The Acton Institute and Religious Freedom

I was asked a local Grand Rapids news site, the Rapidian, to comment on an event hosted in Grand Rapids by the Acton Institute, a Christian right think tank, about “the growing threat to religious liberty.” After seeing an initial draft of the article I sent several statements, though probably only part of one will appear in the article when published.

The position being taken by Acton is quite predictable, of course. They point to the contraception mandate, which explicitly does exempt religious organizations, and to the two bakeries who violated the law by refusing to provide a cake for same-sex wedding celebrations. I gave this statement to the reporter:

For the last 50 years, we have forbidden businesses to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion and other biases at the federal level. 21 states and many cities have also added sexual orientation to that list. Telling a business that they can’t discriminate against LGBT people is no more a threat to religious freedom than all those other anti-discrimination laws that have existed for half a century. There are lots of groups and individuals whose religious views demand that they not serve women and those of other races or religions. Those same laws, for example, would prevent a Muslim-owned business from refusing to hire or serve women or Jews on religious grounds, yet I’ve never heard the Acton Institute complain about that terrible threat to religious freedom.

Acton also invoked James Madison. I replied:

It’s kind of ironic that they would cite James Madison on this issue given Acton’s position on a whole range of church/state controversies. Madison took a more radical view of church/state separation than even the ACLU does today, arguing that even government-paid military chaplains were a violation of the First Amendment.

Lastly, they trotted out the ridiculous claim that Obama is trying to undermine religious freedom by using the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion,” part of some semantic conspiracy to limit the scope of the First Amendment. My reply:

Nothstine’s claim that President Obama is trying to undermine religious freedom by using the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” is disproved by a few minutes spent on Google. Obama has used “freedom of worship” a handful of times, but so did George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and many other presidents who weren’t met with this hysterical response. And Obama has also used the term “freedom of religion” many, many times in both public speeches and official declarations. This claim can only be advocated by ignoring all the contrary evidence and cherry picking a few examples to make it appear to be true, which means it can be maintained only through ignorance or dishonesty.

I gave the reporter a link to the documentation for that last claim. I’ll be curious to see how much of that ends up in the article.

Update: The article has now been posted.

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  • According to google trends, “freedom of worship” shows a tick in 2005

    I forget who was president then.

  • Trebuchet

    @1: Was it Al Gore?

  • Alverant

    I hope you kept a recording because I suspect they’re going to maul your words like O’Keeffe.

  • CSB

    Congratulations, they printed part of two statements instead of just part of one.

    (Although they apparently autocorrected “Reagan” to “Regan”. At least it wasn’t just in your quote.)

  • Jordan Genso

    I think that was a great idea for you to publish your full quotes in the comment section of the article. More people should do that.

  • John Pieret

    Concise and easily understood. Well done. It is to be hoped that some of the students who attend will read the article (and comments) and be willing and prepared to challenge the Acton Institute’s dishonesty.

  • By the way, I was wrong. This is not the Calvin College newspaper, it’s just a hyperlocal online news site.

  • Jordan —

    Yeah, I wanted the full argument to be there. I totally understand why the reporter didn’t include it all, though.

  • Speaking of freedom for me, but not for thee.. Lord Acton supported the Confederacy, didn’t he?

  • busterggi