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Former Sen. Orrin Hatch, who died on April 23 at age 88, left an indelible mark on American politics during his 42-year Senate career. His influence was especially profound in the realm of religious liberty; Hatch sponsored two measures — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act — that redefined what the government owes to people of faith.
In one of his last interviews with the Deseret News, Hatch shared a few thoughts on this religious freedom work. He emphasized the importance of protecting religious expression and alluded to how complicated that work has become.
“If I was to pick one bill that I love more than anything else it’s the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. We could not pass that today,” he said. “That has protected religious freedom like never before. It’s something you would think you wouldn’t have to protect, but believe me you have to protect it.”
Over the past week, I reached out to a few of my regular sources and asked them to share their thoughts on Hatch’s religious liberty legacy. Here’s what they said:
Douglas Laycock, professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia
Volume Three of my collected writings on Religious Liberty is dedicated to Sen. Hatch and the other lead sponsors of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Sen. Hatch’s bipartisan collaboration with Sen. Edward Kennedy was critical to enacting RFRA. And then when the Supreme Court invalidated RFRA as applied to the states, and the effort to replace it broke down in partisan conflict, it was Sen. Hatch who took the lead and rescued the parts that could still be enacted. His efforts resulted in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects religious organizations against arbitrary or discriminatory zoning, and also protects the religious exercise of prisoners. His contribution to religious liberty in the United States was huge. His willingness to work across party lines was both essential and admirable, and it has gone missing in today’s Congress. We need more Orrin Hatches in the Republican Party, and we are no longer getting them.
Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
He viewed religious freedom as the cornerstone of everything America is about. That view was very much informed by his awareness that Latter-day Saints had been and still are a minority faith community and they were persecuted in early decades of their existence. He said to me on multiple occasions that his faith group’s history made him identify with Jewish experiences over the centuries. Sen. Hatch and I commiserated over the fact that religious freedom has become more polarized both from the far left and the far right. Hatch exemplified that there is a way to protect religious freedom and expand the rights of others, that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I missed him as soon as he retired from the Senate and he’ll be missed for many years to come.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Hatch was a model of civil discourse, principled leadership and advancement of religious freedom for all at home and abroad, in and outside of his roles in government.
Hatch will lie in state from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4, at the Utah Capitol. Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday, May 6, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion, located at 1780 S. Campus Drive in Salt Lake City.
Both events are open to the public.
Fresh off the press
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- Report suggests Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade
- How should Black churches respond to the fight for LGBTQ rights?
Term of the week: Climate refugee
A climate refugee is exactly what that phrase implies: a person who’s become a refugee due to climate-related issues. Weather events like hurricanes, floods and wildfires can make a previously crowded area uninhabitable if they happen often enough.
Last week, Religion News Service spoke with faith-based refugee advocates about the need to help people who have lost their homes during extreme weather events. “Climate change will eventually be the biggest source of refugees the world’s ever seen if estimates are anywhere near correct,” said environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, in the article.
What I’m reading ...
Newly released emails reveal that the Trump administration blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from releasing certain safety guidelines to churches in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Administration officials wanted to ensure that faith groups were free to make their own decisions about how to meet and whether or not to have group singing, according to The Washington Post.
At the end of April, Baylor University took a historic step by granting a charter to an LGBTQ student group. Texas Monthly took a look at what led to this move, as well as what LGBTQ students are hoping will happen next.
My colleague, Lois Collins, had a chance to chat with Atlantic staff writer Elizabeth Bruenig about faith, politics and the at-times surprising pushback you get when you write about being a mom.
Odds and ends
Last fall, the University of Illinois launched what’s thought to be a first-of-its-kind religion class for veterinary students. I loved reading about what they learned!