President Obama’s Legacy on Religious Liberty

Jan. 20 2017

Assessing the outgoing president’s policies over the past eight years, Andrew T. Walker and Josh Wester see a consistently “callous” attitude toward religious freedom, especially when it came to legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Regarding the latter, they write:

During the implementation of the ACA, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a mandate . . . requiring most employer health plans to provide “all FDA-approved forms of contraception,” including some that act as abortifacients. Despite being aware of the conscience issues created by such a rule, HHS allowed only the narrowest of exemptions for certain types of religious employers. The protests of business owners, religious leaders of various faiths, and advocates of freedom fell on deaf ears. The administration’s unyielding commitment to this HHS mandate revealed its animus toward religious freedom and ultimately resulted in two very consequential and public defeats for the president’s agenda [at the Supreme Court]. . . .

Among those seeking relief from the oppressive mandate were the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic religious order dedicated to caring for the elderly poor. After years of bureaucratic and legal strife—to say nothing of the threat of million-dollar fines for conscientious dissent—the administration ultimately acknowledged that this mandate was not the least restrictive means of furthering a government interest in providing contraceptives—an unnecessary outcome.

From the start, the administration should have established compromise measures to ensure health coverage for contraceptives without needlessly burdening religious exercise. But such intransigence only proved the larger point. For the Obama administration, whatever the value of religious freedom might be, it could easily be subjugated to a higher, more progressive, ideal.

Read more at National Review

More about: Abortion, Barack Obama, Freedom of Religion, Gay marriage, Obamacare, Politics & Current Affairs

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount