Can Religious Freedom Be Saved?
Rolling back the Obama administration’s attack on freedom of conscience

Protesters gather outside the Health & Human Services building in Washington, D.C., March 23, 2012.


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution announces and protects the freedom of religion: our first liberty. For more than two centuries, this amendment and our nation’s courts have acknowledged this right as one recognized but not created by any government. In other words, from the founding to now, Americans and their leaders have taken “Congress shall make no law” to mean the government is restrained from interfering with internal matters of the church and of religion, including doctrine and rights of conscience.

However, via the HHS abortion-pill and contraceptive mandate, this administration has run roughshod over our first liberty and assigned government the new role of deciding which entities are “religious enough” for First Amendment protections and which aren’t, while decreeing that most private citizens have no say in how they may follow their beliefs.

So while President Obama’s HHS may provide an opt-out for your local church, there will be no similar option for the local medical center or university that is run by a religious ministry, even though the distinguishing mark and purpose of both the medical center and the university are their equally strong faith commitments. And we must note that religious hospitals and universities predate any governmental role in either field.

With one fell swoop, the Obama administration has placed itself in the position of final arbiter of what does and doesn’t constitute religious faith and practice. In this way, they have trampled the rights of the conscience of every American, because they have interjected a man-made standard for religiosity that curtails the protections of the First Amendment by government fiat.

This is an attack on religion, an attack on the rights of conscience, and an attack on freedom itself. And while Obamacare was the first salvo President Obama fired on this particular front, it was his abortion-pill and contraception mandate that commenced a full-scale battle.

— Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund.