government’s order.  Even as lawsuits challenging the legality of the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate have gradually made their way through the federal system, the reaction from the White House and prominent liberal outlets such as the New York Times has been to deny the legitimacy of the debate. Even worse, they have maliciously tried to turn the discussion from one of religious liberty to a false charge that it is the plaintiffs in these suits that are trying to impose religious views on their employees.

But with the Supreme Court already agreeing to consider some challenges to the law, the effort to ignore the appeal to religious liberty received another blow this week when Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed to issue an injunction against enforcement of the mandate pending resolution of litigation. While in no way a guarantee of future success in court, the liberal Sotomayor’s ruling preventing the government from imposing fines against the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor for refusing to obey the ObamaCare dictate is a sign that the plaintiffs have not only a strong argument but a reasonable chance to prevail. This should encourage those who entertain the hope that the administration’s abuse of power may yet be reversed. But it also demonstrates the seriousness of an argument that liberals would prefer to ignore.

The injunction in this case is significant because it stops the government from stifling challenges to ObamaCare before the legal process is completed. With organizations and companies that defy the mandate subject to crippling fines that could put them out of business, plaintiffs can be effectively destroyed before a definitive ruling has been reached. While the lower courts in 18 out of 20 such cases have rightly granted such injunctions in the federal system, Sotomayor’s rescue of this group of charitable nuns who had been previously denied judicial relief is a signal victory. That a liberal who is an Obama appointee would act in this way demonstrates that the challenge to the mandate is not a case of conservative groups tilting at windmills.

Liberals have used complaints about the mandate to promote the myth that conservatives were waging a “war against women” as if free contraception were a basic constitutional right. It also ignores the government’s effort to restrict the rights of those being asked to pay.

As some federal courts have already ruled in related cases, the imposition of the president’s vision of a health-care system where all employers — including religious believers whose faith precludes such actions — must pay for contraception or abortion drugs places a severe burden on the free exercise of the religious freedom of those involved. In the absence of the demonstration of a compelling government interest that would force nuns or other groups or individuals opposed to such practices to pay for such services, the law is a clear violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as a blow to First Amendment rights. In response to these appeals, the Justice Department has dismissed the idea that anyone’s rights are violated and instead argued that those who work for the nuns or any other religious group or company owned by believers are entitled not only to access to such services but that their employers must pay for it. If this argument were to prevail, the result could be a new and dangerously restrictive definition of religious freedom that would confine the right to practice one’s faith to houses of worship and in the home but not in the public square.

Anyone who attempts to predict how the Supreme Court will rule on any aspect of ObamaCare is unwise, as Chief Justice John Roberts’s illogical opinion, upholding the law as a tax, proved in 2012. But the injunction from Sotomayor, who has already upheld the constitutionality of the law, has to scare liberals who have assumed there was no merit whatsoever to the religious freedom challenge.

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SCOTUS Gives Religious Freedom a Hearing

Finally, after three years of debate and litigation, the nation will get an answer. The Health and Human Services Department’s ObamaCare mandate that forces all employers to pay for abortion drugs has been challenged by religious believers in courts across the nation since the passage of the president’s signature health-care legislation in 2010. The federal district and appellate courts have handed down mixed verdicts with some saying that the owners of companies must pay for coverage of services that violate their religious beliefs and others holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects their rights to refrain from supporting acts that violate their conscience. But now that the Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear appeals of two such cases in which the appeals courts handed down contradictory rulings, the issue will be settled once and for all.

But more than just the fate of two companies–one an Oklahoma City-based crafts store chain owned by Catholics and the other a Pennsylvania custom furniture manufacturer owned by Mennonites–are at stake in the legal battle that will probably be decided next spring. If the HHS Mandate is overturned by the high court, it will mark a signal victory for religious liberty over the efforts of the Obama administration to keep faith off the public square and out of public life. Liberal defenders of the government say the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation are wrong to say their personal First Amendment right to religious freedom extends to their business. But the plaintiffs and their supporters rightly maintain that what HHS is doing is to strong-arm these business owners into compliance with ObamaCare via a rule that will force them to choose between their faith and the survival of their enterprises. If the HHS Mandate is upheld, it will create a new, cribbed definition of religious freedom that will effectively mean that faith is only something to be practiced in private.

