6 Signs of Religious Freedom
Presented by Auburn Seminary and Columbia Law School Law Rights & Religion Project

To achieve true freedom for those of all faiths and none, a complete overhaul of religious liberty policy, and a new understanding of what this right truly means, is necessary.

This report offers guidance on how a future presidential administration could protect religious freedom—not merely for a favored few, but for everyone. While we discuss specific policy measures necessary to protect religious liberty, the report is organized around a set of overarching principles in order to provide more holistic guidance about the true meaning of religious freedom.

Download the full report now!


Elizabeth Reiner Platt & Professor Katherine Franke
Law, Rights, and Religion Project

Dr. Keisha E. McKenzie & Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson


Religious liberty rights have been immeasurably damaged over the past several years—often in the name of protecting religious liberty.

Government officials have embraced Islamophobic policies and rhetoric; shut the door on refugees fleeing religious persecution; elevated the religious rights of their political allies over the rights—religious and otherwise—of other communities; used religion as a tool of economic deregulation; and denigrated the beliefs of religious minorities, atheists, and religious progressives.

The U.S. is confronting the legacy of its earliest injustices. We are reckoning together with how religion, especially Christianity, has inscribed patterns of power and domination into the very legal structure of this country.

Animated by our faiths and deep ethical convictions, people from every tradition and culture are looking afresh at how our social institutions, federal, state and local laws, and institutional policies have locked in a cruel, conflictual vision of community and country. We yearn for a different moral view, one expansive enough for all.

As a 202-year-old multi-faith justice organization, Auburn has seen people of faith and people of moral courage participate in every social change and solidarity movement in U.S. history—as congregational ministers and lay people, social service reformers and community organizers, theists and non-theists, advocates and activists.

Auburn stands proudly with the Law, Rights, and Religion Project (LRRP) at Columbia Law School and the cloud of witnesses endorsing the recommendations in this report. Together, we are called to expand public understanding of a religious liberty that truly supports freedom for all people, and together we are committed to building legal structures and community networks strong enough to scaffold a world where all belong.

Dr. Keisha E. McKenzie
Senior Vice President of Programs, Auburn

Below we offer journalists new ways to understand and discuss religious liberty rights: with an emphasis on religious equality and pluralism. We hope this guide can be used as a tool to help you hone new questions for policymakers and advocates addressing or claiming to protect religious freedom. You can download a PDF of our media guide here.


Religious Liberty Must Be

Is this policy neutral?

One of the most foundational rules of religious liberty is that laws and policies must apply neutrally to people of all faiths.

Does a proposed or enacted government action single out particular religious beliefs for special persecution or special protection? Are policymakers treating neutrally all religious beliefs about a certain topic—such as marriage, abortion, or the death penalty? Are any theological groups or ideas left out? How will religious minorities and the nonreligious be impacted?

This policy allows religious doctors to refuse to provide contraception; does it also protect doctors who are religiously obligated to offer contraception but work at a hospital that bans it?


Religious Liberty Must Be

Does this policy coerce anyone?

The purpose of religious liberty protections is to allow individuals to follow their own consciences, rather than being coerced to follow the religious beliefs of government officials or their fellow citizens.

Does a policy or action coerce anyone into subsidizing another person’s religious beliefs? Does it strip legal rights or protections from one person to further the religious beliefs of another? If so, does it violate the religious liberty of the person whose rights are being curtailed?

Under this policy, LGBTQ people and unmarried parents lose their legal right to a nondiscriminatory workplace if their employer is religious. Won’t this conscript LGBTQ and unmarried parenting workers into subsidizing their employer’s religion? Are these workers’ religious rights being violated?


Religious Liberty Must Be

Does this policy discriminate?

Laws prohibiting religious discrimination protect the ability of religious minorities to participate in the public sphere, and are indispensable to religious freedom.

Would a policy or action permit religiously motivated discrimination, including against religious minorities? How? And, if so, could that policy or action actually chill religious exercise rather than protect it?

Would this policy allow businesses to turn away Jews, Muslims, or atheists? How will it impact the ability of these communities to practice—or not practice—openly?


Religious Liberty Must Not Be

Is this policy absolute?

No constitutional right is absolute. Where crucial government interests or the legal rights of others are at risk, limits on individual free exercise rights are permissible—and sometimes required.

How could a religious liberty policy interact with other fundamental rights? Balancing tests allow courts to weigh a religious exemption’s impact on other rights. Does the policy lay out a balancing test, or does it propose an absolute right to religious exemptions in a particular area?

This policy allows doctors to refuse to provide any medical information that they think could lead their patients to seek an abortion or medical aid in dying. How will the policy protect patient rights—including patients’ right to follow their own conscience?


Religious Liberty Must Be

Is this policy democratic?

Religious exemptions can undermine democratically enacted laws, including vital health, labor, and other protections. Broad exemptions can be especially troubling when they amplify the rights of those who already hold positions of power over others, such as employers, landlords, business owners, university administrators, medical professionals, and social service providers.

Does a religious liberty policy favor the faith of those already overrepresented in the democratic process? Does the policy provide additional rights primarily to powerful interest groups, such as employers and landlords?

This policy would allow a corporation to force its employees to abide by the company owner’s religious views. How can workers’ religious liberties be protected if the policy sides with the religious beliefs of their employer?


Religious Liberty Must Be

Is your article and religion coverage pluralistic?

Activists, scholars, government officials, and journalists have often confined discussions of “religious liberty” to a select set of conservative Christian religious beliefs about sex, sexuality, and marriage.

Have you conflated “religious liberty” with conservative Christianity, even unintentionally? Does the article include the voices and experiences of religious minorities, religious progressives, and the rising numbers of religiously unaffiliated people? Does your overall coverage of religion include issues important to all faith communities or focus only on a few?

Does this article tacitly equate religiosity with opposition to LGBTQ rights? How many LGBTQ people identify as religious? Have I asked the victim of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in this article about their own religious views? Could I reach out to an LGBTQ faith leader?

Does my publication’s religion coverage focus primarily on issues of sex, sexuality, and marriage? Does it give equal attention to other issues important to religious minorities and progressives, such as immigration, racism, economic inequality, the environment, and religious discrimination? Does it cover the religiously unaffiliated?

Download sharable graphics on Religious Liberty here!

For Facebook


For Instagram


Start typing and press Enter to search

Auburn Seminary