One of the most important religious freedom laws in America turns 25 this Friday. But will it make it to 26? House Democrats are doing everything it can to ensure it doesn’t.
A quarter of a century ago, nothing about religious liberty was controversial. In fact, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was so popular that all but three members of Congress voted yes. When Bill Clinton signed RFRA into law, no one dreamed that two decades later, his same party would be trying to sanctimoniously kill the law.
For most Americans, the Democrats’ shift hasn’t exactly been subtle. A party platform that mentioned God seven times in 2004 kicked him out in 2012. A senator who said, “We worship an awesome God” in 2004 declared war on faith as president a few years later. Now, a party that almost unanimously agreed that the government shouldn’t undermine religion in 1993 has 172 cosponsors to scrap RFRA and take a sledgehammer to our First Freedom. And they’ll have control of the House to advance their attack.
In an important column for the Washington Examiner, Ernest Istook points out that one of the people behind this push is about to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). Of course, he and the rest of his party want you to believe that Democrats wouldn’t destroy RFRA, they’d just carve out areas where it wouldn’t apply — like marriage, sexual orientation, gender identity, abortion, health care, and any other area where long standing religious beliefs clashed with the vogue values of the Left’s agenda.
“In short,” Istook explains, “an explicit constitutional right would be declared less important than other claims never mentioned in the Constitution and often not even legislated by elected officials.” The repeal of RFRA, he warns, would be a nightmare for men and women of faith – especially Christians, who just want the freedom to live out their beliefs in peace. That’ll be incredibly hard to do, Istook warns, since the Democrats’ bill would wipe out the Supreme Court victories in the Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop cases. The world that Chai Feldblum envisioned will have finally arrived. Asked what should happen when religious liberty clashed with the LGBT agenda, Obama’s EEOC chief said she’d have “a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.” The modern Democratic Party agrees.
The good news, for now, is that the GOP-controlled Senate would never go along with something as extreme as gutting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bad news — at least for the Democratic party — is that neither will their heartland base. Not everyone is on board with the Left’s hard turn on religion. As Yale’s Stephen Carter wrote, “When you mock Christians, you’re not mocking who you think you are.” And if Democrats aren’t careful, they’ll fall right down the God gap they’ve created.
“Spend much time in secular progressive circles,” David French writes, “and you’ll quickly encounter the kind of sneering, anti-Christian elitism evident in pieces such as the recent New Yorker creed against Chick-fil-A. But this culture is fundamentally at odds with the lived experience of the Democratic party’s black and Latino base.” In their beliefs, Pew Research Center warned earlier this year, “nonwhite Democrats more closely resemble Republicans than white Democrats.” That’s significant — not just because it creates tension in the Democratic Party, but, as French points out, “to the extent that faith informs politics, it could crack open the progressive coalition.”
Just last week, exit polling showed how misguided the Democrats’ war on religious expression is. Of all the competing social values — life, marriage, privacy, gender identity — religious liberty was far and away the most popular consensus issue. When McLaughlin & Associates asked 1,000 Americans if the government “should leave people free to follow their beliefs,” a whopping 70 percent of the respondents said yes. Only 18 percent agreed with this radical crusade to end religious liberty as we know it.
In a lot of ways, it’s the Democrats’ liberal agenda that’s boxed them into a godless corner. They’ve had to become hostile to public faith because it acknowledges a moral standard. And when you embrace policies that are antithetical to the stated values of any orthodox religion — like same-sex marriage or abortion — there’s only one way to reconcile it. You get rid of faith — or, at the very least marginalize it.
Make no mistake: The threat to RFRA from Democrats is real. But so is the threat to Democrats if they keep alienating faith and the voters who embrace it.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.
EDITORS NOTE: This column with images is republished with permission.