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Finally, after three years of debate and litigation, the nation will get an answer. The Health and Human Services Department’s ObamaCare mandate that forces all employers to pay for abortion drugs has been challenged by religious believers in courts across the nation since the passage of the president’s signature health-care legislation in 2010. The federal district and appellate courts have handed down mixed verdicts with some saying that the owners of companies must pay for coverage of services that violate their religious beliefs and others holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects their rights to refrain from supporting acts that violate their conscience. But now that the Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear appeals of two such cases in which the appeals courts handed down contradictory rulings, the issue will be settled once and for all.

But more than just the fate of two companies–one an Oklahoma City-based crafts store chain owned by Catholics and the other a Pennsylvania custom furniture manufacturer owned by Mennonites–are at stake in the legal battle that will probably be decided next spring. If the HHS Mandate is overturned by the high court, it will mark a signal victory for religious liberty over the efforts of the Obama administration to keep faith off the public square and out of public life. Liberal defenders of the government say the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation are wrong to say their personal First Amendment right to religious freedom extends to their business. But the plaintiffs and their supporters rightly maintain that what HHS is doing is to strong-arm these business owners into compliance with ObamaCare via a rule that will force them to choose between their faith and the survival of their enterprises. If the HHS Mandate is upheld, it will create a new, cribbed definition of religious freedom that will effectively mean that faith is only something to be practiced in private.

Liberals are mocking the claim that these business owners have any rights to refuse to fund abortion drugs or even contraception. But the constitutional right to religious freedom is not just about the ability to choose which house of worship to attend or to say private prayers without government interference. Government has no right to tell individuals that they must fund practices that violate their conscience or faith.

Even more contemptible is the attempt by the government and its leftist cheering section to claim that these business owners are imposing their beliefs on their employees, an assertion made by the New York Times earlier this month when it lamented that an appeals court had upheld religious freedom in a related case. The company owners are not requiring their employees to believe as they do or to refrain from having abortions. But they are within their rights to say that if an employee wishes to have one, they should not look to their employers for a subsidy for that act. If the mandate is upheld, then it is not freedom of conscience that is being protected but instead a dubious right to free abortion pills or contraception that cannot be found in any fair reading of the Constitution. It is faith that is under siege in these cases, not abortion rights.

As Appeals Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown wrote in a related case, “The Framers of the Constitution embraced the philosophical insight that government coercion of moral agency is odious.” She went on to write that the mandate is a “compelled affirmation of a repugnant belief” and therefore an unconstitutional burden on free exercise of religion. The Supreme Court will therefore not be deciding the right to abortion or contraception but whether the government’s belief that employers must pay for such services can supersede an employer’s right to free exercise.

Though the fate of ObamaCare will not be decided in these cases, it must be understood that the legislation’s vision of government making decisions about health care practices and policies is integral to the mandate’s attempt to abrogate fundamental constitutional rights. As wrongheaded as Congress was to impose governmental fiats on health care in this manner, the government’s attempt to trample on the rights of religious believers in this fashion is even more offensive. One need not agree with conservative Christians on either abortion or contraception to understand that the underlying principle in this case is the protection of the religious liberty of all Americans. It is to be hoped that the hearing and the decision rendered by the Supreme Court will check the efforts of the federal government to impinge on religious liberty in the name of universal health care. 

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Obama Appoints Zogby to Commission on Religious Freedom

Last week, the White House quietly announced the appointment of Dr. James Zogby to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Zogby—whom I have debated on occasion on radio programs and who has always been a gentleman—is the founder and president of the Arab American Institute and co-founder of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.  

But is Zogby the proper person to fight for religious freedom in the Middle East at a time when minorities are under the worst siege since the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands in the wake of Israel’s founding?

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Last week, the White House quietly announced the appointment of Dr. James Zogby to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Zogby—whom I have debated on occasion on radio programs and who has always been a gentleman—is the founder and president of the Arab American Institute and co-founder of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.  

But is Zogby the proper person to fight for religious freedom in the Middle East at a time when minorities are under the worst siege since the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands in the wake of Israel’s founding?

