Religious Liberty

Talking Points

  • Religious liberty in America is not merely the “freedom to worship.” Individuals should be free to work, speak, and serve according to their deeply held beliefs seven days a week, not just within the four walls of their house of worship.
  • The freedom of Americans to live and work in accordance with their deeply held beliefs is increasingly under assault, especially from burdensome government policies and efforts to redefine marriage.
  • Policymakers should enact permanent protections of the freedom of individuals, families, employers, and insurance issuers to offer, provide, or pay for health care coverage that aligns with their values. To truly protect religious liberty, and individual freedom more generally, Obamacare must be repealed.
  • In addition to promoting the many benefits of marriage, policy must continue to tell the truth about marriage and maintain the freedom of Americans to continue believing, teaching, and living out that truth.

The Issue

Americans remain a deeply religious people. The vast majority of Americans believe in God or a higher being, and many say that they pray daily. By providing education, health care, and countless social services, religious groups contribute mightily to the health of society. Religious individuals and institutions should be free to exercise their religious belief in private as well as in public.

The ability to work, live, and provide services compatible with one’s beliefs is essential for maintaining a just and free society, yet this freedom has suffered erosion in recent years. America must return to a more reasonable and historically accurate understanding of religious liberty, upholding religious and moral conscience as an invaluable support for healthy republican government and human flourishing. This requires that government respect the role of religious institutions and refrain from establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

The American Founders believed that strong religious congregations and vibrant faith communities were essential to ordered liberty. As a result, Americans have long enjoyed the fullest religious liberty in the world and have reaped the benefits of a flourishing civil society rooted in that religious freedom. Policymakers must restore a strong and stable society of individual and political self-government in which the people can give religious and faith-based institutions a central place in our civic and public life.


Recommendations

  1. Understand and promote the benefits of religious practice to civil society. Religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families, and the community. Regular attendance at religious services is linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages, and positive outcomes for children. It correlates with reduced rates of domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse, and addiction and an increase in physical and mental health, longevity, and educational attainment. Americans engaged in the free exercise of religion participate actively in charitable giving and volunteerism, including through organized volunteering and informal acts of compassion. Yet, despite the societal benefits of religion, the expression of faith in the public square has faced many challenges. The law ought to make as much room as possible for the practice of religious faith.
  2. Protect the right of conscience of patients, parents, and employers. The right of Americans to live and work in accordance with their deeply held beliefs is increasingly under assault, especially from burdensome government policies. For example, many provisions of Obamacare weaken family choice of coverage, undermine parental participation in minor children’s health care decisions, and undercut family values in health care. The law’s anti-conscience mandate forces countless religious organizations, family businesses, and other employers to provide health plans that include coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization—regardless of their religious or moral objections.

    Policymakers should enact permanent protections for the rights of conscience of individuals, families, employers, and insurance issuers to keep them from being forced to offer, provide, or pay for coverage that violates their deeply held beliefs. To truly protect religious liberty and freedom more generally, Obamacare must be repealed. Health care reform must move to a patient-centered, market-based system that provides coverage choices that are consistent with providers’ and patients’ moral and religious beliefs.

  3. Protect the freedom of individuals and institutions to continue telling the truth about marriage. Redefining marriage has been a direct and demonstrated threat to religious freedom that marginalizes those who affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Already, in Washington, D.C., Illinois, and Massachusetts, faith-based adoption and foster care organizations have given up the good work they were doing on behalf of vulnerable children because the government would have forced them to place children with same-sex couples—regardless of their religious or moral objections. Family businesses like photographers, bakers, florists, and many others often involved in the wedding industry have been hauled into court because they declined to provide their services for a same-sex ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs. Governments must leave the people free to promote marriage as a union of a man and a woman, for the benefit of society, and must refrain from discrimination against them because of their religious belief that such a union constitutes the exclusive meaning of marriage.
  4. Promote religious freedom abroad. To win hearts and minds to democracy, advance freedom, and promote stability, U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy should systematically engage religious audiences and address the role of religion. Such active diplomacy bolsters the United States’ powerful model of religious freedom and is crucial to America’s role in the world. The United States should press all governments to recognize the universal right of religious liberty. Religious freedom should be the rule for all, not the exception enjoyed by a majority.

Facts & Figures

  • Three in five adults say they have no doubt that God exists. Altogether, about nine in 10 adults believe in God or some higher power.
  • On average, individuals who reported attending religious services once a week or more were 25 percent more likely to give to charitable causes than those who reported attending religious services less than a few times a year.
  • Marriages in which both husband and wife attend church frequently were 2.4 times less likely to end in divorce than marriages in which neither spouse attends religious services. Volunteerism among individuals who attend religious services each week tends to be greater than the national average and among those who attend less frequently.

Selected Additional Resources

Heritage Experts on Religious Liberty


  • Jennifer Marshall

    Director, Domestic Policy Studies


  • Sarah Torre

    Policy Analyst


  • Ryan Anderson

    William E. Simon Fellow


  • Derrick Morgan

    Vice President, Domestic & Economic Policy

To talk to one of our experts, please contact us by phone at 202-608-1515 or by email.