Last week, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) concluded his sixth speech in a series of floor speeches devoted to the topic of religious liberty. Senator Hatch’s speeches have covered everything from the history of religious freedom to threats to religious liberty abroad. Or at least, he has covered everything from his point of view of what religious liberty means.
On November 10, the Senator delivered a speech entitled “Contemporary Threats to Religious Liberty.” In it, he detailed his gripes with the courts, the Obama Administration, and the state legislatures for the ways in which they were “undermining the vitality of religious life in our country.” Using familiar rhetoric to perpetuate a false notion of religious freedom, the Senator cited examples that he claimed demonstrate threats to religious liberty, including among others: court cases denying businesses the ability to refuse to provide wedding services for same-sex couples; growing backlash against state-level RFRAs; the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate; and the lack of a religious exemption in the President’s Executive Order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
But what the Senator’s speech failed to address are the harms caused by the religious refusals he claims are so essential for society. Although religious freedom is a fundamental value, it does not entitle others to use religion to trump nondiscrimination provisions and deny others, especially members of the LGBT community, rights and services, nor to deny women access to health care. And, religious liberty certainly does not require the government to fund discrimination. The Senator’s speech not only misses the mark on what religious liberty really is, but it is also a dangerous use of Congressional time.