Alas, the answer to that is no. Zogby has at times demonstrated an apologia which undercuts his ability as an advocate. Take, for example, an incident a decade ago in which Harvard University decided to partner with the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Zayed Center, an institution which sponsored Holocaust denial and promoted blood libel. The indefatigable Tom Gross catalogued the Zayed Center’s activities here. Zogby, however, who currently is also a visiting professor in Abu Dhabi, rushed to Zayed’s defense. From the CBS Evening News on May 19, 2003:

“That’s wrong, that smacks of a witch hunt,” says James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute. Zogby says the center does bear the sheik’s name, but so do a lot of things in his country. Zogby believes the sheik did not know about it. “There is no relationship between Sheik Zayed and the center,” says Zogby. “He knows who’s there,” says [Rachel] Fish. “There’s no way he does not know.” Harvard refused our request for an on-camera interview, but in a statement, called some of the center’s activities “repugnant and indefensible.” It said it is “carefully investigating” any links with Sheik Zayed.

Zogby was also a featured writer for the Arab Voice at the time that paper was excerpting the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Zogby responds at the base of the article, which is followed by a follow-up article casting doubt on parts of his explanations). He accused Israel of waging a “Holocaust” against the Palestinians. More recently, he embraced political polemics if not conspiracies regarding the Iraq war. And most recently, Zogby accused Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of being an “Israel firster,” an anti-Semitic trope.

Zogby has long been an activist for the Democratic Party and an enthusiastic supporter of President Obama. It’s understandable that Obama wishes to reward him for his loyalty and, perhaps, for his political views. To do so with a seat at the USCIRF at a time when minorities are under siege from Syria to Egypt to Iran, however, shows the lack of seriousness with which Obama treats religious freedom.

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For ObamaCare’s Enemies, the Law

In my discussion recently of the scourge of bureaucratic lawmaking during the Obama administration, I’ve generally focused on federal agencies enacting rules that could not be passed by Congress, thus undermining the democratic process. But another important problem posed by the “rise of the fourth branch” of government, in Jonathan Turley’s phrase, is the treatment of duly passed legislation that simply empowers federal regulators without limiting them.

That’s not necessarily the fault of Congress, though it is a warning to those who seek to pass complex pieces of legislation. In the case of ObamaCare, it is simply the president who has decided that he has the power to suspend and postpone parts of the law at will, or else hand out waivers to favored constituencies. Though the beneficiaries of such governance seem obvious–the president and those who receive the favors they request from him–there is actually a third group whose members benefit greatly: the crafters of the law.

Conservatives often talk about the ill effects of moral hazards in politics. And the Hill reminded us over the weekend that the more complex the law, the more ad hoc its implementation, the more room for its interpretation, and the more troubled its legal groundwork, the more the crafters of the law stand to gain. The worse the governance, the better off its practitioners, at least in certain situations, will be. The members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare may not understand the law, but those who wrote it do–and are cashing in on the regulatory monstrosity:

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In my discussion recently of the scourge of bureaucratic lawmaking during the Obama administration, I’ve generally focused on federal agencies enacting rules that could not be passed by Congress, thus undermining the democratic process. But another important problem posed by the “rise of the fourth branch” of government, in Jonathan Turley’s phrase, is the treatment of duly passed legislation that simply empowers federal regulators without limiting them.

That’s not necessarily the fault of Congress, though it is a warning to those who seek to pass complex pieces of legislation. In the case of ObamaCare, it is simply the president who has decided that he has the power to suspend and postpone parts of the law at will, or else hand out waivers to favored constituencies. Though the beneficiaries of such governance seem obvious–the president and those who receive the favors they request from him–there is actually a third group whose members benefit greatly: the crafters of the law.

Conservatives often talk about the ill effects of moral hazards in politics. And the Hill reminded us over the weekend that the more complex the law, the more ad hoc its implementation, the more room for its interpretation, and the more troubled its legal groundwork, the more the crafters of the law stand to gain. The worse the governance, the better off its practitioners, at least in certain situations, will be. The members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare may not understand the law, but those who wrote it do–and are cashing in on the regulatory monstrosity:

ObamaCare has become big business for an elite network of Washington lobbyists and consultants who helped shape the law from the inside.
 
More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010….

“Healthcare lobbying on K Street is as strong as it ever was, and it’s due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act seems to be ever-changing,” Adler said. “What’s at stake is huge. … Whenever there’s a lot of money at stake, there’s a lot of lobbying going on.”

The voracious need for lobbying help in dealing with ObamaCare has created a price premium for lobbyists who had first-hand experience in crafting or debating the law.
 
Experts say that those able to fetch the highest salaries have come from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or committees with oversight power over healthcare.

The most telling quote in the story, and the one that explains why ObamaCare belongs in the discussion of unaccountable bureaucracy usurping congressional authority, is this:

“Congress is easy to watch,” said Tim LaPira, a politics professor at James Madison University who researches the government affairs industry, “but agencies are harder to watch because their actions are often opaque. This leads to a greater demand on K Street” for people who understand the fine print, he said.

