June 2019 Church & State Magazine | Editorial

President Donald Trump marked the National Day of Prayer May 2 by announcing the release of new rules that will allow health care workers to deny care to patients if it offends the workers’ religious beliefs.

Several media outlets referred to this directive as a “protection of religious freedom” for those employed by the health care industry. It is not. Rather, the move gives religious zealots the power to interfere in the personal medical decisions of all Americans.

Under these rules, women may be denied important forms of reproductive care, and LGBTQ Americans may be turned away from getting the health care they need because of a stranger’s religious views.

This move does not “protect” religious freedom – it makes a mockery of it. Religious freedom was never intended to be a device that allows one person to take away the rights of or discriminate against another. Yet that is increasingly what it is becoming. Under the Trump administration, the very concept of religious freedom has been turned upside down.

At the time the Constitution, and later the Bill of Rights, was drafted, it wasn’t uncommon in some states for governments to attempt to control citizens’ religious lives. Some states had established churches and were intolerant of other religious practices.

The First Amendment, with its guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion, was designed to ensure the right to worship (or not) for all. It was intended to stamp out laws that curbed or outlawed certain religious practices. This was the evil the First Amendment intended to obliterate.

A relatively straightforward provision like that has now become a license to deny a woman access to birth control and a vehicle for discrimination against some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

We have drifted far from the original intent of America’s foun­ders, and it will take a lot of work to get us back to where we need to be.