Will the Latest Religious Liberty Rulings Boomerang?

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted July 14, 2020

One of the most challenging issues in American life today is that of religious liberty. What was once far from controversial now provokes challenges from both ends of the political spectrum—and, it seems, from everyone in between.

The Supreme Court of the United States has recently shone a spotlight on the issue. Many orthodox believers—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—have found much to cheer in the high court’s decisions in several cases.

Of these rulings, perhaps the most significant involved the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. These women devote their lives to poor, elderly people, operating nursing homes and care facilities that are often the final destination of these senior citizens.

Since the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, the Little Sisters has been fighting against the mandate to provide employees with health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage.

The nuns’ objection was on the law’s violation of their religious conscience. Accommodation for religious entities to shift responsibilities to another agency was afforded. However, that required action on the part of the Little Sisters, consequently still inflicting the nuns’ religious conscience. Even after a 2016 ruling in their favor, the group faced demands from the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to comply with a birth control mandate. It was from this case that the Little Sisters finally emerged victorious.

Religious liberty expert Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, summed up the dilemma: “What was at stake in these cases was whether or not the government could force an individual or an institution, in this case, an order of Roman Catholic sisters, the Little Sisters of the Poor, to engage in behavior that they believe to be immoral, to engage in behavior that they thought would violate the commands they’ve been given by God.” 

Football player kneeling and praying on field

Recent administrations and federal courts have often sought to limit this “free exercise” of religion enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—and it seems they will continue to do so. According to an official statement, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden—who was U.S. vice president when the ACA mandate was originally imposed—would seek to reverse the court’s decision by executive order should he become president.

School Funding, School Choice

Another major decision hailed by religious liberty advocates came on June 30, when the Supreme Court ruled that a Montana law prohibiting the participation of faith-based schools in a state scholarship program was invalid. The court based its decision on the fact that the scholarship enabled students to attend non-religious private schools: If private schools were included in the program, then the donation-funded scholarships should be available to all private schools, including religious ones.

“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

The Institute for Justice, the public-interest law firm that argued the Montana case, applauded the ruling as “a great opportunity for supporters of educational choice.”

But while the role of education may be given more freedom, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), staunch advocates of church-state separation, decried the ruling as a potential handcuff for religious freedom: “Though religious schools and some parents who choose them in states that have voucher programs will view today’s decision as a win, they may eventually see that it is a pyrrhic victory. The more that religious schools are treated just like all other private schools, the harder it is to justify and defend the special accommodations they receive, including in their hiring and firing practices, admission policies and curriculum choices,” its general counsel stated.

End-Time Religious Liberty Issues

The BJC has good reason to be concerned. Entanglements between state and religion are as old as time itself; and the Bible prophesizes that it will be the main issue in the final days before Jesus’ return. 

The most renowned joint venture between church and state began in the early fourth century AD, when Christianity gained wide acceptance under Emperor Constantine. This state sponsorship of religion eventually led to state control of religion, often with disastrous consequences for those who did not align with the state’s chosen church.

Over 1,400 years later, pilgrims and other emigrants to the New World, specifically to the thirteen colonies that originally comprised the United States, came in large part to escape that religious persecution. Baptists settled in Rhode Island, Puritans in Massachusetts, Dutch Reform Protestants in New York City, Quakers in Pennsylvania, and Anglicans in Virginia. Maryland was a majority-Catholic colony, though tolerant of other faiths.

Study Guide 21 – The USA in Bible Prophecy

When the United States enacted a Constitution, the First Amendment was a response to the loud and long cries for protection of religious liberty. It prohibited the state from establishing a church, as many European nations had done, and it could not prohibit citizens from freely exercising their religious beliefs.

But a time is soon coming, Bible prophecy indicates, when those cries will grow faint, and the people of the United States—indeed, the people of the world—will sacrifice religious liberty for what they believe will be security during perilous days. “The USA in Bible Prophecy” is a free online Bible study that examines this period and what it means for the not-too-distant future. What will today’s “wins” for religious freedom mean for tomorrow’s chilling consequences? Learn now what lies ahead!

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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