Legislatures in nine states have formed religious liberty caucuses, the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center announced today. Brian Walsh, the ARFP’s executive director, tells us why in today’s edition of National Review Online.
As Walsh notes,
Today, a bipartisan group of over 100 legislators in nine states is announcing the nation’s first state legislative caucuses focused solely on religious freedom. These working groups of legislative leaders are being established in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. This is the first installment in a national plan to form state religious-freedom caucuses in all 50 states by the end of 2013.
Why was this necessary?
Unfortunately, as divisive activist-driven litigation against religious expression and freedom became commonplace over the past five to six decades, state legislatures nationwide increasingly handed over their duty to protect religious liberty to the courts. As a result, the legal doctrine on religious freedom has become a tatteredpatchwork reflecting the whims of individual — and sometimes ideological — judges. Inconsistent and often conflicting court decisions have left most Americans unsure of the scope of this most fundamental freedom.
There have been problems at the federal level, as we’ve seen with the HHS mandate.
This hostility was also seen at the state level when governors in Illinois and Washington issued regulations mandating that pharmacists in their two states dispense controversial abortifacient drugs — even if doing so would violate the pharmacists’ religious beliefs. Indeed, in September the independent and widely respected Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a study showing that government restrictions and social hostilities against religion increased significantly in 2009–2010, the most recent years studied.
What is the goal of the legislative caucuses?
Legislative leadership is required to halt and reverse this divergence from our historical norms. The goal is to guide overreaching government officials back to a healthy acceptance of the rights of Americans of all religions to believe and peacefully practice their convictions as they see fit — free from unjust government coercion.
Often state legislatures over the years have failed to appreciate their responsibility to fashion clear laws protecting the rights of the people from overreaching government officials and policies. Some seem to have wrongly assumed that religious liberty would always be respected by judges and by executive-branch officials. Today’s announcement signals a change to that lax attitude.
We have been encouraging our Nevada state legislators to do the same–we need a relgious freedom caucus here, to guarantee our first freedom in the Silver State.