The delays and postponements and waivers so far have made it pretty clear that the Obama administration finally understands just how harmful ObamaCare is, but this hasn’t troubled them so much because they don’t feel bound by the law. The administration is the law, with regard to ObamaCare.

What recourse do you have if you are not part of Obama’s favored constituencies to whom the law doesn’t apply? You have the courts. In a sign of how problematic ObamaCare really is, it appears headed back to the Supreme Court because of the law’s unconstitutional abridgement of religious freedom. As the Hill reported late last week:

ObamaCare’s birth control mandate is putting the president’s signature legislative issue on a fast track back to the Supreme Court. 



Lawyers on both sides of the issue say the high court will almost certainly have to rule on the controversial policy, possibly as early as its next term. 



Two federal appeals courts have come down with opposite rulings on an important question related to the policy: whether for-profit businesses and their owners have the right to challenge in court the requirement that businesses provide contraception as part of their insurance coverage.

As Jonathan wrote in June, the high-profile case of the Hobby Lobby, a chain of stores owned by religious Christians, won a key victory this summer, though there have been setbacks in other similar cases. But the Hill story points out just why the battle over the contraception mandate is so important:

“Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” the 10th Circuit asked. “The kosher butcher, of course, might directly serve a religious community … But we see no reason why one must orient one’s business toward a religious community to preserve Free Exercise protections.”



The administration’s position, and that of some appeals courts, has been that the religious freedom of the owners of a corporate entity does not transfer to the company itself. That is, there is a separation between the business and its owners, and religious freedom applies to the latter. A company can’t pray, goes the simplistic logic.

Of course, the 10th Circuit judges had it right. The contraception case is important because it will set precedent on the issue, and will determine whether United States law considers religious practice a privilege, not a right, when it conflicts with the government’s agenda. In this way, it won’t be much different from the rest of ObamaCare’s arbitrary and corrupt implementation.

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A Victory For Religious Freedom

The decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court to deem ObamaCare constitutional was a blow to opponents of the president’s signature health care legislation, but it also added to the worries of those Americans who considered it a threat to their religious freedom. In particular, the decision by the Health and Human Services Department to demand that employers provide certain types of health services placed those religious believers who opposed the use of abortion-inducing drugs in a difficult position. They could go along with the HHS mandate and thus betray their consciences and beliefs, or resist the ruling and face complete financial ruin due to the draconian penalties imposed on businesses that do not comply with the government’s rulings.

But with the aid of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, sued to prevent the government from imposing the mandate on their business. Yesterday, the Greens won a key victory when the 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the district court and said Hobby Lobby should not have been denied an injunction that would have prevented the government from imposing millions in fines while the case was still pending. In doing so, the majority of the appellate court judges said the Greens had a good chance of prevailing on the merits of their case—Hobby Lobby v. Kathleen Sebelius—which claims that the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ought to prevent HHS from imposing practices on the business that effectively deny the religious freedom of its owners. While the Hobby Lobby case still has a long way to go, this is an important win that not only holds out the possibility of eventual triumph for the plaintiffs but also removes a key weapon from the government that might have made it impossible for the suit to go on.

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The decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court to deem ObamaCare constitutional was a blow to opponents of the president’s signature health care legislation, but it also added to the worries of those Americans who considered it a threat to their religious freedom. In particular, the decision by the Health and Human Services Department to demand that employers provide certain types of health services placed those religious believers who opposed the use of abortion-inducing drugs in a difficult position. They could go along with the HHS mandate and thus betray their consciences and beliefs, or resist the ruling and face complete financial ruin due to the draconian penalties imposed on businesses that do not comply with the government’s rulings.

But with the aid of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, sued to prevent the government from imposing the mandate on their business. Yesterday, the Greens won a key victory when the 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the district court and said Hobby Lobby should not have been denied an injunction that would have prevented the government from imposing millions in fines while the case was still pending. In doing so, the majority of the appellate court judges said the Greens had a good chance of prevailing on the merits of their case—Hobby Lobby v. Kathleen Sebelius—which claims that the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ought to prevent HHS from imposing practices on the business that effectively deny the religious freedom of its owners. While the Hobby Lobby case still has a long way to go, this is an important win that not only holds out the possibility of eventual triumph for the plaintiffs but also removes a key weapon from the government that might have made it impossible for the suit to go on.

