By: Dr. Paul Kengor
Editor’s note: A different version of this article first appeared at National Catholic Register.
Bill Clinton was basking in glory at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night. Few presidents so love the spotlight. The occasion for Clinton, however, was not himself, but the reelection of Barack Obama.
To that end, Clinton’s stumping for Obama presents some interesting contrasts, as the press has noted. Quite unnoticed, however, is a particularly compelling contrast relating to religious freedom—an area where Barack Obama has been a foe, most notably via his terribly intolerant Health and Human Services mandate, and where Bill Clinton has been woefully silent.
For Bill Clinton—and for his wife, Hillary Clinton—that silence is conspicuous. Indeed, it may surprise readers to learn this, but both Clintons have been vigorous defenders of religious freedom. First consider Bill Clinton:
As Clinton stated in his memoirs: “I always felt that protecting religious liberty and making the White House accessible to all religious faiths was an important part of my job.” As president, Clinton practiced what he preached. He championed (among others) the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (passed 97-3 by the Senate) and the 1997 Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace. As to the former, Clinton signed it “to protect a reasonable range of religious expression in public areas like schools and workplaces.”
Pointing to these actions and more, my colleague, Dr. Gary Smith, who has studied Bill Clinton’s faith, has rightly described the former president as a “strong advocate” of “religious freedom at home and abroad.”
That’s fair to say. It is likewise true for Hillary Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton long supported her husband’s 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, especially its promotion of religious freedom in public schools. In her book, “It Takes a Village,” Mrs. Clinton sounded like a conservative when emphasizing the importance of religion in schools. Quoting her husband, she noted that “nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the schoolhouse door.” She cited these words from her husband: “[R]eligion is too important in our history and our heritage for us to keep it out of our schools.”
Once capable of making law herself, as an elected senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton championed an initiative promoting religious freedom in the workplace. Specifically, in April 2005, Senator Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, joining forces (remarkably) with no less than Senator Rick Santorum, her polar opposite. The law guaranteed the right to religious expression on the job without fear of recrimination. This meant, for example, that an Orthodox Jew who honors the Sabbath cannot be forced to work on the Sabbath against his or her will, or that a Christian can wear a crucifix, or that a Sikh can don a turban. Backers of the bill included a broad coalition of 40 clerics representing nearly every denomination.
The bill, which any reasonable person would support, had opponents among Senator Clinton’s staunchest allies. Predictably, Planned Parenthood and the National Women’s Law Center foresaw calamitous instances of “anti-choice” injustice, such as a situation where a pro-life nurse might request to not provide the “morning-after” pill to a rape victim, or a Catholic pharmacist might as a matter of conscience refuse to dispense birth control. For these “pro-choice” feminists, religious freedom could not be permitted to trump their preeminent freedom: their sacred right to an abortion.
It was this narrow opposition from radical feminists that might have explained why, as the Village Voice put it, “[Mrs.] Clinton’s office has been notably quiet about her involvement” in the bill.
That was then. Today, Mrs. Clinton serves in the Obama administration—though at the State Department, not the Department of Health and Human Services. And today, Mrs. Clinton, like her husband, is silent on the Obama HHS mandate.
Indeed, that begs the question: Where are the Clintons now, as the current head of their party, President Obama, continues to stubbornly enforce his HHS mandate requiring all Americans, of every religious belief and denomination, to forcibly fund abortion drugs? Have these fighters for religious freedom said anything at all to the president? Have they voiced even a slight objection? To the contrary, in his glowing endorsement of Obama at the Democratic convention, Bill Clinton gushed about Obamacare, with no mention of the HHS mandate.
Or, in the end, are Bill and Hillary Clinton merely two more blindly loyal liberals and partisan Democrats who unquestioningly follow their party’s leader?
Some things are more important than your political party.