Religion

Can We Please Get Serious about Protecting Religious Freedom?

A man prays in front of the Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 30, 2020. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)
The attack on a church in France and the foster-care case at the Supreme Court on Wednesday are rallying cries.

‘Blessed is the Righteous Judge.” Someone had painted an icon on the side of a building in lower Manhattan. It wasn’t the first of my shrine-like encounters memorializing Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I passed this one, though, the night after the Girl Scouts were pressured into taking back their congratulations to Amy Coney Barrett for succeeding the late Supreme Court justice on the Court. My surprise about the Girl Scouts, frankly, was that anyone there at this point would even think to acknowledge Barrett. I was writing about the politics that had crept into that organization 20 years ago (literally, in the October 23, 2000, issue of National Review). But the convergence, just before the election, kind of stung.

For more than a decade now, some of us have been raising an alarm about religious freedom. There’s a hostility to conscience rights if one’s conscience clashes with what’s deemed acceptable. The Obama administration decided that it was unacceptable for the Little Sisters of the Poor to choose not to cover in the insurance plans of their employees, who help them care for the elderly poor, things that they, the sisters, believe are immoral — contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs. Well, of course, Catholic nuns wouldn’t want to have anything to do with that — and shouldn’t have to, because their consciences demand they don’t. But for that basic right, the Little Sisters had to go all the way to the Supreme Court — and not only once but twice.

The morning after Election Day, in another case argued by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia is fighting for foster children there and, honestly, everywhere. The city decided it was going to stop working with the Church agency because of the Catholic Church’s views on homosexuality. Mind you, there was no couple with a complaint about being refused help. And you’ve also got to wonder: Wouldn’t the gay couple most likely want to go to an agency that shares their views? What’s at stake here is freedom itself. There should be more options for foster parents, not fewer — for the sake of these children who don’t have a lot of time to have their lives literally saved. Adults have to quit playing politics with their lives or we are going to have a lot to answer for.

A case in Idaho decided earlier this month revolved around a Seventh-day Adventist husband and wife who wanted to foster their great-granddaughter and eventually adopt her. James and Gail Blais were asked questions about the infant they were seeking to care for: “If [she] had a lesbian girlfriend, would we be willing to have her visit our home and possibly travel with us?” And “if at age 14, a doctor ordered [her] to undergo hormone therapy to change her sexual appearance, would we comply with that order?” We are talking about an infant. And a tyrannical ideology that seeks to destroy not only freedom but innocence, too.

I am confident that most people don’t realize what’s going on here. I’m sure that when they cast a vote for Joe Biden, because he doesn’t seem like the bully Trump is, they have no idea that this is what they are voting for — a continuing narrowing of freedom. But Kamala Harris thinks membership in the Knights of Columbus makes a man unqualified to be a judge. Just days before the election, their founder, Father Michael McGivney, is being beatified — a big step on the road to canonized sainthood. Perhaps there might be something good there.

And maybe we could consider taking a few steps back after Election Day and realizing that having differences of opinion doesn’t mean we must cancel one another out of polite society. I don’t want to be canceled, and I doubt you do either. So let’s get back to debates and discussions and striving to find some kind of common ground. This Supreme Court case could be the opportunity. Can’t we all rally around foster children? Whatever your opinion of abortion, here’s something we can come together on: There are children living in the city of Philadelphia and all around the country who need homes. Let’s get them safe and secure in loving families. One of the common experiences of this traumatic year has been the violence that COVID-19 has done to the routines that help us get through days and move forward. Uncertainty laid bare a great fear. How much worse for a child without a permanent family?

That terrorist attack on a Catholic church in Nice, France, shows us what hatred of the other can do, what hatred of Christianity looks like. In New York, there is an undeniable hostility to Jews. Whatever happened to “Never again”? This isn’t a Holocaust, but the same kind of evil that leads to it is creeping in again. That is unacceptable. That is actually intolerable. We need a rigorous defense of religious freedom — yours and mine.

So by all means make your RBG shrine, but remember that her greatest legacies were her family and her friendship with Antonin Scalia. There is room for different views in America. That’s what pluralism is all about. That’s what we’ve been about. Let’s not give up some of the best of ourselves under the intimidation of a politically charged mob. Whoever wins on Election Day, let’s go forth talking, not canceling.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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