The Governor of Louisiana sails into American elites trying to circumscribe religious freedom
In a recent speech delivered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal made the case for defending religious liberty. He sailed into the “group of like-minded elites”, including the Obama administration, “determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.”
The following excerpts re taken from his prepared notes.
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Tonight I want to give a speech I’ve never given before, about an issue lurking just beneath the surface – that issue is The Silent War on Religious Liberty. I can think of no better place to give this speech than the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Library. President Reagan himself said that, “Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few, but the universal right of all God’s children.”
When he said this, he was not expressing a strictly personal belief in the nature of man as a created being — as a child of God. He was reaffirming the most basic contention of the American Founding, set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that we are a nation constituted in accordance with the “Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,” and that we are a people “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
The religious foundations of America
Let me make this explicit: the source and justification for the very existence of the United States of America is and always has been contingent upon the understanding of man as a created being, with a Creator conferring his intrinsic rights — “among [them] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
How we understand and approach that Creator is properly left to the hearts and consciences of every citizen. I am a Catholic Christian. My parents are Hindus. I am blessed to know Baptists, Jews, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so many more in the rich tapestry of American faiths. And I know men and women who acknowledge no denomination or creed, confess to uncertainty about the Divine, yet look to the richness of nature and the majesty of this world — and wonder, and inwardly seek, the Author of it all.
These days we think this diversity of belief is tolerated under our law and Constitution. But that’s wrong. This diversity of belief is the foundation of our law and Constitution. America does not sustain and create faith. Faith created and sustains America. President John Adams, in 1798, wrote to Massachusetts militiamen to remind them that “… Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
In 1798, this was simple common sense. In 2014, we are forced to confront a question that would have been unthinkable to President Adams…and President Washington, and President Reagan, and every other American throughout history who believed in America’s founding premise: What happens when our government decides it no longer needs a “moral and religious people?”
Mired in a silent war
Today the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war. It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square, and the endurance of our constitutional governance. It is a war against the propositions in the Declaration of Independence. It is a war against the spirit that motivated abolitionism. It is a war against the faith that motivated the Civil Rights struggle.
It is a war against the soul of countless acts of charity. It is a war against the conscience that drives social change. It is a war against the heart that binds our neighborhoods together. It is a war against America’s best self, at America’s best moments. It is a war — a silent war — against religious liberty.
This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed. Their vision of America is not the vision of the Founding. It’s not even the vision of ten years ago. It’s a vision in which an individual’s devotion to Almighty God is accorded as much respect as a casual hobby — and with about as many rights and protections.
These elites have to this point faced little opposition – a non-profit here, a dedicated attorney there, a small business over there. A handful of principled organizations with the courage to stand up to the crushing weight of a liberal consensus unalterably opposed to their participation in the public square. They are the remnant who have the temerity to believe in America and its promises — and to do something about it.
After all, every person wants to live out his or her values. America’s most fundamental promise is that we can. When we cannot — when we are told that our faiths and our consciences are inimical to good governance and the law — then we are not simply facing a threat to our faiths and consciences. We are facing a threat to the very idea of America.
Consider three storylines playing out in the states and at the highest courts over the past several years in three different areas, yet all with overlapping effects.
First: the freedom to exercise your religion in the way you run your business, large or small, is under assault.
Hobby Lobby and the free exercise of religion
You have likely heard of the Obama administration’s case against Hobby Lobby, a mega craft store and a family business whose battle against President Obama’s contraception mandate will end up as a Supreme Court decision. The national chain filed suit after being told they would be fined $1.3 million per day if they didn’t pay for abortifacients through their insurance.
Hobby Lobby is nothing less than an all-American success story. The family owned company was launched in Oklahoma in 1970 with nothing more than a $600 loan and a workshop in a garage. Today they have 588 stores in 47 states. They have more than 13,000 full-time employees. They expanded, branching out to create a Christian supply shop to sell Bibles and craft supplies, opening another 35 stores in 7 states, with almost 400 more employees. This is entrepreneurship at its best…
Through it all, Hobby Lobby has retained the guiding principles of their devout founders. Their statement of purpose begins with a Bible verse, and they are closed every Sunday. They’ve committed to honor the Lord by being generous employers, paying well above minimum wage and increasing salaries four years in a row even in the midst of the enduring recession. The family also signed the “Giving Pledge,” committing to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. This is the definition of what a faithful entrepreneur looks like.
None of this matters to the Obama administration. The argument they have advanced, successfully thus far, is that a faithful business owner cannot operate under the assumption that they can use their moral principles to guide the way their place of business spends money. According to the administration's legal arguments, the family that owns Hobby Lobby is not protected by the First Amendment's "free exercise" of religion clause.
