Lincoln * Institute

Colin A. Hanna

Colin A. Hanna

Let Freedom Ring, USA


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Let Freedom Ring

Religious Liberty: Going to Be An Issue

by Colin Hanna

(Part I)

"It's certainly going to be an issue. I – I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is – it is going to be an issue." So spoke President Obama's Solicitor General Donald Verrilli in oral argument in the Supreme Court marriage case less than three months ago. That case, known as Obergefell v. Hodges -- has now been decided, and Mr. Verrilli's words should be seen as setting the stage for the greatest assault on the First Amendment since the Bill of Rights became part of our Constitution in 1791.

What Solicitor General Verrilli meant when he said "it's certainly going to be an issue" was that the Internal Revenue Service can be expected to challenge the tax-exempt status of a Christian college or University that refuses to approve same-sex marriage because it conflicts with the college's teaching. And there you have it: a classic clash of rights — the right of same-sex couples to be married versus the right of a religious college to adhere to their millennia-old religious teachings.

The IRS, in its insatiable appetite for more things to tax, would very likely hold that the Christian college was not entitled to tax exemption as a First-Amendment-protected religious institution or to tax deductibility for donations to it. This could well force most religious colleges to close, because they could neither afford the increase in operating costs from being forced to pay property and other taxes nor the loss in income that would doubtless result from the loss of tax-deductibility for donations to it.

No lawsuit would need to be initiated — a simple and unilateral policy position taken by the IRS and then enforced by a federal court decision or two would be all that was required to wipe out most if not all religious schools and colleges in the United States. The next step would plausibly soon follow — once this new IRS ruling survived a few court challenges, the IRS could be expected to train its guns on churches themselves, for advocating in their teachings on marriage that they could block access to a Constitutional right.

The first few steps in this process may well come before this President and this Attorney General leave office 18 months from now. The very concept of the right to religious liberty that played such an important role in the founding of our government nearly two and a half centuries ago thus could now be extinguished by that very government.

Listen to what author and activist David Horowitz says:

"Our nation is facing a number of existential threats — from illegal immigration and Obamacare to Iran and sundry national security problems. But nothing is more of a clear and present danger to the foundation of our democracy than the war on religious liberty. It's time for the conservative movement — inside and outside of Washington — to unite behind an intrepid fight … We can recover from a bad corporate welfare bill or a highway bill. We will never recover from a secular inquisition that is more aggressive in its 'religious' fervor than what we've seen even from former communist states.

It's time to say plainly that the Left's campaign against believing Christians and Jews isn't just a public policy disagreement anymore. Much like ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Left has escalated their campaign against believers into a war to extirpate Judeo-Christian religious belief and practice from the geography they occupy and all of America is now the target in their Rainbow Jihad."

So writes David Horowitz. The colorful term coined by Horowitz — "Rainbow Jihad" — is ironic, because on this issue, Jews and Christians and Muslims may all be united in a defensive posture together, while the atheists, secularists and anti-religionists of the left — who do not believe in a term like holy war — are the ones who threaten the very heart of the First Amendment. We'll have more on this in a future American Radio Journal commentary. For today, please begin to think of the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision as being about much more than same-sex marriage. It's likely to be the first step in an all-out assault on religious liberty.

"Rainbow Jihad" is a term coined by Horowitz. Is it too strong, or is it appropriate? To the Christian bakers in Oregon who were assessed a $135,000 fine and then slapped with a gag order from the court not to speak about it, "Rainbow Jihad" may sound about right. But I think there's a greater concern than the clash between a Christian business owner's Constitutional rights and the basic principles of public accommodation law that compel non-discriminatory commercial conduct. That greater concern is with the possibility that genuinely religious institutions themselves -- churches, mosques, synagogues and schools and colleges affiliated with them may someday be forced to choose between teaching their understanding of truth and simply going out of business. That would amount to a direct assault by the government on the First Amendment — an assault without precedent in our nation's history.

That's why a new bill called the First Amendment Defense Act has been introduced in the House by Congressman Raul Labrador and in the Senate by Senator Mike Lee.

How odd is that we've come to place where a piece of legislation may be needed to defend the Constitution itself from erosion by an agency of the United States government?

Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring, USA.