On Religious Liberty
March 27, 2014 by Bob Livingston
As was the case during the brouhaha over whether a bakery or photographer can deny service to a potential patron if doing so violates the owners’ religious beliefs, so has the debate raged over Hobby Lobby’s efforts to exempt itself from providing emergency contraceptive (abortion) coverage for its employees.
In all these cases, government is attempting to provide rights that do not exist to one group over the rights of Christians who choose not to violate their own beliefs.
Just as shoppers have the right (for any reason or no reason) to discriminate against the stores they choose to patronize (for instance, many choose to not shop at Wal-Mart for a host of reasons — from their employment practices to their product offerings), in a free society, store owners should not be compelled to provide a service that violates their belief system and business owners should not be compelled to offer an employment benefit that does so.
Certainly those patrons are free to shop at stores more “tolerant” of their practices. And employees are free to provide for their own abortifacients or seek employment at a business that provides it as a perk. So in none of the cases are the patrons or employees suffering from any form of “discrimination.”
But if government compels those businesses to provide those services in violation of their beliefs, government is trampling on their rights guaranteed under the 1st Amendment.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
According to Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, government’s intruding into a person’s religious opinions was a fallacy that “at once destroys all religious liberty.”
And regarding religious liberty, the Massachusetts Bill of Rights reads: “It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religion profession of sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship….”
And finally, in A Memorial and Remonstrance, James Madison wrote: “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man: and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”
Clearly, if religious liberty is to remain, a business owner should be free to deny service or deny a benefit on religious grounds if he so chooses.