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Rev. G. Jude Geiger Headshot

Santorum's War on Religious Freedom

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Sometimes we think so highly of ourselves that we think we know what's best for the people around us. Sometimes we're so sure that if only things were done "my" way, all would work out just right. That's not religious thinking. That's ego speaking. It is in this cautionary spirit that I point out how religious conservatives -- like GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum -- are arguing for the end of religious freedom in our country.

We continue to hear stories in the media of struggles around religious freedom. When I think of religious freedom, I think of the freedom to worship God (or not to worship God) as I see fit. It includes the freedom to hold one's own personal beliefs or to congregate where, when and how one sees fit. In my faith tradition we have hymns that sing of the "faith of the free." In essence, it's about personal choices. It's an important value in our country. It's also an important value in my own Unitarian Universalist faith tradition. In part, it comes from the Edict of Torda. In 1571, a Unitarian, Francis David, convinced the King of Transylvania to pass a law that essentially said that no one shall be reviled for their religion by anyone. Francis was attributed with saying, "We need not think alike to love alike." It is thoughts like this that influenced the foundations of this nation.

Personal freedom, or liberty, is not about having the freedom to make the world do what you want. It's about making your own best choices regarding personal matters of conscience -- especially those matters that affect no one but yourself. Much of the recent attack on religious freedom in this country is centered around the attempt to regulate the health of women's bodies by legislators and clergy who are not themselves medical professionals. Managing one's own body is the clearest definition of "personal choices" that I can imagine.

I see this as a clear attack by religious conservatives on the American institution of religious freedom. By requiring citizens to follow the religious teachings of certain faith traditions, we in essence are asking our country to follow and abide by those particular traditions. It is ironic that the practice of religious freedom had started out in our country as a means to be free of imposed religious hierarchies -- and now some conservative religious advocates are seeking to do the exact opposite in the name of religious freedom. Dedicating our civic laws to the will of, say, the Catholic Church like GOP nominee Santorum is attempting to do, would be as far afield of this tenet as one could imagine. Forcing the country to submit to the will of the pope is not religious freedom. It's theocracy.

If our political leaders were attempting to be more genuine in their efforts, they would focus on the particular values they wanted to change in more honest language. If their intent is to regulate abortions, contraception and the medical health of women because they feel the government should so intrude -- then they ought to simply state that. To falsely argue this is a matter of religious freedom is at best duplicitous, and at worst, it is a bold grab for broader religious power.