This is one of those thing that is so totally and outrageously clueless (to give people the benefit of the doubt) as to defy comprehension:
Many people are evidently so ignorant of history as to imagine that the problem the ‘freedom of religion’ concept is meant to address is that religion tends to interfere with government.
What any acquaintance whatsoever with any real history – or even current events around the world – reveals is that the problem is and almost always has been government attempting to control religion, not the other way around. The reason this is so is equally obvious: religion belief is the single most important place where a person can stand in judgement of the government. Religious people are often far more loyal to their religious beliefs than they are to any government. A government that is growing in power will sooner or later run up against religious beliefs that oppose it as it gropes about for more areas in which to exert itself.
What is happening – what has happened over and over again in history – is that the state is attempting to neuter the churches by legally establishing the right to dictate to religious people what they must do(1). The current administration shrewdly picked an area – contraceptives – over which an existing fault line among believers already existed, then, by means of a bureaucratic regulation, is attempting to 1) fragment its opposition – divide and conquer – and 2) to establish that the government has the legal power to dictate to independently run religiously based organizations what services they must supply regardless of their consciences. In this case, setting the stage for the Holy Grail of this administration: free to the user abortion on demand anywhere any healthcare is offered. But that’s merely the obvious next step.
Examples of this sort of behavior are too numerous to list. Here are a few broad examples:
– the Divine Right of kings (something Thomas Aquinas denied in the 13th century)
– China’s Patriotic Catholic Association;
– centuries of lay investiture, leading to centuries of anti-clericalism;
– Henry VIII;
– the Committee for Public Safety;
– the requirement that Christians burn incense to Caesar or die.
And yet people who claim to be the objective, intelligent, well-informed population pretend to fear what has never really happened in a modern democracy: that a government has been taken over by religious fanatics who then use it to persecute all the other people. They seem to believe ‘V for Vendetta’ is based on history rather than on a comic book (2).
The exception is, of course, Islam (if we set aside that there’s never been anything like a modern democracy with a majority population of Muslims unless we want to generously include governments imposed by some western colonial power). But fear that Sharia law will be imposed is never presented as part of the argument – it’s always some ginned up outrage against people who would like words like ‘marriage’ or even ‘rights’ to retain some shred of objective meaning.
The supposed outrage over religion – meaning, for all practical purposes Catholics and Evangelicals – interfering with government – meaning, in this case, not getting in line with the most holy and sacred tenets of the Sexual Revolution – is a diversion. Sure, there is a vast herd of people for whom modern sexual mores are the be-all and end-all of their political thought. They qualify as useful idiots, here. If these narcissistic libertines think that, once all the shackles of religion and tradition – of reason, ultimately – have been destroyed, that they will not be thrown under the bus as soon as it becomes expedient for their keepers to do so, they are sadly mistaken. Redefining rights as whatever ‘we’ want them to be ignores the little problem of defining who ‘we’ are – the powerful prefer to keep that number as small as possible.
One last thought: governments weigh their need for religious approval against their lust for power, and calibrate their actions accordingly: Stalin thought religious fervor might help the war efforts, so he opened the churches during WWII, even though he was in principle dedicated to their destruction; for many centuries, most European monarchs contented themselves with controlling all the bishops and abbots – nobody got any power in the local church without, at the very least, being vetted by the powers that be. Henry VIII represents the extreme of this policy. Or, if you’re a tyrant feeling you oats, maybe you’ll attempt to snuff out religion – meaning, again, Christianity, practically speaking – entirely. Just how much religion you allow is just business, merely prudential.
The key: governments have sought always to control the religious beliefs of their subjects, to the point of slaughtering people who don’t comply. Freedom of religion means a government can’t do that, or it means nothing.
(1) – don’t for a minute think that this is just the same as the government’s power to declare slavery and polygamy, for example, illegal over the religious beliefs of some southerners and Mormons. That was about beliefs that were not central and were clearly at odds with specific rights and societal norms. This is a different game entirely – religious institutions that have long provided needed public services – healthcare and education – are being forced to provide some readily available but morally objectionable ‘services’ – abortifants and sterilization – as a way of making them burn incense to Caesar or be driven out of businesses the government clearly and dearly wants to run.
(2) – you could maybe argue that Cromwell fits the bill – a Puritanical zealot who ruled England. But I think a closer look will reveal that he is one brutal, blood-thirsty ruler in an age of brutal, blood-thirsty rulers. At any rate, he did not rise to power in a democracy.