That’s the part of the First Amendment which states that "Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.
The Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder argue that because “Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.” A federal judge agreed: since Hobby Lobby is a “secular” corporation, they have no right to be guided by the religious beliefs of their ownership.
Keep in mind that the Greens weren’t arguing that so-called morning-after pills should be illegal, or banned, or doing anything to prevent their employees from paying the small cost of such pills. They just had a serious moral problem with paying for something they viewed as inherently against their deeply held beliefs.
The Obama administration’s argument ignores these beliefs and treats them as little more than an inconvenience to its ever-expanding regulatory state. The administration’s argument strikes at the core of our understanding of free exercise of religion. This case could have enormous ramifications for religious business owners across the country.
Hosanna Tabor and freedom of association
And that brings us to the second front in the silent war: the assault on our freedom of association as people of faith, to form organizations where we work alongside others who share our views.
This brings us to the Hosanna-Tabor case, which revolved around the ability of a Lutheran academy in Michigan to fire a teacher. Here, the Obama administration advanced another extreme argument, claiming that job regulations prevented the academy from being able to fire anyone over a difference in beliefs.
The lawyers for the Obama administration went far beyond the issues of the case to instead advance the legally absurd position that there is no general ministerial exception, arguing that religious groups don’t even have the Constitutionally protected right to select their own ministers or rabbis.
Thankfully, here, the administration’s extreme position was rebutted by the Supreme Court in decisive fashion, with a 9-0 decision opposing its perspective. You have to take a pretty extreme position for Elena Kagan to join with Samuel Alito on an opinion.
So for the time being at least, the government doesn’t get to decide who can preach the gospel. But the important thing to note is that the government wanted to make that decision. That is truly offensive and frightening.
The administration advanced that extreme argument because it is consistent with the view of many on the left, particularly elite liberal legal scholars, that the god we must worship first is government, and that our rights are doled out by Washington as they see fit.
This same argument is even now being advanced against Catholic hospitals and adoption service providers, and other organizations that have a deeply held worldview, and simply want all their members and employees to share that worldview. The onslaught of lawsuits based on anti-discrimination law will inevitably lead to conflicts, which damage our society
Elane Photography and freedom of expression
But those cases are only the beginning – there is a bigger threat, one that brings us to the third front in the silent war: the assault on your freedom of expression in all areas of life.
Consider the many cases against bakers, photographers, caterers and other wedding consultants who have religious beliefs, which prevent them from taking part in a same-sex ceremony. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in August that one small business, Elane Photography, had violated the state’s Human Rights Act by declining to photograph a same sex commitment ceremony. In his opinion, the judge informed the Christian photographers being fined that they were “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” because that was “the price of citizenship.”
This assault will only spread in the immediate future. We will see continued pressure brought on anyone who "refuses and refers" to be penalized for their views, denied membership in professional groups or even rejected from licenses.
The effect of redefining marriage
Many states have considered these issues in the light of the ongoing legal battle over marriage laws in the country. But that pressure is not going to stop with photographers and bakers – it’s going to be brought on churches, mosques, and synagogues, too.
Illinois shows us a preview of what this looks like. In legislation they proposed altering the definition of marriage, they would have required churches and other congregations to essentially close their doors to outsiders, stop providing services to the community, and close off their facilities to other non-profits or church groups in order to avoid being required to host same sex ceremonies.
The Illinois legislation would have required an unprecedented degree of government oversight, such as sending government representatives to survey students at Catholic schools to see how many were actually Catholic. They would not allow religious bodies to rent their facilities to non-members for use in weddings. They would drive churches to have to eliminate classes, day schools, counseling, fellowship hall meetings, soup kitchens and more.
In other words, this law and others like it would require believers to essentially choose to break with their deeply held theological beliefs, or give up their daily activity of evangelism, retreat from public life, and sacrifice their property rights. Churches that do not host same sex unions would essentially be barred from participating fully in civil society.
This is the next stage of the assault, and it is only beginning. Today, an overwhelming majority of those who belong to a religious denomination in America – that’s more than half the country – are members of organizations that affirm the traditional definition of marriage. All of those denominations will be targeted in large and small degrees in the coming years.
“Hate speech” and human rights
Will churches in America even be able to remain part of the public square in a time when their views on sin are in direct conflict with the culture, and when expressing those views will be seen as hiding hateful speech behind religious protections?
Just as in Canada, where hate speech laws force courts to discern whether quoting Bible verses amounts to violating “human rights rules,” giving up your rights of religious expression may, as the New Mexico judge put it, be just “the price of citizenship.”
