Politics

‘Powerful Interests on the Left Want to Shrink Freedom of Religion,’ McConnell Warns

Mitch McConnell cancels senate recessThis is adapted from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s remarks on the Senate floor Dec. 5.

While we wait for our Democratic colleagues to let this legislation move forward, the Senate’s used the time to confirm more of President Trump’s impressive nominees for the federal courts. …

But more broadly, I want to take a moment to help clarify why I and millions of other Americans care so much about having federal judges who believe in the radical notion that words matter and that a judge’s job is to follow the law and the Constitution.

Take, for one example, the subject of religious freedom.

The liberty of conscience and the freedom to live out our faiths has been a foundational principle from the Republic’s earliest days. Many of the first Europeans who arrived in the New World came here fleeing religious persecution.

James Madison wrote that religion “must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man, and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

Samuel Adams said in the summer of 1776 that America would be “the last asylum” for “freedom of thought and the right of private judgment.”

Let me contrast the understanding of the Founders, with a couple of current events. Last month, New York State convinced a district judge to throw out the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for health care providers.

This straightforward rule ensured health care workers could not be forced to perform or assist with medical procedures that profoundly violate their religious beliefs.

But the radical Democrats in New York could not abide this basic protection for people of faith. Instead, they want to force Christians and other people of faith who work in health care to either assist in procedures like abortion, or lose their jobs. So much for freedom of conscience.

New York’s behavior is part of a disturbing trend. Powerful interests on the left want to shrink freedom of religion until it means “freedom to go to church for an hour on Sundays as long as it doesn’t impact the rest of your life.”

That shrunken interpretation is nothing like what our Founders intended. And, candidly, I’m not sure how much longer the modern Democratic Party will even believe in that.

A few months ago, a Democrat running for president told CNN that government should take away the tax-exempt status of churches and religious institutions that disagree with left-wing positions. This was not some fringe candidate; it was a guy whom Democrats and the mainstream media had likened to John F. Kennedy. Openly suggesting the federal government should punish churches if liberals don’t like their social views.

That’s appalling. These disturbing signs have not been limited to the courts or the Democratic campaign trail. Absurd anti-religious arguments have appeared right here in the Senate.

In the last several years, some of our Democratic colleagues have tried literally to impose religious tests on nominees for federal office. Just take the No Religious Test Clause and the First Amendment and throw them right out the window.

Judge Brian Buescher, now a district judge in Nebraska, was attacked by two Democrats on the Judiciary Committee for being a faithful Catholic and a member of the mainstream, worldwide Catholic group the Knights of Columbus.

In written questions, one senator called standard Catholic teachings “extreme positions” and asked if he’d dial down his personal faith practice if confirmed.

As our colleague Sen. [Ben] Sasse observed at the time, Democrats were transparently implying that “Brian’s religious beliefs, and his affiliation with this Catholic, religious, fraternal organization, might make him unfit for service … [it’s] plainly unconstitutional.”

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, now a circuit judge on the 7th Circuit, was likewise subjected to a religious test during a confirmation hearing.

One Democrat senator literally asked: “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Another offered this bizarre and ominous remark: “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”

So, look—these warning signs on religious freedom are popping up everywhere the modern political left rears its head.

Religious freedom in America has never meant, and will never mean, solely the freedom to worship privately. It has never meant, and will never mean, the ability to practice only a subset of faiths acceptable to some subset of politicians.

It means the right to live your life according to the dictates of your faith and conscience—free from government coercion.

If those statements strike anybody in this chamber as remotely controversial, that is exactly why President Trump, Senate Republicans, and millions of Americans are focused on confirming federal judges who will apply our Constitution as it was originally understood.

Reprinted with permission from - The Daily Signal - by Sen. Mitch McConnell

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