America has a rich, beautiful and unique history of religious liberty that is unlike any other nation in the world. Our Founding Fathers believed so strongly in religious freedom that they enshrined it in the very pillars of our Constitution.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins with the declaration that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Faiths of all kinds thrive in our country due to the prohibition of governmental interference in religion. And though it was impossible for our Founding Fathers to see two centuries down the road, they made it clear from the very beginning that every citizen was to be free of persecution.
This week, that same principle was upheld.
The Supreme Court’s decision that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated baker Jack Phillips’ religious exercise affirmed that protecting individual freedom is not a value based on which party you vote for. It is an American value woven deeply into our history.
What got Phillips into hot water in the first place? He respectfully declined to make a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. To be clear, Jack Phillips serves every customer, but that does not mean he’s required to use his artistic craft for messages or events he disagrees with. For his Christian views, Phillips was the subject of government harassment. One government official even compared him to a Nazi.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “the commission showed a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating Phillips’s objections to making the custom cake.” By acknowledging that the state unlawfully punished Phillips for abiding by convictions consistent with his faith, the justices rightly upheld our Constitution and the freedom we possess under the First Amendment.
But make no mistake; the battle over religious liberty continues to rage on other issues as well.
We see this battle in the healthcare profession, where doctors and nurses are terminated for refusing to participate in abortion. I authored the Conscience Protection Act to prohibit medical facilities receiving federal funds from discriminating against their employees’ commitment to protecting life. The bill ensures that medical professionals cannot be punished for believing in the sanctity of life, and it ensures that they have an avenue of legal recourse to pursue justice should action be taken against them.
Whether or not we agree that life begins at conception – and I truly hope that one day we all will – this piece of legislation is about safeguarding the consciences of doctors and nurses who hold this to be true under their oath to “do no harm.” It is unconscionable that our government would punish citizens for abiding by their moral beliefs.
We also saw this battle over religious liberty raging around the country due to the mandates under Obamacare.
Under the previous Administration, Obamacare devastated religious organizations, schools and businesses, by forcing them to cover abortion-related services that violated their core beliefs. For six years, organizations with moral objections to certain contraceptives fought for their freedom against President Obama’s contraceptive mandate. Under this rule, they faced paying tens of millions of dollars in fines every year unless they complied.
The law set up an impossible choice for ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor, a congregation of Catholic nuns committed to providing care to the most vulnerable among us for over 175 years: they were forced to either provide coverage for drugs they deemed morally objectionable or pay up to $70 million in annual penalties.
It’s hard to imagine something more objectionable than the government punishing Catholic nuns, who have devoted their lives to those in need, for standing by their religious convictions.
Despite this unconstitutional attack, these women never stopped dutifully serving, nor did they stray from their convictions. In October 2017, President Trump repealed the Obama administration’s coercive mandate, delivering a resounding victory for the Little Sisters and all Americans seeking to live in accordance with their faith.
The issue was never whether women should have access to contraception, but rather whether the government should force a sincere religious or moral objector to act in violation of their own conscience. The answer in our Constitution is no.
As the next governor of Tennessee, I will champion religious liberty. I will stand against progressives who seek to punish religious viewpoints—and I’ll do so regardless of whether it makes me popular or not. Because religious liberty is never about doing what is popular. Religious liberty is about protecting unpopular viewpoints from government harassment.
The Founding Fathers recognized that the Constitution sets us apart from all other nations, but it doesn’t possess the power to make elected leaders the referees on whose God is real or how God wants to be worshipped.
It does, however, give each and every American the right to live out their religious beliefs – free from governmental interference.