Becket Fund: Government is a Main Source of Religious Freedom Violations

Barbara Hollingsworth | January 16, 2015 | 4:18pm EST
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Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (Becket Fund)

( – Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is outraged that the government has become one of the major obstacles to the free practice of religion in the United States.

“I find it abhorrent that the institution that is supposed to protect our religious liberty has become one of the main sources of the violation of our religious liberty,” Arriaga told on Friday.

“Today is Religious Freedom Day, and we were very excited to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was eventually passed by the Virginia General Assembly and incorporated in the founding documents,” she said.

The 1786 statute says that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Arriaga recounted several significant victories for religious liberty last year, including the landmark Hobby Lobby case, which “supports the idea that for-profit corporations are entitled to exercise their religious liberties and that is how we believe our founders intended.”

She also pointed to the preliminary injunction the court granted to another Becket client, the Little Sisters of the Poor, “to protect them from government fines until they had their day in court. We are expecting a decision from the 10th Circuit any time,” she said.

Both of those cases involved the Department of Health and Human Services’ controversial contraceptive mandate, which currently is being challenged by more than 100 active lawsuits, she pointed out.

“We also won a case involving a Sikh woman who had been battling the IRS over her right to carry a kirpan – a symbol of her faith - and are waiting for the Supreme Court to decide Holt v. Hobbs, in which we defended the right of a Muslim prisoner to exercise his religion,” Arriaga said.

“And we defended the Pledge of Allegiance because the precise words ‘under God’ mean that our rights do not come from the government, so the government cannot take them away.”

But Arriaga warned that despite a spate of recent court victories, believers should not take their religious freedom for granted.

“So while we are optimistic that the courts will uphold the First Amendment, we must remain vigilant because of a very active group of atheists and the growth of government, which is currently the cause of many conflicts.”

“Religious liberty is often treated as an eccentric uncle of the human rights family by people on the left and right who think that the ‘rational rights’ somehow supercede it,” she told

"These 'rational' rights are powerful moral and ethical issues that demand rigorous debate and discussion," Arriaga wrote in The Federalist"But religious liberty is not something we must discard to allow for that debate - rather, it is the very primacy of religious liberty that guarantees this free and open discourse."

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