The Government Campaign to Weaken Religion


A major city seriously proposes enacting a law that prohibits parents from allowing the circumcision of their boys under the age of 18. However, the city has no problem with parents who choose to pierce the ears of their little girls so they can wear earrings. The city also allows the mother to abort up to the day before birth (so-called partial birth abortions). Doctors often say that circumcision is healthy and makes it harder to contract certain diseases, which is why Christians often circumcise their baby boys. Jews circumcise for religious reasons, a sign of the Covenant between God and man. Yet, this proposed city law will forbid all circumcision, and it will grant no religious waiver. This law would impose a year in jail and a $1,000 fine per violation.

Question 1: Where is this city, in the United States or in China? (Answers are at the end of this column. No fair peeking.)

Another question for this pop quiz: A different jurisdiction plans to enact a law that will force Pregnancy Care Centers to discuss the benefits of abortion and refer their patients to abortion clinics, no matter what religious objections they may have. This law will also require doctors—despite whatever conscientious and professional objections they may have—to facilitate abortions for any reason, and at any stage of pregnancy.

Question 2: Is this jurisdiction in the United States or China?

The government requires a religious order of celibates to pay for abortifacients or face ruinous fines that will destroy its charitable work—they run an elder-care facility. This religious order has conscientious objections paying for abortions and abortifacients, and it considers the workaround that the government offered an accounting gimmick. This celibate order makes no effort to prevent anyone from obtaining an abortion; it just does not want to facilitate them. The government could, itself, pay for the abortifacients, and in fact it already does in some instances. However the government insists that the private employer must pay in this case.

Question 3: Is this jurisdiction in the United States or China?

The government insists its power to regulate the employment relationship between a church and its ministers is as broad as its power to regulate the employment relationship in a labor union. The government rejects the church’s argument that it has the “right to choose its spiritual leaders,” because the government’s interest in “prohibiting discrimination” generally “outweighs any burden on the freedom of association that anti-discrimination laws impose.” The newspaper that often supports the government position readily agreed because it is “unwise” to give “sweeping deference to churches.”

Question 4: Is this jurisdiction in the United States or China?

Another jurisdiction will require shopkeepers to sell alcohol and promote its purchase with “eye-catching displays.” There will be no religious exemption, which means that Muslim shopkeepers must also promote and sell the alcohol despite the fact that doing so conflicts with their religion. People can buy alcohol in other stores down the block, but that will not excuse those with religious objections from selling alcohol and from promoting it.

Question 5: Is this jurisdiction in the United States or China?

For questions 1 through 4, the answer is the United States, not China.

The city in Question 1 is San Francisco, which we think of as one of the most liberal in the United States. It issued same-sex marriage licenses over a decade ago; it has no problem with its citizens smoking pot; and its minimum wage is over $12 per hour. On this issue, however, what prohibited a circumcision ban was a state law, enacted specifically to prevent cities like San Francisco and Santa Monica from enacting these prohibitions.

For Question 2, the jurisdiction is Illinois. It is not enough that the State of Illinois already pays for many abortions, now it wants to eliminate the conscience protections by requiring doctors to facilitate abortions even if they have conscientious objections from doing so. A bipartisan group of Members of Congress have protested this proposed statute because it will “gut” current Illinois law “by forcing objecting physicians and providers to assist and participate in the very treatments precluded by their conscientious or religious objections.”

For Question 3, the answer is the United States. The Order is the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Supreme Court will decide that issue later this year. For now, we know that the Solicitor General has argued that the federal government can force the Little Sisters to pay for medical services regarding abortion even though the United States government does not pay for these services. The United States could offer free abortifacients in vending machines on every street corner, if it so desired. The problem here is that the United States is forcing a private group to supply the abortifacients. That is not the way the government normally operations. For example, it does not require grocers to give away their food to the poor. Instead, the government itself provides food stamps.

For Question 4, the answer is also the United States. The Solicitor General argued that the government’s power to regulate the employment relationship between the church and its ministers is the same as its power to regulate any other employment relationship. What’s next: the government tells churches it cannot discriminate on the basis of marriage in hiring its ministers? For example, the Catholic Church allows some priests to marry and others not. Could the government forbid this discrimination based on marriage? The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the government position, and the New York Times expressed its deeply felt concern that the unanimous Court actually thought that the government should defer to the churches when they hire and fire their ministers.

China is the correct answer only for Question 5. Why is China insistent that Muslim storekeepers sell alcohol? Adil Sulayman, a Communist Party Official explained, “We have a campaign to weaken religion here, and this is part of that campaign.”

That rationale, so refreshingly candid, may also explain the reasons for the government’s positions in Questions 1 through 4.

Our government used to be more accommodating. In Runyon v. McCrary (1976), the Court approved a federal law that forbade racial discrimination in making contracts but specifically noted that it was not interpreting that statute to apply to private schools “that practice racial exclusion on religious grounds.” Earlier, in Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964), the Court upheld federal commerce power to prohibit racial discrimination in places of public accommodation, but noted that the law exempted landlords who lived in the building and offered “not more than five rooms for rent.” This statutory exemption exists to this day.

If the Supreme Court embraces a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, will it be accommodating as it was in Runyon and Heart of Atlanta, or will it be like the answers to Questions 1 through 4?

Posted in: Speech and Religion

Tags: Legal