House Panel Focuses on Religious Freedom

Members of the House of Representatives had the opportunity this week to discuss the state of religious freedom in the United States, a particularly timely topic as the Supreme Court is expected to issue decisions in the next few weeks with First Amendment ramifications. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution heard from witnesses with quite different perspectives on the nature of, and threats to, religious liberty. 

Mat Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University’s School of Law, frankly stated, “The threat to religious freedom has reached unprecedented levels,” and focused specifically on conflicts around the sanctity of human life and marriage. In a similar vein, Greg Baylor, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, declared, “[T]he current Administration has all too often taken what can only be characterized as extreme positions designed to dramatically decrease religious freedom.” Kim Colby, Director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom of the Christian Legal Society, focused on the longstanding Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), noting, “This hearing is timely because it is possible that, within the next few weeks, this Congress will come under pressure to amend RFRA and diminish its protection, if the Supreme Court upholds RFRA’s protection of Americans whose religious consciences will not allow them to comply with the HHS Mandate.”

However, Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, contended that a primary threat to the First Amendment is instead an effort to “radically redefine religious liberty.” He opined, “[W]hat  are  often  described  as  threats  to  religious  freedom today  are  really  attempts to  obtain  sweeping  exemptions  that  could  deny  others  fundamental  rights to  make  lawful  moral  choices and  exercise  their  own  individual  conscience.”

Notably, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) was quick to confront Rev. Lynn, and he successfully got Rev. Lynn to admit that his thoughts on reasons for religious accommodation were not the same tests espoused by the U.S. Supreme Court. Rep. Forbes suggested that instead it was Rev. Lynn’s position that would radically redefine religious liberty.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: June 13, 2014