Clinton’s Religious Freedom
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The idea that Hillary Clinton would serve as a champion of religious freedom is being met with skepticism in the pages of the National Review. It picks up on an op-ed piece the Democratic nominee herself wrote for the Deseret News, asserting that she’s been “fighting to defend religious freedom for years.” She boasts of her work overseas, but the author of the National Review piece, Alexandra DeSanctis, reckons that because Mrs. Clinton has “made no effort to defend religious freedom here in the U.S.” her claim “rings hollow.”
Our sentiments exactly. It’s hard to think of a single religious freedom case working its way through the courts here in America in which Mrs. Clinton is on the side of the religious parties. And let’s leave aside, at least for a paragraph or two, the highly fraught disputes that are coming into focus with the conflict between religious communities and secular law in respect of abortion and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. Even on the most anodyne religious freedom controversies, it’s hard to find Mrs. Clinton in the lists.
How about the attempts by New York City’s Human Rights Commission to block Satmar shopkeepers in Brooklyn from requiring, in their shops, modest dress of men and women? Or the attempt by Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Mental Hygiene to regulate the way circumcision is practiced in some Orthodox Jewish communities? Or, halfway through the Obama presidency, the case in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sought to regulate the hiring of ministers at the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Church and School?
Mrs. Clinton was silent, as far as we can tell, in the case against the feather dancer of the Lipan Apache tribe for using in a religious ritual the feathers of an eagle. Mrs. Clinton was mum, too, in respect of the Trinity Lutheran Church Learning Center when Missouri sought to deny it safer playground paving because the school was religious. She failed to defend the Oklahoma parents who were sued by their school district for accepting state scholarship aid to help their disabled son attend a school best suited for his needs even though it was religious.
For that matter, Mrs. Clinton kept quiet during the famous struggle of Pastor Clyde Reed against the town of Gilbert, Arizona, which sought to apply to the signage he used to advertise his services restrictions that were more onerous than signage for other services around town. Nor was Mrs. Clinton any help to Greece, N.Y., in its long struggle for the right to begin town meetings with a prayer. Not a peep, even though the town Greece is in her home state and the case had been in the news in its long climb to triumph in the Supreme Court.
No, that and other victories for religious freedom were won entirely without Mrs. Clinton’s help. Across the land, hundreds, no doubt thousands, of court cases are being levied by religious Americans, of all faiths, who seek to freely exercise their religion. In the cataract of cases arising out of the struggle for gay and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans for equal rights, Mrs. Clinton has played no useful role in seeking ways to accommodate religious Americans. In our view, it’s a tragedy for both sides.
In some of the religious freedom cases, finally, the courts were able to conclude with broad agreement in favor of the religious parties. In Hosanna-Tabor, the Supreme Court was unanimous, as in nine to zero. As it was in Pastor Reed’s campaign against his church’s signage. Even then, Mrs. Clinton was off the field. We do not suggest that she herself is a bigot or even hostile to religion. Simply that her claim to be a champion of religious freedom is not credible. The sad truth is that religious freedom is a cause with few allies in the Democratic Party leadership.