As the United States prepares to elect its 45th president, issues surrounding the place of religion in American public life are at the heart of some of the most contentious debates in American culture. There are competing visions of what “religious freedom” means and whether there is any place for religion outside of individual private worship. The implications are numerous, from issues of marriage and abortion, to higher education and business.
Based on the candidates' background, policy statements, and your own analysis, how will they handle issues of domestic religious freedom as the next president of the United States?
To see all posts in this series visit: Election 2016: Domestic Religious Freedom
It has been observed that secular progressivism is at its core not secular but rather deeply religious, replacing the Christian doctrine of redemption with a redemptive idea of politics. Even progressive (primarily mainline Protestant) churches frequently seem to suggest a political mode of atonement: The sins of bias, intolerance, and judgmentalism can only be washed away by embracing progressive dogmas. Go and sin no more.
Hillary Clinton grew up an “old-fashioned Methodist” and presumably still considers herself part of that denomination. But as Paul Kengor relates, over the last few years she has vocally abandoned many of the moral rules of her old-fashioned faith, gravitating toward the progressive fringe beliefs roiling the Methodist church as they are so many others.
And she brooks no dissent from her new beliefs. Clinton’s pronouncements on issues related to Americans’ religious freedom demonstrate that she adheres with equal devotion to the creed that elevates sexual freedom above all others.
Perhaps the most extreme example is Clinton’s rigid, uncompromising position on abortion. As they say, if progressivism is a religion, abortion is its sacrament – and she genuflects at the altar.
Going into the current presidential campaign there was little room to her left on the abortion issue, but during the campaign Clinton managed to squeeze into that territory and stake it out. Her longstanding defense of any-time, any-place, and any-manner abortions has now hardened into demanding repeal of the Hyde Amendment, the 40-year-old provision that – historically with bipartisan support -- prevents federal funding of most abortions. Nothing illustrates a disdain for free exercise of religion more than forcing taxpayers to fund actions they consider morally abhorrent.
Clinton emphasizes the depth of her devotion to “reproductive rights” and asserts their preeminence over those that actually exist in the First Amendment. At a women’s summit in April 2015, she made it clear that religious beliefs conflicting with unrestricted abortion rights must give way: “[D]eep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
If your religious beliefs conflict with hers, yours must change. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
Related to Clinton’s absolutism on abortion is her belief that every woman is entitled to free contraceptives, including abortifacients. Under Obamacare, that means the woman’s employer must pay for such drugs regardless of faith-based objections. When the Supreme Court ruled that the owners of Hobby Lobby could invoke the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – signed by Bill Clinton -- in declining to provide abortifacients for employees, Clinton branded the decision “deeply disturbing.” She was not equally disturbed by forcing a family of faith to pay for drugs that end a human life.
The Hobby Lobby decision, Clinton claims, offers parallels to the oppression of women she saw in other countries as secretary of state. “You watch women and girls being deprived of their rights . . . . Among those rights is control over their bodies, control over their own health care, control over the size of their families. It is a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are very unstable, anti-democratic, and frankly prone to extremism.” Today a woman must pay for her own abortifacient, tomorrow she’s under sharia law. One wonders if Clinton actually believes this. One worries that she does.
In Clinton’s view, warding off sharia must include compelling even Catholic nuns to facilitate the purchase of abortifacients for their employees. Clinton’s former boss has dragged the Little Sisters of the Poor all the way to the Supreme Court to force them to their knees before him rather than God. And Clinton cheers – every woman should have free contraceptives “no matter where she works.”
Just as Clinton opposes the federal RFRA if it’s used to opt out of the sexual revolution, she opposes state RFRAs that offer the same protections against persecution by state and local governments. Such legislation merely gives religious citizens their day in court if the government burdens their free exercise of religion, but even that goes too far for Hillary Clinton.
Another subcategory under the giant umbrella of sexual freedom is LGBT rights. Here, Clinton was a straggler in the parade (a remnant of her old-fashioned Methodism?) until the LGBT radicals took over her party and national poll numbers began to move. Once she decided the church has been wrong about marriage for two millennia, she embraced the new sexual orthodoxy with enthusiasm.
Clinton not only celebrates same-sex marriage, she supports the so-called Equality Act to wipe out any disapproval of LGBT behavior. Among other things, the Equality Act would force Christian schools and charities to hire LGBT practitioners even if those employees oppose the Christian tenets of their employers. As Clinton said at the women’s summit referenced earlier, “We move forward when gay and transgendered women are embraced as our colleagues and friends, not fired from good jobs because of who they love or who they are.” If employers still live according to the religious beliefs Clinton supposedly shared until a few years ago, they will simply have to stop believing that and accept a less discriminatory religion.
Unwilling to enforce the protection of the First Amendment – that Congress shall not impede the free exercise of religion – leftists including Clinton substitute different phrasing that carries an altogether different meaning. “Everyone,” she declares, “has the right to worship however he or she sees fit.” But “right to worship” is much narrower than “right to free exercise.” It means the right to attend services on Sunday and observe whatever quaint rituals take place there – but once the worshipper exits the sanctuary, he must comply with secular orthodoxy.
The change in phrasing is no mere slip of the tongue. It’s proof, if more were needed, of how Clinton would approach questions of religious liberty if elected. The faith of our fathers would be replaced by a new religion. And heretics will pay the price.
Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project. She has crafted federal and state legislation designed to restore the constitutional autonomy of states and parents in education policy, and to protect the rights of religious freedom and conscience. She has published numerous works about these issues and has testified before the legislatures of eleven states. She is a graduate of Clemson University and the Harvard Law School.
**All views and opinions presented in this essay are solely those of the author and publication on Cornerstone does not represent an endorsement or agreement from the Religious Freedom Institute or its leadership.**