jefferson faceWritten by Don Byrd

Religious liberty for all is not a political ideology. It is a basic expression of universal human rights. Unfortunately, that ideal has been sullied, especially in recent years, by political exploitation that (mis)characterizes religious liberty as the domain of one political persuasion or the other.

Where once, religious freedom legislation was a bi-partisan endeavor that sought to protect the rights of all, it has too often become accepted as the rhetorical touchstone of one political perspective that seeks instead to cement certain outcomes in socio-political disputes.

But fear not!  Religious liberty is alive and well as a concern for advocates on all sides of the political spectrum. And religious freedom legislation is available as an important tool to all. In an important piece for Religion News Service, for example, G. Jeffrey MacDonald reports on the ways religious freedom claims are being used to support certain progressive causes.

Here is an excerpt:

[P]rogressives are now leveraging the First Amendment principle as a vehicle to advance causes of their own. As they see it, social action is integral to living out their faith, and local ordinances can’t take away their rights.

In the name of religious freedom, activists are defying local resistance to their campaigns for social change. They’re pressing ahead, for instance, with plans to install solar panels over a local board’s objections in Massachusetts and to establish tent cities for the homeless in California and Michigan.

Likewise, in the state of Indiana, where religious freedom legislation set off a firestorm before it was softened to mitigate its potentially discriminatory impact, liberals who otherwise have come to oppose religious freedom legislation have found ways to put it to good use.

NBC News reports:

The state law is shaking its previous bad rep and being used for what religious freedom laws are typically used for — helping religious minorities, said Richard Garnett, a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.

“In recent months it’s becoming the case that people are associating (religious freedom) laws with divisive social issues like same sex marriage and abortion,” he said. But typical “cases involve individuals who are vulnerable members of a religious community who have been burdened, like an Amish family or a Muslim inmate.”

The balance between religious freedom and public/governmental interest is largely well-protected with judicial frameworks that don’t ask whether a claimant is liberal or conservative. It serves both religious majorities and religious minorities in the same way – not as a trump card that privileges religious interests over all others, but as a promise to all Americans that sincere religious beliefs will be heard; that requests for accommodation will be considered; that free exercise will not be limited by government unless a sufficient reason requires it.

Isn’t it time to return religious liberty’s reputation to its rightful place as a beacon of protection for all? That is not a liberal idea or a conservative idea. It is an American idea, expressing a universal value and human right. In our political discourse, we should strive to keep it that way.