[Posted by Karl]
Juicebox mafioso Matt Yglesias tweeted: “Newfound GOP enthusiasm for religious exemptions from generally applicable laws seems dangerously close to sharia.” There is an interesting point there, although Yglesias manages to get it almost completely backward.
He ought to know he went astray, based on his very next tweet directing readers to Justice Scalia’s opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, which ruled that while states have the power to accommodate otherwise illegal acts done in pursuit of religious beliefs, they are not required to do so. Yglesias failed to mention was the Smith decision prompted calls for a statutory restoration of prior case law, which was generally understood to require various exemptions for religious liberty. Smith was decided in 1990, so the enthusiasm for religious exemptions is not “newfound.”
Nor was the enthusiasm for religious exemptions limited to the GOP. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was sponsored in the House by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, who is smart enough to be “diplomatic” about the HHS mandate requiring Catholic institutions to insure its employees for birth-control, abortifacients and sterilization. RFRA’s 170 cosponsors included not only Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Bob Dornan, but also Dems like Nancy Pelosi (who deems religious freedom an “excuse” regarding the HHS exemption), Lynn Woolsey and Rosa DeLauro, all vocal defenders of the HHS mandate. RFRA was sponsored in the Senate by no less than Ted Kennedy; its cosponsors included not only Republicans, but also current mandate supporters like Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray. RFRA passed the House unanimously and the Senate 97- 3 and was signed into law by Bill Clinton.
In short, if you are looking for the people who have had a sudden conversion on the issue of legal exemptions for religious freedom, you will be finding them overwhelmingly on the Democrat side of the aisle.
The interesting point Yglesias raises in his backward, partisan way is whether conservatives should be as keen on religious exemptions from general laws as they have been. Although Yglesias no doubt treats the prospect of sharia law as a phantasmagorical boogeyman, the experience of European countries trying to assimilate growing Muslim populations demonstrates the potentially long and fractious road America may face on this front. It might be a better long-term solution for the Catholic Church to recognize that its religious liberty is best protected when everyone’s liberty is protected — in this case, by supporting the overall repeal of Obamacare.