This is my second American Radio Journal commentary on the topic of religious liberty — that freedom that was so important to our nation's Founders that it was the impetus for some of them to leave their native lands and come to these shores, and that became part of the First Amendment to our Constitution. In case you missed the first one last week, you can find it at www.AmericanRadioJournal.com
Leftists love to use a verbal sleight of hand by saying that they support "Freedom of Worship." Whenever you encounter the phrase "Freedom of Worship," be on guard. Freedom of Religion is a much broader concept than Freedom of Worship. Freedom of Worship means that what is said within a worship service is protected — in other words, within the walls of a church, synagogue, mosque or whatever. That's not what brought William Penn to America. He had been imprisoned in England for his beliefs, not just his practice. When he became the first to institute religious liberty in Pennsylvania, through what he called the Charter of Privileges in 1701, he never considered religious liberty as restricted to what was said within a house of worship. He knew that true faith is not compartmentalized into certain buildings or times of the week. A vital faith is one that informs the full value set of the believer.
That's why the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in the Obergefell case is so troubling. It opens the door to the very governmental interference in religion that drove our nation's Founders to our shores over three centuries ago and that was never supposed to happen here. President Obama's Solicitor General Donald Verrilli admitted during the oral argument in the Obergefell case that, if his side prevailed, the Internal Revenue Service might be expected to revoke the tax exempt status of religiously-affiliated institutions that did not approve of same-sex marriage on religious grounds. As Albert Mohler, President of one of the largest seminaries in the world, pointed out, "the loss of tax-exempt status would put countless churches and religious institutions out of business, simply because the burden of property taxes and loss of charitable support would cripple their ability to sustain their mission." He went on to note that Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University School of Law had said, it is "disingenuous to suggest that denial of such things as tax exemption does not constitute a content-based punishment for religious views."
So the question before us in the wake of the Obergefell decision is whether there is a way to protect the religious liberty that is so central to the Constitution from further erosion by the government. Our friends at the Family Research Council have proposed an answer.
Just days before the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to redefine marriage in all 50 states, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Raśl Labrador (R-ID) introduced legislation originally proposed by the Family Research Council to clarify and strengthen religious liberty protections in federal law, by safeguarding those individuals and institutions who promote traditional marriage from government retaliation. It is called The First Amendment Defense Act, and it would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification to an individual, association, or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
"There's a reason the right to religious liberty appears first in our nation's Bill of Rights," said Senator Lee. "The freedom to live and to act in accordance with the dictates of one's conscience and religious convictions is integral to human flourishing...The vast majority of Americans today still hold a robust view of religious liberty, yet across the country the right of conscience is threatened by state and local governments that coerce, intimidate, and penalize individuals, associations, and businesses who believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The First Amendment Defense Act is necessary to ensure that this kind of government excess never occurs at the federal level."
Listeners to this program who agree with Senator Lee and Congressman Labrador should immediately contact their own Senators and House Member and urge them to support the First Amendment Defense Act. Yes, it seems ironic that we need a piece of legislation to further secure the freedoms that for two and quarter centuries were adequately and unambiguously secured by our Constitution, but that's where we find ourselves after this regrettable Supreme Court decision.
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