When the HHS mandate was first handed down, the key battle was fought over the government’s desire to impose the contraceptive mandate on the institutions of the Catholic Church. While the administration was able to manipulate the discussion of this direct attack on religious freedom into one about a so-called “war on women,” eventually a campaign of public pressure led the government to back down on their desire to enforce the mandate on both churches and then church institutions. But that still left individual business owners who had strong religious convictions in the cross-hairs of the HHS mandate. The administration calculated that if it removed the church from the fight on the mandate, it would be able to easily defeat the efforts of people like the owners of Hobby Lobby to resist.

They may eventually prevail, but the decision of the 10th circuit gives hope to those who believe the willingness of the government to intrude on individual consciences in this manner is outrageous.

It should be specified that the owners of Hobby Lobby are not attempting to prevent their employees from having access to contraception. But making religious Catholics pay for abortion drugs crosses the line between reasonable insurance regulations and a concerted attack on religious liberty.

Liberal defenders of the HHS mandate have characterized resistance to the mandate as an attack on women’s health while claiming the regulation does not deny the store owners’ right to worship or to personally refrain from any practice that offends their religion. But if the government eventually prevails, it would impose a cribbed version of religious liberty that would significantly impair the First Amendment rights of believers.

The government and its defenders seem to believe that religious freedom means only the right to believe something and to practice it in private. If the HHS mandate were upheld, it would signal to the country that faith is fine at home or in houses of worship but not in the public square. Religious believers would be told that if they wish to practice their faith they must refrain from commerce or any public activity. Forcing the Greens to pay for abortion drugs is no different from telling them they must keep their stores open on Sunday (they are closed on that day due to the owners’ religious beliefs) or to require a Jew to keep his business running on the Sabbath or that they must serve non-kosher food at kosher restaurants.

It may be that the Greens’ views on these drugs are not universally held and may, in fact, be unpopular. But one needn’t agree with them on contraception in order to realize that an attack on their religious freedom is a blow to the liberty of every American no matter what their faith, or even if they believe in no religion. This preliminary win for Hobby Lobby and the Becket Fund is a hopeful sign for the future of American liberty.

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The Legacy of Faith

One didn’t have to be a Catholic to be impressed by the demeanor and grace shown by Pope Francis after his election yesterday at the Vatican. The media is full of pundits and so-called experts giving the pope advice as to how to deal with his church’s problems or even on how best to adjust its doctrines to suit their beliefs. That seems to me to be not only absurd but also a waste of time. As the first South American and the first Jesuit pope, Francis is a symbol of change. But if there is anything that observers should take away from the drama that has unfolded in Rome this last week it is that the Catholic Church remains firmly in the hands of those who love its teachings and are determined to both preserve them and to help ensure that they continue to serve the needs of the faithful and the world in general.

That is good news indeed, since in the last century the church has reasserted itself as a force for good. Especially under the leadership of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, the church has become a beacon of conviction against anti-Semitism. As a disciple of John Paul II and someone who had warm relations with Argentine Jewry, Pope Francis appears to be very much part of that movement. While that might appear to be a parochial concern for Jews, it is actually very significant.

The point about the transformation of the church over the last century from an institution that fomented prejudice against Jews to one that is in the forefront of those fighting against anti-Semitism cannot be emphasized enough. The church has not only cleaned its own house with respect to a legacy of hate; it has become a stalwart partner in the struggle to eradicate it everywhere.

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One didn’t have to be a Catholic to be impressed by the demeanor and grace shown by Pope Francis after his election yesterday at the Vatican. The media is full of pundits and so-called experts giving the pope advice as to how to deal with his church’s problems or even on how best to adjust its doctrines to suit their beliefs. That seems to me to be not only absurd but also a waste of time. As the first South American and the first Jesuit pope, Francis is a symbol of change. But if there is anything that observers should take away from the drama that has unfolded in Rome this last week it is that the Catholic Church remains firmly in the hands of those who love its teachings and are determined to both preserve them and to help ensure that they continue to serve the needs of the faithful and the world in general.

That is good news indeed, since in the last century the church has reasserted itself as a force for good. Especially under the leadership of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, the church has become a beacon of conviction against anti-Semitism. As a disciple of John Paul II and someone who had warm relations with Argentine Jewry, Pope Francis appears to be very much part of that movement. While that might appear to be a parochial concern for Jews, it is actually very significant.

