The Death of Religious Freedom by a Thousand Cuts

The Biden administration’s position on religious freedom grows more and more narrow. In a grim measure of its unwillingness to defend religious freedom, Biden’s Department of Justice last week dropped a lawsuit filed against the University of Vermont Medical Center for allegedly forcing a nurse to assist at an abortion.

When the lawsuit was filed last December, Trump’s Department of Justice accused the hospital of an egregious violation of religious freedom. Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the time, called the hospital’s treatment of the nurse “the kind of indecent coercion [that] violates everything this country stands for.”

“Federal law protects health care providers from having to choose between their job and participation in what they sincerely believe is the taking of an innocent human life,” Dreiband said, adding: “Coercing people to perform abortions violates the law, and the U.S. Department of Justice will not stand for this shocking and outrageous attack against the right of all people in this free country to follow their conscience.”

Trump’s Department of Justice argued that the Vermont hospital violated federal laws called the Church Amendments, which “prohibit grantees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from discriminating against health care personnel who ‘refuse[ ] to perform or assist in the performance of [an] abortion on the grounds that his performance or assistance in the performance of the procedure or abortion would be contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions.’”

Biden’s decision to abandon this case demonstrates his essential view of religious freedom as an obstacle to the fulfillment of liberalism’s agenda. He supports restrictions on religious freedom wherever it conflicts with his conception of “rights.” Just as he denies the religious freedom of the Little Sisters of the Poor — he supports coercing them into paying for the contraceptives and abortive drugs of their employees — he also won’t defend the religious freedom of pro-life nurses and doctors.

For Biden, the preservation of religious freedom is incompatible with the advance of liberalism. Since his goal is universal recognition of abortion and LGBTQ “rights,” he must force everyone, including the religious, to accommodate them. If the religious resist, he accuses them of discrimination. In this twisted view, nurses who merely decline to assist at an abortion, or doctors who decline to perform gender-reassignment surgery, are guilty of discrimination. This is a complete reversal of the philosophy of religious freedom underpinning the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom for the religious, not from the religious.

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