Case In Point

March/April 2024
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a long-awaited “rule” in January regarding conscience protections in health-care settings. Rules are detailed regulations issued by federal administrative agencies that spell out—in a more thorough and practical way—how an agency will interpret and implement laws passed by Congress. In this instance, the new HHS rule relates to more than two dozen federal laws that protect health-care conscience rights, including those related to abortion, sterilization, contraception, assisted suicide, and transgender care.

According to the Biden administration, the new rule attempts to find a fair balance between honoring the conscience rights of health care workers, while also ensuring that all patients receive the treatment they need. The rule restores the role of the HHS Office for Civil Rights in investigating infringements on conscience and religious rights.

Critics on the right say the conscience protections are too weak. For instance, under the rule health care workers may be forced to violate their conscience by performing an abortion in some situations deemed emergencies.

Critics on the left, however, suggest that the conscience protections go too far in allowing religious workers to refuse certain care for transgender patients or those seeking abortions.

The new rule partially rescinds a 2019 Trump-era rule—which never actually went into effect—that would have significantly expanded the rights of medical workers to claim a religious exemption from providing services and allowed the government to pull funding from health care entities that retaliated against workers asserting religious conscience rights.

Conscience in health-care settings is also at issue north of the border. In Canada, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Montreal has filed suit challenging a law that requires all palliative care homes in Quebec to offer patients the option of medically assisted suicide. According to Archbishop Lepine, this requirement is unconstitutional under Canada’s Charter of Rights and would force Catholics to violate deeply held religious convictions about the sanctity of human life. Other Canadian provinces, including Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario, have similar laws that require palliative care homes to offer assisted suicide, but these laws all allow faith-based health-care institutions to opt-out of offering the procedure.

A Less Gloomy Forecast for Religious Freedom

American attitudes toward religious freedom are growing more positive, according to a national survey conducted by the public-interest law firm The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Their fifth annual survey again focused on thorny issues at the intersection of law, religion, and culture. It asked questions about ongoing court cases, the rights of parents to educate their children in their religious tradition, and how the next generation is shaping ideas around faith in America. A majority of respondents—58 percent—said they disagree with school policies that require students and faculty to use an individual’s preferred pronouns. This is a 12-point increase since 2021, when only 46 percent disagreed with school pronoun policies. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they support opt-outs from school curriculum that parents think is morally objectionable or inappropriate. And despite persistent negative news reporting on religious freedom conflicts, almost 60 percent of those surveyed said they believed religion is part of the solution to America’s problems, up 9 percentage points from 2022. The full report can be found at

History: Not Just about the Past

How important is an accurate historical understanding of America’s founding? Telling Jefferson Lies is a new podcast series hosted by historian and author Warren Throckmorton. He interviews academics and experts such as George Marsden and Mark Noll, who help draw compelling lines between historical mis-readings of America’s founding and the growing influence of Christian nationalism.

In 2012, Throckmorton, along with fellow historian and co-author Michael Coulter, wrote Getting Jefferson Right: Fact-Checking Claims about Thomas Jefferson. Their book was a response to the publication of a book by amateur historian David Barton, The Jefferson Lies, which attempted to make the case that America was founded as a Christian nation. After Throckmorton and Coulter’s critique was published, the Christian publisher Thomas Nelson took the unprecedented step of discontinuing publication of Barton’s book.

Throckmorton and Coulter have recently republished Getting Jefferson Right. Their new edition adds about one-third more content and takes on claims made by other apologists for Christian nationalism, such as Eric Metaxas, Robert Jeffress, and Stephen Wolfe.

The Telling Jefferson Lies podcast is available on all major podcast platforms.

Kindness No Cure for Political Ills?

Americans increasingly view those holding opposing political allegiances as “less moral”—even after experiencing an act of kindness from someone of the opposite political party.

Social scientists from the University of Tennessee used a game where players could experience being treated either generously or poorly by the other player. Their goal was to discover whether being treated kindly by someone holding opposing political affiliation caused players to judge their opponent more positively.

In their experiments, even after fair or kind treatment, participants still rated their political opponents as “less moral.” The researchers, who wrote about their study in the online forum The Conversation, say these results reflect the growing depth and persistence of America’s political polarization. Interestingly, they found no differences in party animosity and moral judgment between liberals and conservatives.

And Finally

A federal court has dealt a blow to a long-running attempt to protect an ancient Native American sacred site from destruction by a multinational mining giant. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled March 1 that the federal government can transfer the Apache sacred site of Oak Flat, in Arizona, to a foreign-owned mining company that plans to turn the site into a mining crater. Apache Stronghold, which is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.