Religious Freedom comes from both Article VI (“no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”) and the First Amendment to the US “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”).
As Justice Hugo LaFayette Black wrote in 1947 in Everson v. Board of Education, “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” This necessarily means that the government cannot dictate how a religion runs its affairs, and conversely, thet a religion cannot dictate how the government runs its affairs. Anything less than that, results in the situation in existence in the mid-to-late 1700’s: “Catholics found themselves hounded and proscribed because of their faith; Quakers who followed their conscience went to jail; Baptists were peculiarly obnoxious to certain dominant Protestant sects; men and women of varied faiths who happened to be in a minority in a particular locality were persecuted because they steadfastly persisted in worshipping God only as their own consciences dictated. And all of these dissenters were compelled to pay tithes and taxes to support government-sponsored churches whose ministers preached inflammatory sermons designed to strengthen and consolidate the established faith by generating a burning hatred against dissenters.”
Why is Religious Freedom an Issue?
Religious freedom is a major issue under the current administration because it has been hijacked and co-opted by the conservative evangelical christians that overwhelmingly voted for the current administration. They are using the concept of “religious freedom” as an excuse and license to discriminate.
The Heritage Foundation, a so-called think-tank favored by the current administration, is pushing their conclusions that “religious freedom” trumps LGBT rights, whether it is the right to marriage, or protections for transgender individuals. It believes that “religious freedom” gives individuals and businesses the right to discriminate.
Likewise, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group, is likewise using “religious freedom” to attack LGBT rights.
And that is probably just the start, given that the Supreme Court has essentially given them the green light in the 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., where it held that corporations operating solely in a secular world, and serving a secular clientele have the same religious freedoms as its owners, just as if it were a religious organization. In doing so, the Supreme Court allowed Hobby Lobby Stores and others that can claim “religious freedom” to deny their employees coverage for some types of contraception.
Supreme Court nominee Niel Gorsuch would have joined the majority in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, as he was one of the judges in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that issued the decision that the Supreme Court agreed with in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.