The point about the transformation of the church over the last century from an institution that fomented prejudice against Jews to one that is in the forefront of those fighting against anti-Semitism cannot be emphasized enough. The church has not only cleaned its own house with respect to a legacy of hate; it has become a stalwart partner in the struggle to eradicate it everywhere.

The church’s turn against anti-Semitism and the Vatican’s recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel cannot be isolated from the role it played in standing for freedom against Communist tyranny during the Cold War. As that struggle recedes into memory, the church remains a bulwark for the cause of religious freedom throughout the globe. That’s why it is so disappointing that so many who are quite vocal about advocacy for religious freedom elsewhere were silent when it came to standing with the church as it sought to defend its own liberty of conscience against the federal government’s health care mandates.

Ironically, for much of the last century as the church did evolve to its current position on these issues, it has suffered from the abuse heaped upon it and other organized religions from intellectuals and the world of popular culture. Some writers have told us that ours is an age in which atheism has gone mainstream and a time when traditional faiths must abandon their beliefs in order to become more “relevant” to the young. But the outpouring of good will for the new pope shows that those who have predicted the decline of religion are almost certainly wrong.

Though it is beset with many problems as well as scandals that still hang over some of its leaders, the church’s legacy of faith is one that continues to nurture and inspire its believers as well as sympathetic observers from other faiths. All persons of faith should join with Catholics to pray for Francis’s success and to hope that the church will remain steadfast in its mission as a force for good.

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Church Shouldn’t Stand Alone on Mandate

If President Obama thought he could separate the Catholic Church from other critics of the ObamaCare mandate compelling believers to pay for services that violate their faith, he was wrong. The administration thought the compromise it announced February 1 would accomplish just that objective since it broadened the narrow exemptions from the Health and Human Services Department mandate to include religious non-profits. But while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed this movement, it rightly noted that it fell far short of guaranteeing that persons of faith would have their religious freedom protected from the dictates of the federal government. As the organization’s statement made clear, the head of the conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, listed three major problems with the proposal:

He [Cardinal Dolan] listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.

In refusing to be co-opted into the mandate to pay for abortion and contraceptive services, the bishops have made it clear that the fight against the strong-arming of faith by the government will not go unchallenged. In doing so, they deserve the support of all faith groups as well as all persons of conscience who value the protections guaranteed Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

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If President Obama thought he could separate the Catholic Church from other critics of the ObamaCare mandate compelling believers to pay for services that violate their faith, he was wrong. The administration thought the compromise it announced February 1 would accomplish just that objective since it broadened the narrow exemptions from the Health and Human Services Department mandate to include religious non-profits. But while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed this movement, it rightly noted that it fell far short of guaranteeing that persons of faith would have their religious freedom protected from the dictates of the federal government. As the organization’s statement made clear, the head of the conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, listed three major problems with the proposal:

He [Cardinal Dolan] listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.

In refusing to be co-opted into the mandate to pay for abortion and contraceptive services, the bishops have made it clear that the fight against the strong-arming of faith by the government will not go unchallenged. In doing so, they deserve the support of all faith groups as well as all persons of conscience who value the protections guaranteed Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The point of this exchange as far as the administration was concerned was an effort to isolate those who are still pursuing legal challenges against the mandate by offering the church a plausible path to retreat from the confrontation. Doing so would have been taking the easy way out for the church since most of their institutions have now been rendered exempt. But Cardinal Dolan and his colleagues have rightly pointed out that the underlying compulsion of the Mandate would still compromise their faith as well as leave private business owners vulnerable to such coercion.

It needs to be reiterated that you don’t have to agree with the Church’s views about abortion or contraception to support their stand on this issue. Contrary to the false narrative on this issue alleging that a faux “war on women” was being waged by opponents of the mandate that was used by the president during his re-election campaign, what is at stake here is an attempt by the administration to narrowly redefine the concept of religious liberty. If the president prevails on this point, the right to dissent on religious grounds from prevailing views about these matters will be swept out of the public square and confined to the right to preach about it in houses of worship.

By entangling the Church in the ObamaCare system in this manner and allowing neither agencies nor their employees or private businesses to opt out, the government is enacting a rule that tramples on their freedom.

Cardinal Dolan eloquently summed up this dilemma:

In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.

