Senator Hatch on Religious Liberty

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah recently published a post on the Harvard Law Review Blog on the status of religious liberty in America. Senator Hatch writes about how the concept of religious liberty used to be a noncontroversial issue that garnered bipartisan support. However, those days are gone and the result is raising issues that go against the principles espoused by our Founding Fathers:

Religious liberty was, in several critical ways, the first freedom of our system. Its explicit protection is the first injunction commanded by the First Amendment. Ingrained deeply in our culture and in our institutions, its expression has proven central to the national character. Our Constitution allows no establishment of religion, and permits no undue restraint upon its exercise, such that our citizens may make their own determinations on matters of conscience.

This basic principle used to be widely shared. It used to be one of the few matters that spanned the divide . . . And yet today, where do we find ourselves? In a recent judicial confirmation hearing, a nominee was asked, explicitly, “do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” That same nominee was told that, upon review of her record, “the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.” Statements like that can be taken only as the imposition of some kind of religious test for holding office. Nothing could be more repugnant to our values of religious freedom and liberty.

Senator Hatch noted this shift is a fairly recent one, noting that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) garnered near-unanimous support in both chambers of Congress.  He continued by referencing recent major court decisions and growing pressures being added to stresses put upon our right to religious liberty:

In cases like Trinity Lutheran and controversies from Hobby Lobby to the Zubik v. Burwell [case], there is a new pressure on those living and espousing their faith. And yet, unlike in the past, there is no longer a chorus of voices — from both sides of the aisle — standing up for religious liberty. There is no longer a broad, bipartisan agreement that religious rights are not to be tampered with, demeaned, overlooked, or casually brushed aside. More and more, religious liberty is treated as an afterthought to those making policy and as an inconvenience to those carrying it out. More and more, it proves a quick rhetorical box to check before moving on to matters deemed more important.

Senator Hatch cautions if religious liberty is not protected, it could be lost and its impact widely felt. In its wake, a new standard would be imposed on all Americans that would curtail their First Amendment rights.

This country’s protection of religious liberty — unique in the world and through most of history — is too rare, and was won upon the sacrifice of too many, to be quietly disregarded for falling out of the popularity of the times. I, for one, plan to keep speaking to this issue . . . Religious liberty is a bedrock principle of the American political order. Its protection is of the highest order and the greatest priority. It is not merely one of many values, to be weighed against other competing social and political goals, and discarded when inconvenient.

Senator Orrin Hatch has been a staunch advocate of religious liberty during his long Senate career. Even today, President Trump while in Utah was encouraging Senator Hatch to run for reelection. The RNLA thanks Senator Hatch for his outspoken efforts to defend and preserve our religious liberty and his leadership in the Senate.