But the real question is: What does religious freedom look like? As America gets more religiously diverse, the concept is becoming harder to define.
The bishops poured resources into their “Fortnight for Freedom” effort, which warned that Americans’ liberty to practice religion is at risk. It featured overflow mega-Masses with special prayers for the protection of religious liberty. A slew of lawsuits are pitting the president against some of the most prominent Catholic institutions in the nation.
What do we mean when we talk about the freedom to practice religion in America? Who gets to define it? And when should religious liberty yield to other values?
Muslim cabdrivers are refusing to carry alcohol in their vehicles. Some Christian bed-and-breakfast owners won’t host honeymooning same-sex couples. And before America got a crash course in their beliefs after this past week’s tragic shooting in Wisconsin, turban-wearing Sikhs have been fighting extra screening at airports.
America has no road map out of this conflict. No vibrant democracy in history has had our level of religious pluralism or piety. We’re on our own to figure out how to protect it. And the only thing people in the booming field of religious-liberty law seem to agree on is that Americans can expect more fighting.
“I think now, as diversity is increasing, as secularists and other agendas move forward, we’ll see that traditional base call out for more and more accommodations to respect their beliefs,” said Hannah Smith, a senior counsel with the Becket Fund, one of the leading religious-liberty law firms.
It’s been an angry summer, particularly for religious conservatives.
Catholic bishops have focused on the Obama administration’s new health-care law and its mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage. And on same-sex marriage, the once-neutral chicken sandwich has become a rallying cry for orthodoxy.
When the bishops and their religious- conservative allies say their place in society is under assault, they have a point. Traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs about gender, sex, reproduction and marriage were for centuries treated as the norm, but consensus has since crumbled, not only in secular culture but in religious communities as well. Those beliefs — and the right to practice them in your life by what you wear, what you say at work, whom you hire and what kind of health care you have — are colliding with other, newly accepted beliefs and rights.