(ZENIT News / Washington, 01.16.2024).- The U.S. bishops have released the first report on religious freedom in the United States. The report summarizes developments in religious liberty at the federal or national level in the United States in 2023. After previewing likely develop ments in 2024, it identifies the five greatest threats to religious liberty in the coming year and recommends responses to each threat.
The bishops point out that, because control of the two chambers of Congress was divided in 2023, most introduced bills that threat ened religious liberty languished. Rather, the vast majority of threats to religious liberty at the federal level last year came in the form of proposed regulations by federal agencies. These heavily focused on imposing requirements regarding abortion, “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity.”
The Supreme Court of the United States only heard two cases implicating religious liberty in 2023, but in each case the Supreme Court ruled for broader protections — for religious exercise in the workplace, in Groff v. DeJoy, and for free speech based on religious beliefs, in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.
The issues of abortion and gender identity were at the heart of key cultural trends affecting religious liberty. Opposition to Christians’ witness against abortion continued to motivate vandalism against churches and pro-life pregnancy centers. The celebration of “Pride Month” generated numerous controversies, including protest and counterprotest of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision to honor an anti-Catholic group as part of the baseball team’s “Pride Night” festivities.
Religious charities serving newcomers found themselves the targets of intense anger, largely motivated by misinformation and partisan rhetoric related to the U.S.–Mexico border. Dramatic, conspiratorial claims about religious charities’ ministry to newcomers led to calls for the government to penalize them, primarily through proposed restrictions on their access to programs and funding opportunities, and eventually to a call for violence against the charities’ employees.
The terrorist attacks against Israel and ensuing outbreak of war caused antisemitic incidents in the United States to skyrocket, including shocking displays of open hatred, with acts of anti-Muslim hatred committed as well.
These trends will likely continue into 2024, and election-year dynamics will serve only to intensify them. This report identifies the top five threats to reli gious liberty in 2024 as follows:
- attacks against houses of worship, especially in relation to the Israel-Hamas conflict
- the Section 1557 regulation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will likely impose a mandate on doctors to perform gender transition procedures and possibly abortions
- threats to religious charities serving new comers, which will likely increase as the issue of immigration gains prominence in the election
- suppression of religious speech on marriage and sexual difference
- the EEOC’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act regulations, which aim to require religious employers to be complicit in abortion in an unprecedented way.