There is no reasonable argument to be made on behalf of the idea that there is a constitutional right to free contraception or abortion, but if the government decides, as it has with ObamaCare, to enact a new entitlement to provide such services it may do so. Yet the desire to implement this entitlement cannot be allowed to override or negate the constitutional right to freedom of religion. This is an issue that cannot be dismissed on the ground that the majority of Americans don’t oppose contraception or do not otherwise share the faith of those groups and individuals who are challenging the mandate in court. If the rest of the country watches passively as the mandate is fought in the name of religious liberty, we will all be the losers. The Church is right to stand its ground. It should not be allowed to stand it alone.

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An Inadequate Contraception Compromise

Last year’s Supreme Court decision declaring ObamaCare constitutional ensured that the massive expansion of government power would go forward, but it did not remove all legal challenges to the legislation. Religious organizations rightly objected to the bill’s mandate that even those who objected on religious grounds had to pay for services that violated their beliefs. Opponents of the mandate were falsely portrayed last year as taking part in a Republican “war on women” that helped whip up support for President Obama and the Democrats. Yet Church groups and others who opposed being compelled to pay for abortion drugs and contraception services rejected those slurs and challenged the mandate in court with lawsuits that were proceeding with mixed success.

But after today, some of those suits will be dropped after the White House announced a limited retreat on the issue. According to reports, the administration will no longer insist that religious non-profits observe the mandate or be in any way made to pay for services that offend their consciences. This is very good news for church institutions that were not previously exempted. But it is by no means the end of the story. Under the revised rules, individual business owners—such as those who run the Hobby Lobby store chain—who similarly object on religious grounds, are still liable to ruinous penalties amounting to millions of dollars. This amounts to a cribbed definition of religious freedom that limits its expressions only to non-profits and houses of worship, but forces all others to bend to the dictates of the federal government even at the cost of their right to practice their faith.

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Last year’s Supreme Court decision declaring ObamaCare constitutional ensured that the massive expansion of government power would go forward, but it did not remove all legal challenges to the legislation. Religious organizations rightly objected to the bill’s mandate that even those who objected on religious grounds had to pay for services that violated their beliefs. Opponents of the mandate were falsely portrayed last year as taking part in a Republican “war on women” that helped whip up support for President Obama and the Democrats. Yet Church groups and others who opposed being compelled to pay for abortion drugs and contraception services rejected those slurs and challenged the mandate in court with lawsuits that were proceeding with mixed success.

But after today, some of those suits will be dropped after the White House announced a limited retreat on the issue. According to reports, the administration will no longer insist that religious non-profits observe the mandate or be in any way made to pay for services that offend their consciences. This is very good news for church institutions that were not previously exempted. But it is by no means the end of the story. Under the revised rules, individual business owners—such as those who run the Hobby Lobby store chain—who similarly object on religious grounds, are still liable to ruinous penalties amounting to millions of dollars. This amounts to a cribbed definition of religious freedom that limits its expressions only to non-profits and houses of worship, but forces all others to bend to the dictates of the federal government even at the cost of their right to practice their faith.

It needs to be restated that one needn’t share the views of the Catholic Church about contraception or abortion to understand that what is at stake here is a principle of religious freedom that ought not to be sacrificed. The notion of universal and free contraception insurance coverage may be popular and even desirable for those who have no qualms about the government’s intrusion into this sphere of the economy or the consequent ruinous costs to both the taxpayers and the healthcare system. But however much the idea of free contraception appeals to some people, it is not a constitutional right. Nor is it a value that ought to trump the primary guarantees of the First Amendment that protect liberty of faith.

The White House retreat on the issue to the extent of exempting church institutions including schools is a sign of progress. It’s also intended to separate the church from individual believers whose rights will not be protected by this compromise. The church has been wrongly portrayed as trying to thwart the availability of contraception even though it is doing no such thing. The point of the administration’s campaign on this issue was not, as they claimed, to protect the health of women but to demonize those who stood up for their rights. But however much this retreat will be welcomed, it should not cause those who have fought this mandate to back down from their efforts to ensure that all believers and not just those registered as non-profits are allowed to opt out of a system that tramples on their faith.

At the core of this struggle is the question of whether a government that has given itself more power has the right to run roughshod over the First Amendment in order to satisfy the liberal ambition to move toward a national health care system. Religious freedom does not consist merely of the right to preach in churches or synagogues, but in allowing those who believe to fully participate in society. If the mandate tramples faith by individuals in this manner, it means that faith is no longer welcome in the public square but instead must be segregated and confined to houses of worship. Though the church is happily no longer in peril of such compulsion, others remain in the government’s cross hairs. Their challenge should continue and be rewarded with success in the courts.

