Biden Q&A

A Biden Second Term Threatens Freedom of Religion

Originally published at National Review

President Biden is running for reelection. His video announcement claims that the primary issue before the country is whether “there will be more or less freedom.” I agree with him. Only, he is the candidate of less freedom.

The Biden administration has been an implacable foe of freedom of religion. That “first liberty” — as it is sometimes called — is a fundamental human right. It is explicitly protected in the First Amendment’s protection of “the free exercise” of religion.

International human-rights accords also protect it. Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) similarly provides:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

As Supreme Court Justice Supreme Frank Murphy once put it, the free exercise of religion has “a double aspect — freedom of thought and action,” meaning that a robust understanding of freedom of religion must mean the right to live according to one’s own faith, that is, to “manifest” our religion or belief in practice, both “in public or private,” without interference from the state.

Biden’s hostility to the free exercise of religion aspect has resulted in concerted efforts to sacrifice this first liberty on the altar of secular cultural imperatives.

Consider this partial list:

  • Biden opposes medical conscience and would force medical professionals to perform abortions and “gender-affirming care” (misnomer alert) — including on minors — even when doing so violates their religious faith.
  • He has endorsed regulatory policies that would force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions and other reproductive healthcare services such as sterilizations and transgender hysterectomies.
  • His administration wants to force religious adoption agencies to violate their faith precepts or lose public funding.
  • He has endorsed legislation like the Equality Act that would gut the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that protects the free exercise of religion from federal laws and regulations.

At this point in the discussion, someone usually brings up extreme cases. For example, would the free-exercise clause allow modern-day Aztecs to practice human sacrifice?

No. Even fundamental liberties are not absolute. The law properly prohibits religious practice when there is a compelling government interest. For example, the state can compel a Jehovah’s Witness child to be given life-saving blood transfusions even though doing so violates Witness dogma.

Under Biden, such restrictions would become far broader and more general, withering freedom of religion to a mere “freedom of worship.” In other words, Catholics would be free to believe the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Christ, Muslims could believe Jesus was a great prophet but not the Son of God, and atheists would be permitted to disbelieve. Worship, or the option to demur, is important, too, of course. But it is inadequate. If people must violate their faith as the cost of full participation in the public square and civic life, to say the least, they are less free.

Here’s the bottom line: If the freedom of religion is reduced to mere freedom of worship, creed-motivated philanthropic and service organizations such as the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities USA, and religiously sponsored schools, hospitals, nursing homes, pregnancy counseling centers, etc., will be forced to choose between acting contrary to their faith and closing their doors. Cake designers will be forced to “bake the cake!” or close. Medical professionals will be required to perform services against their faith as the cost of licensure.

This would not only make our society more authoritarian but would also negatively materially affect the millions of men, women, and children whose lives are benefited by faithful people acting in accordance with their religious convictions while providing goods and services.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.