In Search of Religious Freedom in Ohio

[Editor’s note: This OCR article was originally published on September 9, 2013.]

Leave your faith at the door of your church, or your house if you must, but do not take it to your workplace.

This is the message that has been pushed on citizens of faith for the last several decades.  It is a far cry from the vision of this country’s first settlers, Pilgrims seeking religious liberty.  When, in the following century, the Founding Fathers wrestled with balancing individual liberty against state interests, they deferred to freedom.  Yet our modern era has witnessed the development of a new religion, that of atheistic humanism.  The State, at all levels, is supporting this new dogma, and in doing so, is effectively banning all other religions.  Banning the expression of your beliefs is tantamount to denying your way of life and, constitutionally, your pursuit of happiness.

In 1990 the Supreme Court changed its standard for reviewing laws that impact religious liberty by exchanging a “strict” requirement for a “rational” requirement.  Congress recognized this as a problem and acted (nostalgic as that sounds, given today’s deadlock), and in 1993 the first Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed.  The bill specifically protects individuals from government’s intrusion on religious expression.  In the late 90s, however, it was found that the bill would not impact states, and that states would be required to pass their own RFRAs to protect their citizens’ expressions of faith.  As of this spring, 18 states have passed versions of RFRAs, most recently Kansas and Kentucky.  In reviewing the various laws and amendments, and in conjunction with sage advice from national organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom, an Ohio bill has been drafted.

The purpose of RFRAs is to restore the rights of an individual’s personal expression of his faith, similar to the historic rights of the Conscientious Objector.  The result is that neither individuals nor governments (local/state/federal) can require or demand business services in conflict with one’s faith.  For example, a Jewish deli owner would not be required to serve bacon; an Islamic follower would not be required to provide alcohol at a reception he were coordinating; nor would a Christian believer be required to cater a “coming-out” party.

As a recent example of the need for RFRAs, Justice Richard C. Bosson, of the New Mexico Supreme Court, writing in concurrence on the Elane Photography case (the court ruled in August that in refusing to photograph a gay wedding due to religious beliefs, Elane Photography violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act), stated that the case “provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice.” In addition, the case “teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less.”  Ironically, what the Justice brazenly ignored was the tradition and history of the people of the United States of America, who routinely allow for each other’s religious freedoms in daily life.  Of course, this view would not mesh very well with his idealized, secular-only world, which sacrifices the very Constitution that offers these protections.

At present, the Ohio bill contains language that recognizes that every member of a congregation has faith that should be allowed to be expressed in a modern society, not just the pastor, priest, or direct employees of a church or synagogue.  Individuals should not lose their right to express their beliefs.  Allowing the State to continue to erode this right throws out 400 years of traditional religious expression and permits the State to require citizens to deny their faith and take on the mantle of atheistic humanism.


Featured-Columnist---DoneCharles Tassell is a Deer Park city council member, lobbyist, church elder, husband, and father of three.

All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.

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