WASHINGTON (BP) -- People of faith are being marginalized in the United States, a religious liberty lawyer said in a recent Washington, D.C., panel discussion.

Kellie Fiedorek, litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said this is a time of "great peril" for religious adherents. In particular, business owners with religious convictions about business, marriage and family are the targets of attacks for refusing to violate their beliefs, she said.

"You couldn't expect an African-American photographer to take a picture of a family who is in the KKK, who is going to wear long white robes and pointy hats," Fiedorek said. "Similarly, you couldn't expect a Jewish ... baker to bake a cake with swastikas on it and have it say, 'Happy Birthday to Hitler.'"

Fiedorek was one of two young legal experts who talked about recent challenges to First Amendment rights at a Feb. 20 event sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC). Adele Keim, legal counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, joined Fiedorek in a discussion that focused on the Obama administration's failure to protect religious freedom in its abortion/contraception mandate.

The mandate -- issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of implementing the 2010 health care law -- requires employers to pay for coverage of drugs defined by the Food and Drug Administration as contraceptives, even if they can cause abortions. HHS proposed a change Feb. 1 supposedly in response to the concerns of faith organizations, but religious freedom advocates said objecting employers -- other than churches and church ministries -- still would be unwilling participants in underwriting both contraceptive and abortion-causing pills.

Drugs considered contraceptives under the mandate include Plan B and other "morning-after" pills, which can prevent implantation of tiny embryos. That secondary, post-fertilization mechanism of the pill causes an abortion.

The mandate also covers "ella." Keim described "ella" as "the week-after" pill. "Ella" works the same way as RU 486, the well-known abortion drug that blocks the growth of progestin, the hormone necessary to build and maintain the uterine wall during pregnancy.

"This kind of drug can either prevent a developing human embryo from implanting itself within the uterus," said Keim, "or it can kill an implanted embryo by starving it to death."

HHS' revised, proposed rule still will not allow exemptions to religiously motivated business owners based upon their opposition to paying for abortion-causing drugs.

"You do not leave your conscience at home when you go to work or when you go to school," Fiedorek said.

Keim told the audience, "It is truly critical that religious believers and indeed all people of good will who are committed to our nation's founding principles of freedom of conscience speak up again and let HHS know that it is not acceptable to draw lines around the First Amendment."

Ken Klukowski, director of FRC's Center for Religious Liberty, closed out the panel by chronicling the rise of America's First Amendment rights.

"The origin of our rights is that they are not grants from the government; they are gifts from God," Klukowski said.

Klukowski said the Founding Fathers explicitly made religious freedom a fundamental right.

"The phrase 'We hold these truths to be self-evident' is just a very genteel, colonial way of saying, 'Any idiot ought to be able to figure this out,'" Klukowski said.

Infringements upon the First Amendment, Klukowski said, will cause a chipping away of the other rights also, specifically freedom of speech.

"It's not just the words that we speak, it's the lives that we live," Klukowski said.

ADF is a Christian, legal organization that fights for the religious freedom of all Americans and also believers of different faiths worldwide.

The Becket Fund is not a faith-based organization. By representing anyone who has a faith-based legal claim, the firm is actively fighting for the religious freedom of all people -- "everyone from Anglicans to Zoroastrians," Keim said.

Tonika Reed is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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