In the classic film “Cool Hand Luke,” the prison captain looks down at Luke, played by Paul Newman, who lies on the floor having once again failed in an attempt to escape, and tells Luke “You’re gonna get your mind right. And I mean right.”
Sen. Mark Udall has co-sponsored a bill just introduced in the Senate which sends a clear message from Sen. Udall to those whose conscience, informed by their religious faith, requires them to forgo what the government is demanding of them, “you’re gonna get your mind right”. Sen. Udall’s bill would remove the existing religious freedom protections for certain groups of people so that the government can force them to violate their consciences.
While imperfect at times, respect for the free exercise of religion has always been a vital part of our nation. Traditionally Americans have refrained from using the force of law to require people to violate their faith. Most Americans have agreed that a wide berth for the exercise of religious conscience is critically important.
Concerned about increasing government intrusion interfering with exercise of religious faith, in 1993 the Congress passed, by a unanimous House of Representatives and a 97-3 vote in the Senate and signed into law by Bill Clinton, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In simple terms, this act says the Federal government cannot substantially burden the exercise of your religion unless they are pursuing a really important goal and there is no other way they can reach that goal without burdening the exercise of your faith. This balance stands for the idea that exercise of faith is not absolute but we give it a lot of respect.
In the recent Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court determined, while conceding for the sake of argument that providing certain forms of birth control for free may serve a compelling government goal, the government could not force the owners of Hobby Lobby to violate the tenants of their religious faith by paying for something they considered wrong when there were many other ways the government could accomplish the same goal, such as by the government paying for those same items themselves.
That the owners of a family owned business are able to carry out their business in accordance with their faith in ways the government may not agree did not sit well with Sen. Udall, who now wants to take away their religious freedom.
He wants the government to be able to tell an employer that they will violate their consciences when the government thinks they need to, regardless of whether the government has other ways of accomplishing the same goal.
To certain of us, our faith is the most precious thing we have, the pearl of great price which guides our actions 7 days a week, however flawed our human efforts to follow that faith may be.
Sen. Udall is now working to give the Federal government the power to tell people they have the choice between giving up that pearl of great price when they open a business or be marginalized from the economic life of our country by not being able to operate a business.
Are there not other options for accomplishing certain social goals without pushing people of faith to the margins of society?