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Two Sunday Remembrances Call Out in Defense of the Full Spectrum of Human Dignity

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar

This week is bookended by two very important days: January 16 is Religious Freedom Sunday and Sanctity of Life Sunday, which some people alternately commemorate on January 23. These days, which honor our two first and most essential human rights, are under increasing attack in our nation. These rights, and the whole way of life we know and love, are being threatened, sometimes by the very government charged to protect them. 


Should these two rights—the right to life and the right to religious freedom—fall, they will take with them our whole understanding of what it means to be human and free.

The right to life is, by definition, the foundational right of any free society. If the government can decide that certain groups of innocent people—the unborn, the disabled, the elderly—are somehow unfit to live, it threatens the lives and freedom of all people. Government does not give life, and government does not have the right to take it away from the innocent.

The idea that all human lives are sacred and worthy of protection is at the foundation of American society. But today, under our egregiously broken abortion laws, the government is failing in its duty to protect lives: specifically, the lives of the unborn, and the disabled or potentially disabled unborn. In fact, in case after case, the Supreme Court has strictly limited the ability of states to protect these innocent lives by crafting a “right” to abortion that, before a child reaches viability, overrides efforts to protect life in the womb. 

Right now, the Supreme Court is deliberating on a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that may restore the ability of state governments to pass laws protecting life. 


If the Court upholds Mississippi’s law—which prohibits abortion after 15-weeks—it will be an important step to restoring respect for human life. But if the Court instead strikes down Mississippi’s law and upholds Roe v. Wade, it is not just the unborn who suffer: it is all humans, for such a decision will solidify the misguided principle that one person’s “choice” can override another person’s right to life.

But we do not merely have the right to live, to exist; each human being has the fundamental right to live according to his deeply held beliefs, without undue interference from the government. We have the right to live in accordance with our consciences, and we can pursue the truth without fear of government oppression. This right, like the right to life, is part of our identity as humans. It is not granted by the government, rather – in a just nation – it is the role of government to preserve that right. 

Unfortunately, many in our government have forgotten this. Everywhere, our rights to religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being encroached upon and outright attacked. 

For example, in 2020, a young girl wanted to wear a mask to school (in accordance with her school’s COVID-19 guidelines) that said, “Jesus loves me.” This mask was no more or less proclamatory than many other masks, some of which bore slogans like “Black Lives Matter.” But the school singled her out and prohibited her from expressing her beliefs in this way. 


Fortunately, after Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) intervened, the school agreed to allow the girl to wear her preferred mask. 

But the pressures continue to build. Counselors find themselves silenced and punished for helping their clients live consistently with their religiously-informed beliefs about sexuality and gender. Nurses and doctors who believe that all life is sacred are being forced to participate in procedures that violate their beliefs—or risk losing their jobs. Parents who question whether it is wise and healthy to treat their daughter as though she were a boy find themselves undermined and deceived by school districts, some of which have gone so far as to aid children in lying to their parents about their struggles with gender dysphoria. 

When the government chooses one set of ideas and elevates it over another, freedom suffers. When, as is happening now, the government decides that gender and sexuality are fluid, and punishes anyone who questions those sacrosanct notions (even those who use solid science to raise genuine concerns), everyone suffers. 

These two rights—the right to life and the right to religious freedom—are foundations of human dignity. When we look from one to the other, we see the whole scope of what it means to be human: to participate uniquely in the image of God, to merit respect from the moment of our conception until the moment of our natural death, and to be able, during our lives, to pursue the truth about God, ourselves, and our purpose, without undue government interference.


We stand at a crossroads. As a country, we have long ignored and denigrated these rights in our laws and a culture. But there is still a way back. We can return to respecting these vital rights. 

Should we choose, instead, to increasingly trample on these rights, it will not be long before we find that the road we have chosen is dark indeed. 

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