Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, writes in the Nov. 4 IRFA Newsletter:

The races haven’t all even been decided yet, and, given the big changes, it will take considerable time for new directions to be settled, so it is far too soon to try to guess how the November 2nd voting will affect national policy. Just a few quick thoughts:

Two notable changes in Congress to the benefit of institutional religious freedom:

Dan Coats, who served in the Senate (R-IN) from 1989-1999, was just re-elected to the Senate. In his earlier service he was a noted champion of faith-based services, proposing (with William Bennett) a range of innovative civil society policies under the name “Project for American Renewal.”

Chet Edwards (D-TX), first elected to the House in 1991, was defeated. Edwards has been one of the fiercest congressional critics of the faith-based initiative and a harsh opponent of what he called “religious job discrimination” by faith-based organizations that receive federal funds.

Leadership of the House changes from Democrat to Republican:

Congressman John Boehner (R-OH), the likely new Speaker of the House, has been a strong supporter of religious freedom for persons and organizations. In general, the change from an aggressive progressive agenda to a conservative stance in the House will be positive: less governmental expansion means fewer pressures on organizations committed to historic religious values. That goes, too, for the “tea party” commitment to reigning in the growth of government spending and the government’s impact on life. Researchers have noted, too, that many tea partiers are strong religious believers.

However, in complex modern societies, religious freedom needs to be protected not only by restraining government intrusion where it doesn’t belong but also by making sure that when the government is active it takes positive steps to respect the exercise of religion by individuals and institutions. How well will the tea party and the resurgent Republicans do on this score?

An area for continual concern: how the administration will use its administrative discretion, its own ability to steer the government in the absence of congressional action? The move to abrogate the Bush administration’s “conscience” regulations at HHS, the extensive administrative discretion given to the HHS Secretary by the health reform law, and the adminstration’s commitment to progressive sexual politics all are reasons to be alert.

Carlson-Thies served in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001-2002, and assisted with writing “Unlevel Playing Field: Barriers to Participation by Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Federal Social Service Programs.” (August, 2001)