This weekend, Americans celebrate National Religious Freedom Day, a day set aside each year to honor the right to freely exercise our deeply held religious beliefs. President Obama will follow precedent and issue a proclamation to mark this day on the calendar. But people who cherish religious liberty should harbor no illusions. This administration has been hostile to our first freedom at almost every turn.
America has traditionally respected the role of faith in public life. We have respected the claims of conscientious objectors when laws put them at odds with their deepest convictions. We have worked with religious groups of all kinds that believe that taking care of the needy is part of their calling: from Jewish hospitals to Catholic soup kitchens. We have let spiritual leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr. remind us that politics must aim at justice.
I cherish this tradition and will uphold it as president. But it is a tradition with which too many progressives have grown uncomfortable.
Under Obamacare, the administration has attempted to force almost all businesses and non-profit organizations — even religious charities and small businesses with religious owners — to cover the cost of contraceptives and abortifacients in their health plans. Many of these people of faith are fighting back, and rightfully suing for their freedom. The most high-profile case involves the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Obama administration wants to compel this group of nuns to include contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs among their health benefits — an absurd mandate that attempted to address a non-existent problem.
People of faith are also being asked to compromise their beliefs on the issue of marriage. While people of good will have different opinions on same-sex marriage, in a nation as large and diverse as ours, we ought to be able to find sensible compromises that accommodate bakers and florists and photographers who choose not to participate in weddings they find objectionable. The liberal Left in America, however, is unwilling to practice this kind of tolerance.
Too many of our political leaders are turning away from our distinctly American tradition of religious freedom.
With many of these battles over religious liberty ultimately finding their way to the federal courts, the stakes in this upcoming election couldn’t be higher for religious liberty. The next president could have the opportunity to appoint as many as four justices to the Supreme Court. There should be no doubt about where Hillary Clinton stands on religious liberty. In a speech last year, she said that religious teachings must change to favor abortion. In her words, “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” for the sake of giving women access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. Whatever our views about abortion — and there are people of good will on all sides — we should be able to agree that no politician should be telling churches, synagogues, and temples what they should think about it.
Someone who does not understand that basic point cannot be trusted to protect religious liberty, and cannot be trusted to appoint judges who will protect it.
#share#So long as we respect religious liberty, it is appropriate for faith to inform our political convictions. My own faith certainly guided me as I worked to expand educational opportunity, improve public safety, provide help to victims of domestic violence and drug abuse, reform our care of people with developmental disabilities, and promote a culture of life. I am proud that when I was governor, the abortion rate in Florida fell twice as fast as it did in the nation.
As president of the United States, I will be guided by the same principles. I will seek to limit government, honor the rights of conscience, and help those in need. I will nominate and fight for judges who will protect our constitutional rights, and who understand that Americans’ freedom isn’t jeopardized by menorahs at City Hall — it’s jeopardized by a government that seeks to override our conscientious convictions.
Too many of our political leaders are turning away from our distinctly American tradition of religious freedom. That’s why it’s important to stand up for it. No other candidate running for president has a stronger record on religious liberty than I do — and no one is more eager to defend it from Hillary Clinton and others who don’t see its value.
— Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and is a candidate for the Republican nomination for president.