Thursday, January 5, 2012

5 Victories and Challenges for Religious Liberty in 2011


As we kick off the New Year, we take a look back at a few of the victories and challenges for religious liberty during the past 12 months and look forward to greater respect and protection for religious liberty in 2012.

HHS “Preventive Service” Mandate

In August, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a rule that forces nearly all private health care plans to include coverage for certain contraceptives and surgical sterilization. The mandate’s threat to religious freedom has already caused a stir in the nation’s capital and motivated a lawsuit by a religious college affected by the rule.

Victory: Freedom of Conscience for Pharmacy Owner

After fighting an extensive legal battle asking the state to respect their religious objections to providing Plan B, an abortifacient drug, two pro-life pharmacy owners in Illinois finally found religious liberty protection this year. A state court concluded that requiring the pharmacy owners to provide the emergency contraceptive violates both state and federal laws.

Challenge: Same-Sex Marriage and Charitable Services

Religious adoption and foster care agencies who object to placing children with same-sex couples are under increasing pressure to violate their beliefs or get out of the social welfare business. This year Catholic Charities in Illinois joined the growing list of religious charities that have opted to stop providing adoption or foster care services, rather than violate their religious and moral convictions.

Victory: Prayer at Veterans Cemeteries

In October, veterans’ groups in Houston, Texas achieved an important victory for religious freedom. Several groups, represented by the Texas-based Liberty Institute, secured a consent decree that, according to the Liberty Institute, requires “the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to stop banning prayer and the word ‘God’ at national cemeteries.”

Challenge: Religious Freedom on Public College Campuses

One issue is whether religious student organizations at public universities should be free to select members and leaders who agree with the religious beliefs of the organizations. Just this month, the Alliance Defense Fund sought Supreme Court review for two Christian student organizations that were denied official recognition by San Diego State University because the organizations wished to require members and/or leaders to agree with the religious beliefs of the organizations.