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The Limits of Religious Freedom

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Message Harold Novikoff
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The constitutional right of freedom of religion is stated as part of the First Amendment, which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances". There seems to be consensus that the basic freedom of religious belief applies to individuals and private groups.The individual can hold any religious view and can speak out about it in a peaceful assembly, but cannot impose his viewpoint upon others or the government.

The extent of this freedom is continually being questioned in Supreme Court cases, past and present - recently in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case whereby the religious beliefs of the private company's owners were permitted to over-ride the legally-mandated rights of its workers to contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act; and, again, in the present ruling allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the exemptions to the ACA mandate. The exceptions granted by the Supreme Court amount to imposing religious dogma into the laws of the United States and thereby preventing workers' access to the legally mandated health benefits.

Incidentally, the decision acknowledged the limitation of the religious right to individual persons, but extended the definition of "individual" to a closely-held family company, and now to company management. Similarly, the court extended individual "personhood" to "corporations" in the Citizens United case, which opened the gates to corporate money in election campaigns.

Abortion rights, gay rights, transgender rights are continually being challenged in court cases based on the opponent's religious-influenced views. I have difficulty following all the subtleties of pedantic arguments in these court decisions, so I try to simplify the discussion to common sense that the citizen can understand.

One's religious views are in the private domain according to the constitution and should remain there, except as these religious views may agree with our existing laws based upon democratic principles. Business and government are conducted in the public domain, which is common to everyone. Everyone is expected to conform to the laws of the public domain without exception - even Donald Trump. If a person refuses to conform to these laws based upon his private religious views, then he is not entitled to conduct his business in the public domain. The choice of contraceptives or no contraceptives should be left up to the workers.

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Veteran, retired from several occupations (school teacher, technical writer, energy conservation business, etc.) long-time Sierra Club member

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