I have warned many times over the past several weeks about the loss of religious liberty in America. For those who might be thinking, “Aren’t those crazy, right-wing Christians exaggerating a bit when they talk about losing religious liberty?” Simply put, no. Let’s look at a couple examples.
First, there is the issue of reparative or conversion therapy. Reparative therapies are therapeutic approaches that attempt to help people change from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one. California and New Jersey have passed legislation making it illegal for mental health professionals and others to use these conversation therapies with minors. In late-August, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of California’s law banning the use of gay conversion therapy. The ruling treats advice and verbal counsel as “conduct” devoid of free speech protections.
If speech amounts to conduct then the entire concept of free speech is essentially lost. The government can then regulate any kind of speech in any manner they wish just so long as they deem it to be “conduct.” The loss of free speech protections transcends divisions along political and religious lines. In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “Protecting the Speech We Hate,” lawyers for the Institute of Justice admit they strongly disagree with gay conversion therapy, yet argue, “Talk therapy, like other advice, consists of communication, and communication gets First Amendment protection even when the government calls it conduct.” Americans across the political spectrum agree: we have the right to speak on the basis of our moral convictions on all issues. If the Supreme Court does not overturn this decision, what will the implications be for religious liberty?
A second example is the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor and Obamacare. Under the authority of the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a mandate in January of this year forcing employer health plans to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilizations. There is a “religious exemption” for churches and religious organizations who would be forced to violate their sincerely-held religious beliefs by providing such coverage. The Little Sisters of the Poor, however, were denied such an exemption since they were deemed to not be religious enough.
The Obama administration has offered a compromise for those caught in this situation: it will extend the time such groups have to find a proper insurer before penalties kick in. Fines can begin as of January 1, 2014 for employers who have not switched to an acceptable insurer according to the HHS mandate. This compromise is no compromise at all and the Little Sisters of the Poor have now brought suit in federal court. The Sisters run nursing homes, provide assisted living services, and others means of care for the elderly poor across America. If the Sisters’ lawsuit is unsuccessful, what will the implications be for religious liberty?
The threats to religious liberty are real. These cases are two of many. I am concerned that calls to abandon the so-called culture wars will have a chilling effect on efforts to preserve religious liberty. Organizations like The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (representing the Sisters of the Poor), the Liberty Counsel (arguing the pro-therapy case in New Jersey), and others such as ACLJ and the Liberty Institute will continue to need support in order to bring cases such as these. We enjoy the unique privilege of having a tremendous heritage of liberty passed down to us from generations that have gone before. It would be inexcusable to let it all go so easily.