Don’t Euthanize Religious Liberty

Over the past few years, civil discourse in the United States has seen “religious liberty” become something of a slur. It is placed in scare quotes, with many arguing that the only reason anyone might defend religious liberty is to oppress others. In the fall of 2016, for instance, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement that revealed a disturbingly low view of religious liberty.

We don’t know what will become of President Trump’s time in office. But we pray that with this new administration, our country will once again learn to cherish and defend religious liberty, seeing it as a freedom that leads to the good of all.

Senator Ben Sasse’s brief talk (offered after the USCCR statement in 2016) represents our hope for religious liberty in 2017. Here is an excerpt from his speech on the Senate floor:

Are the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” simply hypocritical code words and shields for phobias, intolerances, or power struggles? 

Of course they are not.

Religious liberty is far more beautiful, far more profound, and far more human. Our national identity is actually based on that very premise.

The American Founding was unbelievably bold. Our Founders were making the claim that almost everyone in the history of the world had actually been wrong about the nature of government and human rights.

Our country’s Founders believed that God created people with dignity and we have rights via nature. And their conviction matters for today’s conversations. It is our Constitution, in fact.

No king, no Congress, no Commission gives us our rights. Government is not the author or source of our freedoms.

We have rights because we’re people, created with dignity and government is our shared project to secure those rights. And so, “We the People” give the government authorities; the government doesn’t give us rights.

Are people of faith simply another special interest group that needs to be appeased? I suggest—along with Ms. Heriot and the Founding Fathers—they are not. People of faith—or no faith at all—are simply exercising their humanity. They do not need government permission to do so. 

The Commission’s report is titled “Peaceful Coexistence.” But this profession of “Peaceful Coexistence” must never quietly euthanize “religious liberty” because Washington lawyers find it convenient to do so.

It must never be used to chip away at our most fundamental freedom.

It must never undermine the essence of what it means to be human.

It must never erode the American creed – which should unite us.  We can and should disagree, and we must jealously defend every right to conscience and self-expression.

In closing, I ask my colleagues from both parties to consider the dangerous implications of this report:

To my progressive friends: I invite you to be liberals again in your understanding of religious liberty and its merits.

To my conservative friends: let us cheerfully celebrate our freedoms. Let us kindly dismantle the pernicious myth that somehow your freedoms are merely a cover for fear or hate.

These freedoms are too important to relinquish. 

Watch Senator Sasse’s entire address here: