Opinion

We Must Be Vigilant in Defense of Religious Liberty

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Posted: Mar 31, 2021 10:00 AM
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We Must Be Vigilant in Defense of Religious Liberty

Source: AP Photo/Jon Elswick, file

Amid our celebrations of Easter and Passover this year, Hoosiers should pause to appreciate the exceptional nature of our rich heritage of religious liberty.

Beyond the confines of a church, synagogue or mosque, Hoosiers enjoy the liberty to exercise their faith in every aspect of their lives — at work, at school, and in their communities — provided they do not threaten the rights of their neighbors.

That’s what the First Amendment guarantees.

But make no mistake: This liberty is under intense attack, and unless we act decisively to defend it, we could lose one of our most precious birthrights as Americans.

Our nation’s elected leaders claim to support religious liberty, but too many who pay lip service to this ideal seem determined in practice to chip away at it, little by little.

These individuals — all too plentiful within the ranks of Congress and the Biden administration — treat religious liberty as a nice-sounding abstract concept. Those of us who consider it much more than that must prove our commitment to liberty in action.

For anyone willing to stand up for liberty, there’s a role to play, and we need every patriot to rise to the occasion.

As Ronald Reagan told us: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

In my first months as Indiana’s attorney general, I have considered it an honor to answer this call.

Already, I have taken action to advance our firm resolve to safeguard Hoosiers’ religious liberties.

I have stepped up, for example, to defend the right of a Catholic institution — Cathedral High School in Indianapolis — to operate according to the doctrines of its faith.

Understandably, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis expects and demands that its ministerial staff, including educators, uphold the teachings of the church. This includes the teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Yet, a former Cathedral teacher sued the Archdiocese when he lost his position with the school based on his same-sex marriage. Citing the First Amendment’s longstanding protections for church autonomy, I have argued in an amicus brief that the lawsuit should be dismissed. It is up to the Catholic Church, not the courts, to determine Catholic doctrine. 

On another front, I am urging a federal district court to uphold a Department of Labor regulation that properly interprets a longstanding executive order as allowing contractors to be exempt from certain non-discrimination rules if they show strong evidence that their purpose is substantially religious.

For example, a religiously-oriented kosher catering company that mainly provides meals to synagogues could compete for a contract to provide meals at a federal-government conference — even though such a company would explicitly hire staff on the basis of certain shared beliefs and values.

The Biden administration has indicated it has no interest in sustaining this common-sense practice for faith-based organizations, which has come under challenge. That leaves it to states such as Indiana to intervene and assert that our collective interests are served by reasonable accommodations of faith in the public square.

We must remember that the framers of the Constitution sought to protect religion from government, not to protect government from religion.

Without exaggeration, we can describe the origins of religious liberty as uniquely American — “a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government,” as Thomas Jefferson said, “and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.”

Let us all pray that this view will continue to ring true with future generations and their elected leaders.

And beyond such prayers, let us together do the hard work required to stay ever vigilant in defending religious liberty.