Leavitt laid out the apparent conflict between religious freedom and the normalization of gay marriage, drawing on his long-standing attachment to the issue stemming from his days at HHS, when he dealt with the struggles of health care providers trying to live their faith in their profession.
The problem, Leavitt said, is even though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the “free exercise” of religion, differing viewpoints and practices tend to be driven from the public square. “Free exercise” of religion then becomes “simply and solely the freedom to believe in the quiet of one’s own conscience, as long as the believer does not act on the belief in public,” Leavitt said.
“Under this counterfeit definition of free exercise, expressions of faith — or opinions informed by faith — are unwelcome in the public square,” Leavitt said. “Religion freedom is increasingly replaced by government restrictions. The list of examples has grown rapidly in recent years.”
Leavitt cited multiple examples of legal and regulatory hostility, including wedding photographers and cake makers who came under fire for declining to work for gay weddings, and nurses and medical students who were compelled to assist with abortions.
In addition to government restrictions, Leavitt cited overt hostility to religion from popular commentators. He pointed to talk show host Bill Maher, who has repeatedly spoken of believers in scathing terms, calling religion a "neurological disorder."
Leavitt devoted much of his address to countering Maher's assertion, laying out in some detail the role of religious faith in putting an end to slavery and in sparking the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Leavitt said the accommodation of gay marriage, now a political reality as he sees it, cannot be used as a wedge to drive religious institutions or individual believers from the public square.
“It is my firm belief that the free expression of religion and other interests can —and, indeed, must — co-exist,” he said.
Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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