Press-Republican

On Religion

June 11, 2012

Those evolving wars over religious liberty

The ratification of the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture, transportation or sale of alcoholic beverages had obvious implications for Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis, as well as for tavern owners.

Thus, legislators wrote an exemption into the bill that defined the Prohibition era allowing the sacramental or medicinal use of alcoholic beverages. The wine on Catholic altars and Jewish Seder tables remained real -- thanks to the Volstead Act's fine print.

"If the act had failed to exempt wine for sacramental purposes there would have been both a political firestorm and a First Amendment challenge," noted William Galston of the Brookings Institution at a recent religious-liberty conference in Washington, D.C.

This is not dusty history, in a year loaded with tense clashes between religious groups and the government. Thus, Galston said it's important for politicians and clergy to remember 1919 and to ask, "Would that challenge have succeeded? This is not a peripheral issue. The use of sacramental wine lies at the heart of more than one religion."

Truth is, the timeline of American history is dotted with similar conflicts. While the First Amendment offers strong protections, politicians and judges have frequently tweaked the boundaries on the religious-liberty map.

Several church-state fires are currently burning, including intense debates linked to health care as well as to same-sex marriage.

Many speakers during the conference, which was sponsored by the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, focused on conservative concerns about the impact of new Health and Human Services regulations. The key is that these mandates require the health-insurance plans offered by most religious institutions to cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved forms of contraception, including "morning-after pills" -- even when this violates ancient doctrines.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
On Religion
  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg A monastery in the Hebrides, after 1,000 years

    Before Father Seraphim Aldea can build a monastery on Scotland's Mull Island, he needs to have a working septic system, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg World Vision wars 2014, and the future

    It's getting harder to work with broad coalitions when culture wars keep rocking churches, writes religion columnist, Terry Mattingly.

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Death of an orthodox missionary -- in America

    Metropolitan Philip, leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Christians in North America, was a fierce advocate of Orthodox unity in the U.S., writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Praying for better journalism at the New York Times

    Bringing fair, informed religious viewpoints into the New York Times newsroom environment can be a challenge, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    March 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Yet another online rant about Lent

    Small sacrifices add up, and they can help believers focus on bigger questions says a former nun, writes religion columnist, Terry Mattingly.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg The evolving state of Mormon heaven

    Mormon leaders attempt to reframe the faith's longheld doctrine of "exaltation," the belief that truly devout Mormons can rise to godhood and even create new worlds, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly..

    March 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg The pope and the Pentecostal smartphone

    In a call for Christian unity, Pope Francis addressed a crowd of Pentecostal Protestants with a surprising request ... and received a surprising response, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg God and millenials: it's complicated

    Nomad faith is now the American way, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Obama on religious freedom -- overseas

    The president's defense of religious freedom doesn't square with his administration's policies on mandating health-insurance coverage of sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Dark secrets in modern pews

    Survey results indicate 69 percent of American pastors agree that pornography has "adversely affected the lives of our church members," writes religion columnist, Terry Mattingly.

    February 7, 2014 1 Photo

Videos: Editor Picks