Is a Bill on Religious Liberties Necessary for Ohio?

[Editor’s note: This OCR article was originally published on May 6, 2013.]

Ohio has been at a crossroads for 15 years.  Really, it is more of a muddy ridge, and we are slowly sliding down it, picking up speed with each court ruling that undermines our freedoms a little more.  In 1993 Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in response to weakening judicial standards protecting religious liberties.  RFRA passed the US House of Representatives unanimously and won approval in the US Senate by a margin of 97 to 3 before being signed into law.

The federal law initially provided a strict standard regarding religious liberty cases for individual states until 1997, when the Supreme Court struck down the act’s ability to mandate such protections in state courts.  Recently, Kansas and Kentucky have passed state-based RFRAs, known as the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Bill, respectively.  They joined 15 other states who have adopted similarly fashioned bills.

Amazingly, the attacks on these bills come from tolerance-championing groups.  As we look into the reasons why there is such opposition, we see an interesting clash of Rights.  Of particular interest is an understanding of rights in terms of the classic sense of freedom, that is freedom “from” or “to.”  Freedom, and the rights thereby associated, allows a person to be able to do things such as live or pursue their own form of happiness.  Freedom can also mean the ability not to be restricted by another or the government–be it by search and seizure or limitations on movement.  These rights are naturally limited to one’s own person–hence the very idea of self-defense as a basic right, associated with the freedom of life.  However, modern proponents of “rights” have begun to take a more invasive and insidious approach to “rights,” by creating rights that have the form or semblance of protecting a group, but do not provide rights “to” or “from” but instead focus on “must.”  In other words, these new “rights” are not rights but Demands in that they do not protect a person, but demand specific action by other persons.  By default, these other persons lose their rights and associated freedoms.   Unlike real Rights, these Demands do not differentiate between civil or natural law and thereby intrinsically create an impending clash with natural law.

Consider the differences between Civil Rights and Natural Law.  Civil rights are by definition convention and therefore subject to natural rights . . . by natural law.  Thomas Jefferson presented a syllogism exemplifying and highlighting natural law: “Man was created for social intercourse; but social intercourse cannot be maintained without a sense of justice; then man must have been created with a sense of justice.”  It is this spirit and letter of the law that is drafted in our Constitution through the Bill of Rights, though it is most clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence by the definition of “certain unalienable rights.”

We cannot create, by convention or fiat, laws that strike down Natural Laws, without sacrificing two premiere goals of the Constitution: domestic tranquility and the securing of the blessings of liberty.  Thus if a law is created that encroaches, limits or begins to restrict natural laws, and impacts man’s very sense of justice,  it must ONLY be for reasons of direct and explicit government interest.  This stands in great contrast to the noise and confusion created by citizens in conflict with each other, which is a natural part of a sophisticated and varied society.  In fact, the true tolerance demanded of citizens in a diverse and educated society  is such that their pursuit of happiness should only be infringed when it is of the government’s highest compelling interest, else the government places conventions of law in conflict with natural law, to its own impairment.  This conflict cannot stand.  Any abridgement of Natural Law must be done only in the most minimal and restricted fashion, with a compelling governmental justification.

To be clear, a citizen does not have a right to have others think well of them; that would in fact be an infringement on the rights of others.  Freedom allows for diversity of thought and belief, the Freedom to…and of course the Freedom from … having to even think about other citizens, let alone think well of them.

This brings us back to the issue of the question of a need for a bill on Religious Liberties.  The fact that tolerance groups are demanding citizens’ acceptance and approval of activities steeped in historic and long-held traditional beliefs with little (benefit of the doubt) to no government interest (let alone a “compelling government interest” as is the standard in RFRA), is evidence that the natural rights of citizens must be protected.  That the acceptance or approval of these activities causes no small amount of moral consternation, and attack not just religious institutions, but their followers, individuals among broad spectrums of the population, should give greater impetus to the elected leaders in Ohio to move forward with protections of rights, rather than allowing Demands to further weaken and undercut natural freedom.

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that states must address this issue individually and upheld the federal statute.  Ohio has been sliding, judicial precedent by judicial precedent, down a muddy hill into a morass of conventional Demands; the time for a bill to limit Demands to specific “compelling government interests” is now.  Ohio leaders need to choose between a future Natural law suicide-by-Demands, and shielding people’s Rights.


 Charles Tassell is a Deer Park city council member, lobbyist, church elder, husband, and father of 3.



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