Kathryn Lopez

Who needs religious freedom? It's a necessary, if often unasked, question.

For a number of years now, there has been evidence of religious liberty being threatened in the United States. Due to the intensely partisan nature of our current politics, these warnings have frequently been ignored or dismissed. But are you willing to dismiss the Little Sisters of the Poor? They run homes for the elderly, and are now suing the Department of Health and Human Services in a class-action lawsuit -- the first against the mandate that was issued as part of the president's signature health-care legislation that requires coverage of abortion, sterilization and other measures that many religious people and organizations object to.

American exceptionalism has been a phrase used and abused and misunderstood, subject to projections and deconstruction of late. But is there something special here? An experiment in ordered liberty that gives people the right to follow the dictates of their religious duty? A democratic republic needs people of virtue, after all.

Right about now we need people to point out the obvious. In New York, as autumn was officially ushered in, an event at Columbia University considered our falling. It reviewed the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto and movement of Christian churches drafted in 2009 to defend life, marriage and religious liberty.

At heart, it declares that God "has placed a design in his creation," as the New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan put it. The Bible, our faith, nature, human reason and American wisdom all attest to this, he said. But "enlightened contemporary culture" wants very little to do with it all. Our culture feels it's beyond such outdated thinking. This attitude has toxic consequences.

At a New York dinner hosted by the journal Human Life Review, Eric Metaxas, a prolific author, issued words of caution: "It's one thing to live in a country where we can speak the truth, even though it be unpopular. But what happens if it becomes culturally uncomfortable to speak some truths, as it has on the issue of life and on the issue of traditional marriage?"

The state has, in essence, established a religion by insisting that some religious views are not fit to leave the church and enter public life. And it's not just the Obama administration that feels this way -- in New Mexico, the State Supreme Court recently ruled against a wedding photographer who didn't want to take pictures of gay nuptials, due to her religious beliefs.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.