Religious Freedom in Florida: Let’s Be #1

A version of this editorial originally appeared in The Orlando Sentinel on March 15, 2023

Florida tops many list of rankings.   One hopes we would rank number one when it comes to religious liberty. Florida currently ranks fourth in the nation in religious liberty behind Mississippi, Illinois, and New Mexico, according to The Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy.   These researchers analyzed eleven safeguards that reflect, “free exercise protections at the state level for all citizens.” Their study found many views “in the diverse reality of religious liberty in the United States.”

Taken as a whole,  Florida does have a healthy degree of religious freedom. For instance, ten states in the US do not permit religion as an acceptable request for an absentee voting ballot when the voting day falls on a religious holiday. Florida does. Five states do not allow religious exemptions for childhood immunization requirements, where Florida does grant an exemption.  Our state also grants individuals civil liability protections for refusal on religious grounds with abortions, sterilizations, and the distribution contraception material.  Florida clergy and religious institutions thus far fine the marriage protection programs at the Federal level are good for our citizens.

How can Florida keep the momentum of religious freedom protections moving forward?

First, public officials and for-profit businesses deserve the freedom to choose their degree of participation in marriage ceremonies. Florida is a global leader in destination weddings.  The absence of such protections is a media firestorm waiting to happen, not to mention the violation of one’s first amendment rights. 

Second, legal protections from criminal liability and government retaliation need to be expanded for both health care workers and hospitals. As can happen, our medical personnel and institutions do not deserve reduced funding or suspended licenses related to abortion, sterilization, and contraception services. Current legal protections are not enough, especially the lack of a general conscience provision in the healthcare industry. This measure alone leaves Florida behind much of the country.

To achieve number one status, people of faith and other members of the public square will need to seek compromise. We need to work together as the citizens in Utah.  Their hard work helped mold what eventually became the federal Respect for Marriage Act. This law serves as a rare example of compromise for the sake of the common good. LGBTQI+ advocates wanted the rights of same sec marriage ensconced in law beyond the mere recognition granted in the Supreme Courts’ Obergefell decision. Religious freedom advocates wanted explicit protections for houses of worship, religious leaders, and people of faith to participate in marriage ceremonies as befits their beliefs. Two very different groups worked together to help draft an effective law.

The American story is found here in Florida with religious freedom. Our country, and specifically our state, continues to grow in population and diversity with a variety of faiths.   May we continue to grow as a safe-haven and healthy home for free people of faith.

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