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The October 2012 cover feature, “What’s at Stake,” includes nine pieces analyzing the top issues of this election.
Below is an excerpt from Billy Hallowell’s examination of First Amendment rights in America and where the candidates stand on religious and speech freedoms. His full essay is available only in the October 2012 issue of TheBlaze Magazine.
There’s no doubt that Democrats and Republicans hold very different viewpoints on the separation of church and state and religious conscience issues, and when considering what another four years of Obama administration regulations involving faith and religion would look like, the best predictor of the future is the not-so-distant past.
The most prominent controversy started Jan. 20, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the federal government, as part of ObamaCare, was planning to require all employers—including those run by religious groups—to offer free contraception to women. …
Catholics, in particular, were infuriated, with U.S. bishops promising not to comply. Seeing as the church’s official teaching bans the use of birth control, such a mandate, in the view of Catholic leaders, would force church-run institutions to violate religious conscience. While the administration reluctantly made some concessions—adjustments that have done little to appease opponents—it became clear that the Obama administration made a series of what could only charitably be called “missteps” in handling the situation. Now, countless Catholic dioceses, colleges and institutions are suing the federal government in an effort to overturn the mandate.
… The president’s church-state, religious freedom worldview was also exposed when his administration challenged in court the ministerial exception, a decades-old legal precedent that protects houses of worship and other religious institutions when it comes to employment decisions. The exception allows these groups to “discriminate” based on religious views, hiring employees at will and taking the faith of individuals into account.
Rather than protect the rights of religiously affiliated schools and organizations to hire people who embrace their faith perspective, the Obama administration sought to strike down the ministerial exception. …
Interestingly, the administration argued that even if the court did, indeed, reaffirm the exception, it should not apply to teachers in religious schools. “Plaintiffs in that category should be able to proceed with their claims, subject to careful trial management by the district courts and appropriate sensitivity to [church-state] entanglement concerns,” the brief continued.
In the end, the Obama administration lost, but the president’s views on the ministerial exception were made clear. [...]
And then there was the largely unnoticed controversy over a college-loan-forgiveness program that seeks to help those who take public service jobs to pay back borrowed monies. …
As the administration has worked to “clarify” who is covered and who isn’t, workers for religious organizations are feeling increasingly marginalized. … [F]aith leaders and other church and non-profit employees—individuals who are often the first to respond and assist members of local communities in need—are excluded. Also, religious non-profit employees hoping to take advantage of the program have been informed that they must prove that they perform at least 30 hours of non-religious activities for their organization in order to qualify. [...]
YOU CAN’T SAY THAT
Of course, religious freedom isn’t the only issue on the docket. Free speech, more generally, is always an issue of concern in any election.
Consider net neutrality—a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation preventing all privately owned Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking any lawful content, including content from competitor websites. While some free-speech advocates have championed the notion that the FCC would essentially block ISP’s from “discriminating,” many conservatives have argued regulating the Internet is a slippery slope. Furthermore, it forces ISPs to treat every website and service equally, regardless of how much bandwidth is used. [...]
And there’s the Fairness Doctrine, the now-defunct FCC policy that required broadcast license holders to present both sides of controversial issues. While the Obama White House has stated that it would oppose re-instituting the anti-free-speech doctrine, it has discussed the need to make the airwaves “more fair.” Instead of promoting the old regulation, Obama’s “chief diversity officer,” Mark Lloyd, would rather threaten the broadcasting licenses of stations that aren’t “fair”—to either liberal or minority voices.
Then there’s the most recent international controversy over free speech. The United Nations, voices in the U.S. media, American liberal progressives and even members of our own government are calling for speech restrictions when it comes to addressing Islam. Calls are being made to make illegal any criticism of the Muslim religion or the Prophet Muhammad.
In the end, the best predictor of the future is the past. [...]