It was infuriating to open the Post-Gazette on the Fourth of July and read a full-page ad by the Hobby Lobby Corporation declaring, from various sources, “In God We Trust” and “America a Christian nation” and “Christianity should be encouraged” — and I say that even though I agreed with the Supreme Court majority that upheld a religious exemption for the Green family from covering certain contraceptive benefits in the Hobby Lobby decision last week.
In case the Green family has forgotten, it was not God who granted them a religious exemption. It was not even the Constitution. Their religious exemption was granted through a statute — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — passed by an almost unanimous Congress with the overwhelming support of the American people.
This statute passed not because we are a Christian nation, but because we are not a Christian nation. We are a nation of many religious followers — Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others — and many who follow no organized religion, who believe in religious liberty for everyone, as well as in the liberty of not practicing religion. So instead of an ad hijacking our American identity for God and Christianity, how about an ad thanking the American people for their generosity and tolerance in passing this statute? And, for that matter, how about a nod to the employees of Hobby Lobby who do not share the religious beliefs of the Green family and who are the ones who will pay the price of the Green family’s religious conscience?
We are still a nation with a majority of Christians. But if demographic trends hold, we will soon not even be that. I hope the new majority of many religions and a great many who do not practice any religion will not insist on defining which religion makes a true American, as the Green family does. The next time the Green family wants to acknowledge God, maybe they should follow Jesus’ advice and pray in secret.
The writer is professor of law and co-director of the Pennsylvania Constitution website at the Duquesne University School of Law.