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Sotomayor’s Blow to Religious Liberty

Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of ObamaCare ended the discussion about the president’s signature health care legislation as far as most of the media was concerned. But for Americans whose rights have been infringed by the bill’s mandate requiring business owners to pay for services that violate their religious beliefs, the issue remains a matter of vital concern. On January 1 the penalties associated with that mandate went into effect and the battle in the courts to head off this grievous infringement of religious liberty is meeting with mixed success.

One federal judge blocked the enforcement of the mandate in a lawsuit brought by the founder of Domino’s Pizza, saying the legislation “substantially burdens the exercise of religion.” In doing so, the court prevented the government from levying massive fines on Thomas Monaghan’s property management firm while his challenge to the constitutionality of the provision proceeds through the courts. That ruling comes in the wake of decisions from federal appeals courts in St. Louis and Chicago that stopped the Department of Health and Human Services from punishing those who are fighting the mandate to pay for contraception and abortion drugs. But in a signal defeat for the cause of freedom, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor turned down a similar request from the owners of Hobby Lobby stores and a Christian book store firm. That means these companies will be subjected to millions of dollars in fines for violating the law even though they claim it is a matter of conscience.

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Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of ObamaCare ended the discussion about the president’s signature health care legislation as far as most of the media was concerned. But for Americans whose rights have been infringed by the bill’s mandate requiring business owners to pay for services that violate their religious beliefs, the issue remains a matter of vital concern. On January 1 the penalties associated with that mandate went into effect and the battle in the courts to head off this grievous infringement of religious liberty is meeting with mixed success.

One federal judge blocked the enforcement of the mandate in a lawsuit brought by the founder of Domino’s Pizza, saying the legislation “substantially burdens the exercise of religion.” In doing so, the court prevented the government from levying massive fines on Thomas Monaghan’s property management firm while his challenge to the constitutionality of the provision proceeds through the courts. That ruling comes in the wake of decisions from federal appeals courts in St. Louis and Chicago that stopped the Department of Health and Human Services from punishing those who are fighting the mandate to pay for contraception and abortion drugs. But in a signal defeat for the cause of freedom, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor turned down a similar request from the owners of Hobby Lobby stores and a Christian book store firm. That means these companies will be subjected to millions of dollars in fines for violating the law even though they claim it is a matter of conscience.

At stake in this battle is whether the Religous Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress will prevent the government from compelling Catholics and others to violate the dictates of their faith. On the face of it, they have a strong case for striking this provision down, but the full power of the Justice Department and its army of lawyers who have the enthusiastic support of pro-abortion grops and much of the liberal mainstream media are arrayed against them. That’s why persons of faith who seek to overturn the law have always faced an uphill battle.

Sotomayor’s decision illustrates just how difficult that task may turn out to be. Even if the owners of Hobby Lobby eventually prevail in court and their rights are upheld, a vengeful Obama administration determined to make an example of anyone who crosses them could have already destroyed their business. By sinking them under the weight of fines, the government could drive them out of business before any final decision is handed down.

One needn’t agree with the religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby owners, or those other individuals who have brought dozens of lawsuits in various federal courts to stop the mandate, in order to see the value of the principle they are attempting to uphold. Nor need one agree with them about abortion or share their qualms about the morality of contraception. The point here is that if ObamaCare is allowed to give the government the power to render Catholic doctrine beyond the pale in this manner, then no one’s faith is safe.

Sotomayor could have ruled in the same manner as some of the appellate panels have already done and simply held off any punishment of the petitioners until the courts decided the case. But in claiming that the rationale for their request was insubstantial, the Obama appointee signaled that she and other liberals view the question of religious freedom as irrelevant to their quest to impose their diktat of universal coverage for contraception and abortion. While Justice Roberts strove to have the courts rise above partisan politics by refusing to let the court stop ObamaCare despite the fact that it violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Sotomayor did not scruple from acting in a manner that seeks to ensure that the president will get his way on this issue one way or the other.

Should Hobby Lobby, Monaghan and other religious believers lose, the result will be a new, more cribbed definition of religious liberty that will bear little resemblance to the sweeping freedom promised in the First Amendment. Though some business owners may falter along the way toward the final resolution of these cases, it is to be hoped that in the end, the Supreme Court will not let this outrageous attack on the Constitution prevail.

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