At most metro stops in D.C., workers give out free copies of the Washington Post Express to commuters. The week before Family Research Council published its updated report "Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States," the front of the Express was covered by a full-page advertisement sponsored by Catholics for Choice. It pictured a caricature of a bishop, pointing at the reader like Uncle Sam, with the caption, "We want YOU to help us discriminate." On the inside flap, the ad chastised Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities that decline to offer birth control, abortions, or facilitate same-sex marriage, claiming that this is intolerable discrimination. These are not new allegations. Catholics for Choice ran a similar ad last year, and the ACLU hosts an "Issues" page that outlines their mission to fight organizations that use "religion to discriminate."
The ability of organizations to operate according to their beliefs is an increasingly significant battleground in the fight for religious liberty. Bolstered by the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and increased support for sexual autonomy among the public, liberal organizations are no longer content to see the government affirm the LGBT rights movement—religious groups must acquiesce as well.
FRC's updated report highlights a few poignant examples of this opposition to the freedom of religious organizations:
- In the last decade, Catholic Charities has lost millions in government contracts and sometimes shut down entire branches rather than act in violation of Catholic teachings about abortion or marriage.
- A group of Christian colleges had to seek an administrative exemption in 2014 from an Obama administration regulation that would have barred them from requiring teachers to follow biblical teachings on sexuality. The schools faced protests and were lambasted in the media for their petition.
- In 2015, a Catholic school was sued and settled out of court with a fired teacher that identified as homosexual. It was allegedly illegal for the school to require instructors to follow Church teachings concerning homosexuality.
- Two separate religious hospitals were sued in 2017 and criticized for not offering gender reassignment surgery to patients who identified as transgender.
Beyond the pragmatic harm that lawsuits and boycotts inflict on organizations, these mounting attacks threaten the very heart of what it means to be a religious group. Religious convictions are the impetus for religious organizations. For example, belief in justice and mercy motivates charities and hospitals, belief in specific ethical and philosophical principles motivates religious schools, and religious nonprofits often advance a targeted worldview. For these institutions to abandon their principles would be to sacrifice the integrity of their mission. Yet the radical left has used its political and legal power to require them to do just that.
The aforementioned stories highlight the stunning hypocrisy of progressive activists' attacks on religious freedom: amidst their cries for tolerance, they refuse to tolerate beliefs that they disagree with. They demand that religious institutions check their beliefs at the door and act according to the majority sentiment rather than the dictates of their faith. Moreover, it is the opponents of religious liberty who are "forcing their beliefs on others" by demanding that organizations comply with the progressive left's beliefs that abortion is not murder, same-sex marriages can be sacrosanct, and those who identify as transgender should be fully affirmed in their chosen identity.
Our laws must safeguard the right of religious organizations to act on their beliefs. The free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, does not simply protect the right to think or believe whatever we want (no one is going after our thoughts – yet). The First Amendment is special because it protects the right to act according to our beliefs, hence the term "exercise." Thankfully, the Supreme Court has affirmed this principle in recent cases like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which ruled that family businesses can opt-out of covering abortion-causing drugs and services if doing so violates their sincere religious convictions. Such decisions must become the norm to protect not only religious business owners, but religious organizations and religious liberty itself. Without the freedom to believe and act according to those beliefs, the freedom of religion is irreparably devalued.
To read more of the updated FRC report "Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States," please visit: http://www.frc.org/hostilityreport