Last week, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden changed his position on the Hyde Amendment, joining the other front-runners for his party’s nomination. The amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortions (with a few exceptions), is a critical safeguard in protecting the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans who morally oppose the procedure.
The First Amendment guarantees not only our right to speak freely, it protects other forms of expression like religious practices and personal financial contributions. Our Founders understood this and were careful to make sure our nation’s laws cannot restrict the free practice of religion. Forcing people to fund an act that many faiths prohibit certainly falls within that scope.
It’s very concerning that so many of the candidates seeking the U.S. presidency — and so many of our lawmakers and elected officials — are ignorant, or maybe just dismissive, of the constitutional rights of those they govern. It doesn’t portend well for people of faith in this country, but the reality is, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Hyde Amendment now sits on shaky ground. The far left has been chipping away at First Amendment rights for years.
From college campuses to places of business, the free speech rights of conservatives, in politics and faith, have long been regularly suspended. Just last month, news outlets reported that the University of Chicago is now allowing mandatory student fees to fund abortions on campus. A student government bill to block mandatory student fees from being used in this way was soundly defeated.
According to U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of U.S universities, the University of Chicago ranks third in the nation, behind Princeton and Harvard universities. Given that a portion of U-Chicago’s $1,500 “Student Life Fee” that may be used to fund on-campus abortions is mandatory, pro-life students who wish to attend this prestigious school are therefore forced to violate their consciences.
The trade-off is unfair: we all know that elite schools are influential in future success, from the quality of education to the connections to top jobs and networking. More than unfair, however, this form of bullying is illegal and an underexposed form of violating freedom of speech.
The threat is much broader than on college and university campuses. More and more examples are coming to light that reveal conservative views could lead to individual job loss or restrictions on companies’ ability to do business.
Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich was forced to resign for his private financial contribution in support of the pro-marriage Proposition 8 in 2017 and Linda Bean, the granddaughter of L.L. Bean, endured a similar attack in 2018 when protesters called for her to be removed from the company’s board for her personal contribution to a free-market political action committee. Bean stood up to the bullying, but others lack the power.
We’re learning that conservatives must often hide their political and religious views to protect their jobs. A Google engineer, Michael Wacker, recently published an essay on Medium exposing the restrictions Republicans and Christians must follow, or risk getting fired at this major global tech company. According to Wacker, “these outrage mobs will hunt down any conservative, any Christian, and any independent free thinker at Google who does not bow down to their agenda.” Wacker cites a fellow employee who was reported to HR for a complimentary comment about psychologist, professor, and bestselling author Jordan Peterson.
The assault on freedom of speech, and freedom of religion specifically, is particularly striking in light of the double standard. Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and other celebrity CEOs have been very active in voicing and advancing their political views. Cook even penned an op-ed in the Washington Post opposing religious freedom laws. Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, Target, and many other major companies have used their platforms to push leftist values and political views.
At a Bloomberg Global Business Forum in 2017, Apple CEO Cook stated, “[p]eople should have values … [c]ompanies are nothing more than a collection of people. So by extension, all companies should have values. As a CEO, I think one of your responsibilities is to decide what the values of your company are and lead accordingly.” Cook’s and his company’s personal political engagement are certainly protected by the First Amendment — and they should be. But we’ve seen that this freedom has only been protected for some companies: those that support leftism.
Companies guided by Christian values or even companies whose owners hold traditional Christian views separate from business policies, like Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy, have not received the same protections. Small bakeries and pizza shops have been fined or put out of business for their company values, and Chick-fil-A has been discriminated against in cities across America. San Antonio and Buffalo are currently being sued for violating the First Amendment for banning Chick-fil-A from their city’s airports.
Just three years ago, Hillary Clinton said religious “beliefs have to be changed” if they don’t fit political goals, and this cycle’s crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls are doubling down on efforts to remove the barriers that faith poses to political ends. If this doesn’t send chills through the spines of Americans, it should.
This assault threatens the very fabric of the United States of America — an exceptional nation founded on the principle that people are born free and that no government or body may impede that freedom. It’s why our Founders designed a republic rather than a democracy — to protect the minority from “majority rule.”
A cursory study of history and current events shows that religion is the first threat totalitarian governments target for elimination in order to solidify social control. Millions have flocked to the United States because it guarantees rights that make us free individuals, like freedom of religion and conscience.
The United States is a safe haven for so many persecuted groups. It’s sad and alarming to see our own form of persecution rear its head on our land. The threat is real, and the repercussions are visible. We must recognize it when it takes place, expose it, and demand protection for free speech in all of its forms, including religion.