Acton Institute Powerblog

Why the Left Abandoned Religious Freedom

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Religious-freedom-under-assault-K1AA258-x-largeWhen it passed in 1993, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was supported left-leaning Democratic lawmakers and liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. President Clinton, who signed it into law, called the bill one of his greatest accomplishments as President. A decade later they are now opposing religious liberty laws they themselves wrote. What changed in the last decade? Joseph Backholm explains how the value system of liberalism has changed:

While a belief in individual rights used to be the hallmark of liberalism, it has since been replaced by a commitment to amorphous concepts like “equality” and ending “discrimination”. While they never define those terms in a way they could be held accountable for, what is obvious is that their pursuit of those values leaves no room for people to disagree. After all, how can we have a tolerant world if people are allowed to do things that are intolerant?

The new left wants government to officiate all of our interactions to make sure no one “discriminates”.

This explains why, in 1993, Chuck Schumer was the prime sponsor of the RFRA, but in 2013, he is a vocal opponent of efforts that would allow the Catholic Church not to pay for contraception in violation of its beliefs.

It also explains why in 1993, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), co-chaired the lobby committee that helped make RFRA federal law. However, in 2013, they filed a lawsuit against a florist in Washington State because they did not want to provide floral services for a same-sex “wedding”. The ACLU now opposes RFRA language in Washington State specifically because it could allow business owners the freedom to make decisions consistent with their religious beliefs.

Read more . . .

(Via: Cranach)

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Curt Day

    It seems that conservatives reduce all liberty to individual liberty. Seems is the key word here. When all liberty is reduced to the liberty of the individual, then there is no corporate liberty, or democracy, and no social responsibility. I remember when those running restaurants were being challenged to treat people from all races equally, meaning that they had to serve both Whites and Blacks and that they could not segregate customers, individual liberty was the defense being used as the apologetic.

    So when we talk about individual liberty, we have determine whether the actions of that individual whose liberty is being asserted interferes with the rights of others or not. We have to tell the difference between whether we are defending the actions and rights of a single person or whether we are caught up in a conflict of rights of two or more people.

    It is tragically unfortunate that in the abortion issue, the unborn are not recognized as having any rights. Thus the individual rights of the mother becomes the only issue in the eyes of the law. The same individual rights argument is being made with regard to the Catholic church paying for contraceptives. Only one side is recognized as having rights in each case and thus it becomes an issue of individual liberty rather than an issue of conflicting rights.

    But to pair that with the florist’s right to refuse providing a public service to a same-sex wedding will only hurt our interests in the rights arguments stated above. For when a business offers a public service, if it can refuse offering that service to people based on antagonism against those people or their legal activity, it provides the potential of that service being denied to those people all together. That was the issue back in the civil rights days of the 50s and 60s. There is a difference between arguing for the rights of those who are not represented from arguing so that the rights of one side will not be recognized.

  • Eugene Scott

    Most important sentence in that entire piece to me – particularly for conservatives, Bible-believing Christians and Bible-believing Christian conservatives is:

    ‘We need not follow that path, but we’d be foolish to deny how close we are to it.

    In the process of looking for religious freedom protections, we don’t need to convince everyone to see the world like we do.’

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