Liberal people of faith are fighting to freely practice their beliefs and practices, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, a new report from Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project says.
The report, Whose Faith Matters? The Fight for Religious Liberty Beyond the Christian Right, argues that despite the widely accepted narrative, Christian conservatives are not dedicated to protecting religious liberty but their work in this area has “resulted in the rapid erosion rather than protection of this right, as policymakers have enshrined particular theological beliefs into U.S. law and policy while erasing or even denigrating other religious traditions.”
Examples of people from unorthodox faith traditions fighting for religious liberty include humanitarian aid workers who are being prosecuted by the federal government for providing food, water, and other aid to migrants in southern Arizona, allegedly in violation of U.S. immigration and other laws, and who have defended their actions as an exercise of their religious liberty.
In another case, “Mary Doe,” has argued that her religious belief in bodily autonomy should permit her to access abortion services without having to undergo a state-mandated ultrasound and 72-hour waiting period, and; Safehouse and the Church of Safe Injection, interfaith religious nonprofits, are seeking to open supervised injection sites for drug users — even though federal drug laws may prohibit such sites — as part of their religious mission.
"I think the biggest overall takeaway is just to stop seeing religious liberty as a conservative value, as something that really only matters to conservatives and is really only relevant to this narrow band of claims related to LGBTQ rights and abortion,” Elizabeth Reiner Platt, director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project at Columbia Law School and lead author of the report told Vice in a recent interview.
“A results analysis reveals pretty clearly that the tendency, and what will happen the most, is religion and the idea of religious freedom will be misused to maintain traditional power structures, not to advance social progress,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the outlet. “We've seen religion used to justify slavery, religion used to fight civil rights, religion used to keep women down, and now religion used to turn back the clock on LGBTQ equality.”
“The battle over ‘religious liberty’ in the U.S. is far more complex than many journalists, advocates, and politicians would have you believe. Far from abandoning this fundamental right, people of faith outside the conservative movement have taken up the fight for religious freedom in a wide variety of contexts,” the report adds.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, told The Christian Post in an interview Wednesday that the conclusions of the characterization of conservative Christians is biased in the report.
“I don’t [think] religious freedom belongs to any particular [group],” he said.
“When they use the word religious right they are just trying to pigeonhole somebody as politically conservative. That’s a fake term. So I reject the term outright anyway,” he said.
“Religious liberty is for all people and it’s not being monopolized. Certainly it’s been defended, it’s been advocated by Christians, some that are politically conservative no question, but that doesn’t make it exclusive. In fact any gain of religious freedom that one has is a gain for all, because religious freedom is for all or it’s for none,” Staver said.
He argued that when the religious left pigeonholes certain values to conservative Christians it’s “incorrect.”
“For example the sanctity of human life is an ethic that transcends time, religion, cultures, political parties. There is from the beginning of recorded history the idea that life should be protected. You want your own life protected and therefore you protect other people’s lives,” he said.
“That doesn’t change based on religion, geography. Overtime it has been universal. It’s been one of those transcendent, universal [values], what oftentimes is called natural law. And the Declaration of Independence actually even references law when it talks about we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights, among which are life. It’s all part of the whole idea of the preservation of the sanctity of human life. You can’t say that issue or abortion is a religious right issue. It transcends the label religious right,” he explained.
The same principle he said can be applied to issues of human sexuality.
“Marriage and human sexuality is also something you don’t need religion to teach you about. You know that intrinsically and it has been so from the beginning. That also has transcended time, cultures and political party and religion. Certainly religion helps inform you and understands and supports the sanctity of life as well as marriage and sexuality, but you don’t have to be religious or politically conservative to believe in the sanctity of human life and also to believe in male and female natural human sexuality and marriage,” he said.
Staver argues that instead of supporting religious freedom, the researchers behind the report are really the ones seeking to “undermine religious freedom.”
“I don’t think they want religious freedom … they are not for people of faith of all different stripes to exercise religious freedom. They want only their particular brand of religious freedom,” he said.