In religious freedom, Illinois cuts against partisan narratives – Daily Herald

As the United States reacts to the results of the midterm elections, politicians and media figures debate in the typical black-and-white, red-versus-blue fashion. Opportunities to frame the “other side” as Marvel-like villains are rarely missed in an increasingly fraught social media landscape.

What voters are often left with, if they subscribe to their respective party lines, is an overly partisan view of the country — one that runs counter to the diverse ecosystem of policies enacted by states and local principalities.

The religious freedom protections afforded by Illinois, often considered a blue state, stands as a testament against this polarizing interpretation of American politics. For decades, Illinois has shattered the current public opinion — which often labels red states as the only advocates for religious freedom — by providing robust protections against infringements on religious freedom.

This is the determination made by Religious Liberty in the States (RLS), which scores and ranks the 50 states on how well each protects religious liberty through legislation. The RLS index captures the extent to which people have the freedom to practice their religion in everyday life based on their state’s laws, not just their ability to gather for worship.

This year’s ranking scored Illinois in second place at an impressive 81%. The first-place winner, Mississippi, scored only one point higher at 82%. Illinois also ranked far ahead of third-place New Mexico (61%), and impressively surpassed other states such as California (19%) and Texas (39%).

Illinois’ leadership in this regard is not new. It was an early adopter and one of only five states currently to have a version of the Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which protects private and public health-care facilities and personnel from participating in any phase of patient care that conflicts with their conscience, except in the case of emergencies. The act includes protection from any civil or criminal liability claims as well as government punishment. Also included is an exemption for religious employers who would otherwise be subject to Illinois’ contraceptive mandate.

Additionally, after the 1997 Supreme Court verdict in City of Boerne v. Flores limited federal religious freedom protections, Illinois enacted its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1998. This act protects the ability of religious people to exercise their religion when other laws, even if inadvertently, would burden or restrict their ability to do so.

According to Illinois’ RFRA, laws that do violate religious freedoms must both “[further] a compelling governmental interest” and do so in “the least restrictive” way. In other words, there is a very high standard that must be met to justify any law’s ability to substantially infringe on religious freedoms in Illinois.

It’s worth highlighting something these laws have in common: there’s nothing flashy or even partisan about them. They’re incredibly specific in their objectives, and the enacted protections are provided to all, regardless of political or religious affiliation. In fact, many safeguards extend to those of any religion or of none at all; a violation of conscience is all that’s needed to invoke religious liberty protections.

Politics — especially in the digital age — will continue in the same way it always has. Lines will continue to be drawn by politicians and media figures alike, without regard for nuance.

But in terms of advancing religious freedom, a state’s predominant party affiliation or whether a state is Republican- or Democrat-led isn’t the primary factor at all, it seems. The free exercise of religion is safeguarded by specific legislation that either supports or cuts against the right of each citizen to live freely and in accord with his or her conscience.

Illinois, as determined by the RLS ranking, has resoundingly chosen religious liberty for its citizens. There is room for improvement; Illinois can increase its RLS score and ranking by allowing health-care practitioners to act in accord with their conscience even in cases of emergency and by extending to private businesses the right to refuse participation in wedding ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs.

If Illinois continues on this path, it will be a shining example for other states on how to legislate religious freedom in a pluralist society — one that serves as a reminder to the rest of the nation that politics go beyond the national or the buzzworthy. Much of what truly makes a difference comes down to the work of individuals in states, cities, and local communities — and Illinois is a laudable example of protecting religious liberty.

• Sarah M. Estelle is the director of the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy’s Religious Liberty in the States project, associate professor of economics at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and the founding director of Hope’s Markets & Morality student program.


via “Illinois Politics” – Google News

November 17, 2022 at 01:57PM

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