Why is Religious Freedom So Important for Businesses?
In a recent op-ed, Mark Rienzi explains that religious freedom should apply to for-profit businesses, not just to corporations affiliated to a particular religious group. Companies make “decisions of conscience” all the time, and they should be free to do so without government intrusion.
Rienzi reminds us of Chipotle, which decided not to sponsor a Boy Scout event because the company disagreed with the Scouts’ policy on openly gay scoutmasters. Starbucks has ethical standards for the coffee beans it buys. The list goes on.
You can agree or disagree with the decisions of these businesses, but they are manifestly acts of conscience, both for the companies and the people who operate them. Our society is better because people and organizations remain free to have other values while earning a living. Does anyone really want a society filled with organizations that can only focus on profits and are barred from thinking of the greater good?
For many, their conscience is informed by religious views about activities they can or cannot participate in. Some Jewish store owners cannot sell leavened bread at certain times of the year. Some Muslim truck drivers cannot transport alcohol. Some Catholic prison workers cannot participate in executions.
If religious freedom means anything, it means that these people — just like Chipotle, Starbucks and everyone else in our society — are allowed to earn a living and run a business according to their values. In a tolerant society, we should just accept that our neighbors will have different beliefs, and that government-enforced conformity is rarely the best answer to this diversity.
The Heritage Foundation has explained that “some activist groups in America press to confine religious freedom to a narrow zone.” Sadly, the Obama Administration is now guilty of the same. Fortunately, a myriad of lawsuits have resulted in injunctive relief against Obamacare’s HHS anti-conscience mandate; on numerous occasions courts have left “individuals and their businesses free to go to work without checking their conscience at the door.”
Some people erroneously think that religious freedom should extend only to churches and monasteries, priests and nuns.
According to this privatized view, only a small realm of acknowledged “religious” institutions and activities is deemed worthy of religious freedom protections. Praying and preaching seem to count, so pastors, churches, and monasteries typically enjoy freedom to do their work in accord with their beliefs. Other kinds of activity—like treating a sick patient, running a school, or growing a nonprofit—do not often fall within narrow understandings of “religious” activity.
This “privatized view” hinders the ability of Americans to exercise religious freedom in every sphere of their lives.
The narrow view of religion reflected in weak religious exemptions is at odds with the way many Americans think and live.
Rather than a private hobby for home or the weekends, the major religious traditions in America teach that faith should be integrated into every sphere of activity, including work. This view holds that faithfulness entails more than just displaying religious symbols on one’s desk or praying with colleagues during lunch. Faithfulness also concerns the actual work people do and the decisions they make regarding the operations and environment of their institutions.
A more robust view of religious freedom is necessary for good public policy:
Our understanding of the definition of religion carries significant implications for public policy. All citizens need to recognize the potential of policies to reinforce a more privatized faith that narrows the scope of religious freedom. Weak religious exemptions work against the robust understanding of the integration of religion and life held by many Americans.
Government should protect religious freedom for all citizens—not just those wearing habits and clerical collars—and various kinds of organizations.
Should companies have to go to court to preserve this most fundamental right?