This war on religious liberty – on your freedom to exercise your religion, on your freedom to associate, on your freedom of expression – is only going to continue. It is going to continue because of an idea, a wrongheaded concept, which President Obama apparently believes: that religious freedom means you have the freedom to worship, and that's all.
In this misbegotten and un-American conception of religious liberty, your rights begin and end in the pew.
[Governor Jindal next reviews protections for religious freedom being enacted by states, and calls for more of them. He also reminds his audience that Christians in some countries are actually paying with their lives for their faith.]
So here, in America, we should be grateful that the laws and principles put in place by the Founders, men like George Mason and James Madison and Patrick Henry who understood the importance of religious liberty, have endured for so long. They are the reason America has come so far, and it is those same principles that should guide us farther still – principles that understand that power is derived from the people, not the government.
Calvin Coolidge understood this, in his own time: “We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp.”
The things of the spirit do come first. We must act, and act now, to protect them. The temptation in some corners is to ask for a truce in these fractious battles – but in practical terms, a truce would only amount to those who value religious liberty laying down their arms. Our religious freedom was won over the course of centuries of persecution and blood, and we should not surrender them without a fight.
A few final thoughts.
First, let me be clear on something. You may or may not agree with the Catholic Church on contraception, most Americans undoubtedly do not. You may consider yourself to be pro-life or pro-choice, Americans remain fairly divided on that issue. And you may favor protecting traditional marriage between one man and one woman or you may favor making gay marriage legal. If we did a poll on those issues in this room, we would certainly find a variety of views. None of that is relevant in the least to the points I have made in this speech.
Our religious liberty must in no way ever be linked to the ever-changing opinions of the public. To the contrary, we must understand that our freedom of conscience protects all Americans of every persuasion — however those persuasions may evolve.
Second, it is unmistakable that most of the Obama Administration’s attacks on religious liberty are aimed at conservative Christians. But the fact is that our religious liberties are designed to protect people of all faiths. And I will note, that while I am best described as an evangelical Catholic, my extended family is quite diverse when it comes to matters of faith. And our liberties in America demand equal protections for all.
Stifling public debate
Third, for those of you who follow pop culture, you may have taken note of the recent flap between The Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame, and the A&E Network that produces and broadcasts the Duck Dynasty show. And you may have further observed that the one of the loudest and most aggressive defenders of the Robertson family was the Governor of Louisiana.
You may think that I was defending the Robertsons simply because I am the Governor of their home state, the great state of Louisiana. You would be wrong about that. I defended them because they have every right to speak their minds, however indelicately they may choose to do so. Of course, A&E is a for-profit business, and they can choose what they want to put on the air.
But there was something much larger at stake here. There was a time when liberals in this country believed in debate. But that is increasingly not the case for the modern left in America. No, the modern left in America has grown tired of debate. Their new strategy is to simply try to silence their critics. So these leftists immediately mobilized and did all they could not to debate the issues, but rather to attempt to silence the Robertsons.
There was a time when the left preached tolerance. And they are indeed tolerant, unless they disagree with you. To paraphrase William F. Buckley, a liberal is someone who welcomes dissent, and is astonished to find there is any. The modern left in America is completely intolerant of the views of people of faith. They want a completely secular society where people of faith keep their views to themselves.
A pressing matter
Fourth, though this silent war on religious liberty may not seem as urgent a matter as the fact that our national debt is over 17 trillion dollars, it is actually a very pressing matter. Remember this quote from President Reagan: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation.”
A truly bizarre speech
Finally, let me finish by mentioning an incredible irony. I’ve been working on this speech for a good while. And last Thursday, exactly one week ago, something truly bizarre occurred.
The person who is at the tip of the spear prosecuting this quiet war on religious liberty spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. The topic he chose to speak about was defending religious liberty.
I was stunned, and I bet the President of Hobby Lobby, who was in the audience, was stunned as well. Yes, President Obama did wax eloquent, as he always does, about the horrors of religious persecution that are occurring beyond our borders. And good for him.
To be clear, churches in America are not being burned to the ground, and Christians are not being slaughtered for their faith. There is really no comparison to the persecution of people of faith inside our borders and outside.
Yet, it is stunning to hear the President talk of protecting religious liberty outside the United States, while at the very same time his Administration challenges and chips away at our religious liberty right here at home. Once again, there is a Grand Canyon sized difference between what this President says and what he does.
Here is what the President said last week, no doubt playing to his audience -- “History shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people — including the freedom of religion — are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful.” Well said Mr. President, I couldn’t agree more.
So I leave you with this -- The President is very concerned about religious liberty…and also, if you like your religion you can keep your religion.
Thank you, and may God Bless these United States.