Religious Liberty Safeguards the Rights of All Americans

A new law in Connecticut that requires religious institutions to allow their employees to act in accordance with their conscience will threaten the religious freedom of independent institutions in the state. The bill would set a dangerous precedent for other religious and non-religious institutions in Connecticut and around the country.

HB 5424​ ​made headlines last month as the ‘Bill Forcing Catholic Hospitals to Allow Referrals for Abortion and Gender Transitions’ according to News12 and other outlets. Supporters of the bill include Dr. Iyanna Liles, an obstetrician-gynecologist who left her position at a faith-based healthcare facility after three years, and stated her reason for leaving was her inability to offer “the best practices and care” for her patients without jeopardizing her employment.

Though the bill is being presented as a protection of an individual’s rights and responsibility to offer “care,” the measure would effectively prohibit religious institutions from upholding their religious missions, forcing them to allow employees to act in opposition to the institution’s stated values.

The proposed legislation would significantly affect several prominent hospitals under the umbrella of Trinity Health, including St. Mary’s in Waterbury, St. Francis in Hartford, St. Vincent’s in Bridgeport, and St. Raphael in New Haven. Trinity Health is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit healthcare systems, deeply rooted in Catholic faith-based principles.

This legislation poses a direct challenge to religious institutions by seeking to prohibit them from implementing policies that align with their faith traditions. For instance, under this legislation, Catholic hospitals would be forced to permit their physicians to advocate for gender-affirming care and perform abortions—actions that are in direct opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Though I am not Catholic myself and disagree with Catholic theology, I affirm members’ religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution. Regardless of their positions, privately owned non-profits should be allowed to follow their religious convictions freely, without fear of government involvement or relation. One does not need to be spiritual or a part of any particular religion to uphold religious liberty.

The sentiment of “You can practice your religion, but you can’t force it on me” often dominates discussions whenever religion becomes a topic of debate. Most people referring to religious liberty only cite the beginning of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” However, less frequently cited are the following lines which prevent Congress from “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Religious liberty extends past the freedom to practice one’s faith in public; it encompasses the freedom and protection of an individual’s deeply held beliefs and convictions, shielding them from imposition by governmental entities.

HB 5424 does not protect the right of individual citizens and independent institutions to act as they wish; instead, it forces citizens to act in obedience to the way the government deems acceptable.

No employee should endure an environment where the looming threat of job loss perpetually hangs over them, but simultaneously, employers ought to be free to hire individuals aligned with their company mission—and fire employees who refuse to follow the institutional practices. Individuals across all industries must seek employers whose values align with their own, ensuring their core principles remain respected and safeguarded.

Consider this scenario: If an employee of a Planned Parenthood clinic were to distribute flyers promoting a local Catholic church or advocating for religious conversion therapy, the clinic would be well within its rights to terminate the employment of that individual. The actions of the individual employee would go directly against the deeply held values and beliefs of the origination they represent. Religious institutions should no more be required to employ individuals who refuse to comply with their mission standards than any other mission-based institution.

According to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago Divinity School/AP-NORC Religious Freedom Poll, a significant portion of Americans aged 18 and older perceive religious liberty as being endangered for various faiths. Specifically, 52% of Americans believe that the religious freedom of Muslims is under threat, while 42% express similar concerns for Jews. While 23% share the same apprehension regarding Evangelical Christians, and 22% express such concerns regarding Catholics.

In a country that feels increasingly polarized, further advocating for laws only increases polarization and breeds hostility toward those who feel their religious liberties are being limited.

George Washington said, “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness, and it is my wish and desire that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them.” In this case, both sides of the issue are appealing to conscience to uphold and preserve their rights. Catholic hospitals have a right to only employ people willing to uphold their mission. At the same time, practitioners have a duty to offer care according to their own training and consciences. To “accommodate” the consciences of all parties, legislators must restrict their own regulatory power and ensure that private institutions and individuals can act independently to establish the best situations for themselves.

If passed, the bill sets a dangerous precedent by requiring religious institutions to go against their deeply held beliefs. For a multicultural society to thrive, it is essential to safeguard religious freedom so that individuals and private institutions can exercise their convictions without fear of government interference.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Noelle Fitchet

Noelle Fitchett, a Young Voices contributor and first-gen college graduate from Los Angeles, holds a Master's in Economics from Texas A&M University and a graduate certificate in International Affairs. She earned her Philosophy degree with a focus on moral and legal studies from California State University Fullerton and currently works at Remnant News. Follow her on Twitter @noellefitchett.

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