We Have the Right to a Government that Neither Promotes nor Disparages Religion

Written by Lois Melling of the ACLU, and published in partnership with the Freedom for All Campaign.

To hear the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) talk, you’d think that the foundation of our democracy was in peril. In fact, religious freedom is alive and well.

True religious freedom means that everyone has the right to their beliefs, but not a free pass to discriminate or use taxpayer dollars to impose their beliefs on others.

The bishops seem to feel otherwise. For example, USCCB took millions of federal dollars to administer a program for trafficking victims and prohibited sub-grantees from using funds to provide or refer for contraception and abortions. USCCB put its beliefs before the needs of victims, denying them much-needed reproductive health care – all with government support.

The ACLU successfully challenged this arrangement. The judge’s decision stated: “To insist that the government respect the separation of church and state is not to discriminate against religion; indeed, it promotes a respect for religion by refusing to single out any creed for official favor at the expense of all others.”

The bishops think otherwise. Their misguided “Fortnight for Freedom” asserts their perceived right to, among other things, deny adoptive families to children if the parents happen to be gay or lesbian; force hospitals to deny emergency care to a woman if the cost of saving her life is to terminate a pregnancy; and allow all employers to have a say over their employees’ reproductive health care by allowing them to refuse to include contraception in their insurance plans.

The bishops are correct: religious freedom is one of our most treasured liberties. But we have the right to a government that neither promotes nor disparages religion generally, nor any particular faith.  We have the right to act on our religious beliefs, unless those actions harm others.  These are freedoms worth celebrating – for a fortnight, and all year long.

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