In an 1878 decision on the Mormons and polygamy, the Supreme Court held”” much like Oregon’s Legislature today ”” that religious freedom could not justify (otherwise) criminal activity. If it could, the court reasoned, what would stop a church from practicing human sacrifice?
Therein lies important practical wisdom that’s worth remembering the next time you hear people shouting indignantly about their rights with little regard for the consequences faced by their fellow citizens of other persuasions ”” whether it’s a pharmacy employee’s “right” to refuse selling legal contraceptives or an ardent secularist’s “right” to be free of any exposure to religious expression in public (as in the case of those who would forbid mention of the G-word in the Pledge of Allegiance).
The freedom to believe as one chooses is crucial to the American way, and belief has little meaning if it cannot be acted upon. Even so, as the Followers of Christ are learning the hard way, the right to practice religion must have its limits. Especially when the consequences are life or death for those with no choice in the matter.