Despite this setback, the courts have granted some significant victories this past year protecting our inalienable right to free exercise of religion. In Illinois, a pharmacy’s right to refuse to provide abortifacient drugs violating the owner’s conscience was upheld. A similar case in Washington also received a favorable ruling. In Texas, a Jewish prisoner who was being denied kosher food won his case. In Tennessee, a federal judge upheld the right of a Muslim group to construct an Islamic center. In the education realm, the right of students enrolled in public schools to take off-campus religious instruction courses for elective credits was upheld. And, in Massachusetts, a court upheld the constitutionality of including the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance once again. Last, and certainly not least, The Becket Fund scored a landmark victory in Hosanna-Tabor, with the Supreme Court ruling 9-0 that religious organizations have the right to select their own ministers.
In all of these cases — and the broader struggle for religious freedom — people of various religions united to defend religious liberty for all, despite obvious theological differences. Madison recognized the importance of such unity and argued, “We cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.” The free exercise clause was brilliantly designed to offer equal protection to believers, non-believers, and everyone in between. While Madison would be disappointed at the present government intrusion on religious liberty, he would undoubtedly be proud of those standing firm for religious liberty for all.
While we celebrate our freedom on this day, we honor our fourth president by carrying on his legacy of protecting religious liberty — for people of all faiths, and for future generations. Significantly, Stanford Law School launched the nation’s first law school clinic dedicated exclusively to religious liberty issues on Monday. This clinic, which was made possible in part through the work of The Becket Fund, will give students firsthand experience defending religious liberty.
Madison once said, “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” On this National Religious Freedom Day, let us not merely celebrate our first freedom, but equally important, let us continue to stand firm for this inalienable right.
Kristina Arriaga is the executive director of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.