There probably never has been a better time for us to stand up for religious freedom. And, it is not just for Christians. The case cited below was about the Native American Church (NAC), also known as Peyotism and Peyote Religion, is a Native American religion that teaches a combination of traditional Native American beliefs and Christianity, with sacramental use of the entheogen peyote.
Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), is a United States Supreme Court case that held that the state could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state prohibition on the use of peyote, even though the use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. Although states have the power to accommodate otherwise illegal acts performed in pursuit of religious beliefs, they are not required to do so.
Why was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act necessary?
“The Dred Scott of First Amendment Law.” Those jarring words were offered before Congress in 1993 to explain why there was such an urgent need for passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The speaker was then-ACLU President Nadine Strossen, and the focus of her ire was the Supreme Court’s recently decided Employment Division v. Smith, the case that made RFRA so necessary.
The ACLU’s support of RFRA placed it within the mainstream of liberal groups that led to the law’s near unanimous passage. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and then-Representative Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sponsored RFRA. The Anti-Defamation League and People for the American Way supported it. Bill Clinton signed the law surrounded by a multi-faith coalition composed of many proud liberals. Religious freedom was a constitutional right firmly embraced by progressives.
The ACLU and many of its allies on the left are now increasingly hostile to actual religious freedom, which includes the ability to exercise one’s beliefs openly in the public square and not just within the narrow confines of a place of worship.
- The ACLU launched a lawsuit that would force most of the nation’s religious adoption agencies out of business, limiting the difficult choices facing birth mothers and forcing children into a broken government run-system. An ad campaign coinciding with the lawsuit makes no policy arguments, but instead relies on cartoonish portrayals of Christian adoption workers as violent bigots.
- The California legislature passed a bill (with strong ACLU support) that would require churches and faith-based charities to employ people who procure abortions. The bill was too extreme even for liberal Governor Jerry Brown, who wisely vetoed it.
- Democratic Senators — with well-coordinated public relations help from the ACLU — declared as unfit for government service a Catholic judicial nominee and an evangelical deputy cabinet secretary based upon beliefs that tens of millions of American Catholics and evangelicals would recognize as their own. This religious test drew criticism from even liberal legal experts. Liberals have criticized such religious tests when promoted by right-of-center figures like Alabama’s Roy Moore, and rightly so.