Religious Liberty: It’s Not Just a Christian Thing

Pretty soon, the Supreme Court will hand down their verdict on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. This decision, and how it affects the HHS Mandate, has been discussed early, and often, in this space. Something that hasn’t been discussed here much is that other religions have lined up against the mandate as well. Not that you would have seen this reported in the mainstream media outlets.

Over at the Weekly Standard, Howard Slugh shared this bit of news last month regarding the Rabbinical Council of America’s decision to stand with the Catholic Church, and other Christians, in opposing the HHS Mandate. Why? Because it impinges on the free exercise of religion.

On May 7, 2012, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the largest organization of rabbis in the United States, approved a resolution recognizing that the Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that mandates employers provide access to contraceptives, abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations forces many employers to “violate the injunctions of their religion.” The RCA, which represents more than 1,000 Orthodox rabbis, urged the Obama administration to amend the regulation to protect the religious liberties of all employers.

The RCA resolution also recognized the important role the Catholic Church has played in safeguarding religious liberties. Recently, 43 Catholic organizations filed lawsuits challenging the mandate. The rabbis who supported this resolution intended to correct the misconception that this is a uniquely Catholic or Christian issue, or that the desire to amend the resolution stems from an animus towards women. The HHS regulation coerces many Jewish employers into violating their theological obligations and demeans the important relationship between rabbis and their congregants. The question at the heart of this issue is whether the administration will create the religious exemption necessary to protect religious people’s ability to fully participate in the economy.

Prior to the new lawsuits, public scrutiny of this mandate had lost its intensity. The media had achieved some success in misconstruing opposition to the mandate as a “war on women” led by the Catholic Church, rather than as a broad multi-faith effort to protect constitutional rights. They had turned their coverage to other issues, and many people, even some opponents of the mandate, seemed to accept the mandate as a fait accompli.  Against that backdrop, the RCA decided it had to act. The rabbis who supported this resolution hope to demonstrate that this issue affects people of all faiths and highlight the importance of safeguarding every American’s religious liberty.

Despite a lack of news to the contrary, folks opposed to the HHS Mandate cross religious and gender lines. Aside from the Catholic Church, many other Christian faith traditions have sided with the bishops in pointing out that the problem is one of “free exercise” of religious belief. The Orthodox Church, Protestant churches, the Rabbis, and Muslims (remember this article from the Washington Post?), have spoken out about this.

Regarding the Muslims, professor Robert P. George reminds us in a brief post at First Things why religious liberty, our “first freedom,” must be fought for on every front and for every faith tradition,

Catholics have two reasons to speak out in defense of the religious freedom of Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Latter-Day Saints, and other non-Catholics, as well as their own religious freedom. The first (and more important) reason is simply that it is the right thing to do. Faith and reason bear common witness to the profound truth that religious liberty is a right held equally by all. The second reason is that the denial of religious liberty for any one group erodes the foundations of religious liberty for everyone. If you value your own religious freedom, it is prudent to defend the other guy’s religious freedom when it comes under attack. A precedent established by people in, say, Murfreesboro, Tennessee who despise Islam and see it as a pernicious force, may prove very handy to people in, say, San Francisco who have a similar attitude towards Catholicism. (I hope it goes without saying that not everyone in Murfreesboro is hostile towards Islam and not everyone in San Francisco despises Catholicism. By “people” I mean some people, not everyone or even most people in these or other cities.)

Liberty and justice, for all. Something to think about, as the Fortnight For Freedom draws near.

UPDATE: Altmuslimah on Combatting Islamophobia and Preserving Religious Freedom in Tennessee.

*Cartoon by Cox and Forkum.

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