Twenty years ago, religious freedom was an issue that almost everyone agreed on. But more recently, support for religious liberty has tended to divide the country along political lines. Most conservatives still consider it the “first freedom” while many liberals believe religious freedom is less important than advancing a progressive agenda and promoting their understanding of “equality.”
What gets lost in the discussion, as Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom notes, is that sooner or later everyone benefits from religious liberty protections:
These religious liberty laws respond to the reality that government asserts itself through coercion of people. Most of the time, citizens have little disagreement with the government forcing people to do certain things or refrain from other behaviors. For example, we all benefit when the police pull over speeders, drunk drivers or those running red lights. But the government can sometimes use its power to compel people to do things that violate their beliefs. Right now, those who oppose the legislation to protect religious liberty in North Carolina and other states fail to remember these laws protect everyone’s individual beliefs and that one day the government could order them to do something that violates their beliefs and they will be glad that the religious freedom law offers them a defense to protect them from government coercion.
And yes, those who consider themselves liberal need protection from government actions forcing them to violate their beliefs too. For example, in the 1960’s many who opposed the Vietnam War did so because of their pacifist religious beliefs that fighting in a war dishonors God’s creation of human beings in His image. The pacifists therefore had a massive conflict of conscience with military draft laws. Congress could have forced the pacifists to serve in the military, but instead Congress passed laws exempting the pacifists from the draft. Congress viewed protecting the pacifists’ right of conscience as so important that it was willing to exempt them, even though it meant that others would have to go to fight in their stead.