Religious liberty is a treasured American value. But over the past several months, it has become a lightning rod for debate. To hear the dire warnings of conservatives, you would think that religious liberty in this country is hanging by a thread. Catholic bishops and their allies are sending alerts to dioceses across the country that say, “Act on your beliefs while you still can.” The bishops are planning a national “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign from June 21 to July 4 to protest what they claim are unprecedented attacks on their religious liberty. And at a recent conference, a conservative speaker said that the government’s assaults on religious freedom could effectively repeal the First Amendment.
Such claims are apocalyptic. They are also wrong. The truth is that religious liberty is alive and well in this country. Being able to worship freely, to bring your faith into the public square, and to be free of the government imposing religion on you—these are all are hard-won achievements that should make us proud.
It is true that the religious liberty of some Americans continues to be challenged. For instance, many Muslim American communities have faced opposition to building mosques and unwarranted scrutiny from the police and FBI. Unfortunately, these infringements are missing from the Catholic bishops’ complaints. And that’s partly because the bishops and their allies want to claim religious liberty as theirs alone, even as they misuse it to advance their policy agenda.
Sadly, religious freedom is becoming a divisive wedge and a partisan political weapon, and this distortion of a core American value is bad for politics and religion. That’s why it’s important to rebut alarmist claims and set the record straight about what religious liberty is—and what it isn’t.
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