The Amish we see at the Little Rock Farmers Market every week, selling their baked goods and produce, are a perpetually pleasant, unargumentative group, but some of their faithmates in Ohio are of a different temperament, evidently.

There, a group of Amish men and women have physically attacked other members of their religion, chopping off religiously prescribed beards and long hair. Haled into civil court, the attackers say the victims weren't adequately adhering to the sect's rules. They further allege that civil authorities can't touch them, because theirs is a religious dispute, in which American laws do not apply and American courts may not interfere.

An elderly newspaperman remembers that almost the first story he covered as a young reporter involved a child who had died because his parents belonged to a sect that didn't believe in doctors and modern medicine. They too argued that because they were practicing their religion, the law couldn't touch them. The law felt otherwise; the law won.

Americans have religious liberty. The First Amendment gives us the right to follow any religion we choose, or none at all. But "religious liberty" does not allow us to trample on the rights of others, nor to be exempt from laws that our fellow Americans must obey.

Some religious leaders covet these privileges. The Roman Catholic hierarchy and allies from the Religious Right revile President Obama because his administration says that all Americans are entitled to access to birth control as a part of their health care, and that they may not be denied access because of the religious beliefs of others. It's Freedom of Religion in action.

Catholic bishops seek to circumvent this freedom, demanding that religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges be allowed to deny birth control coverage to all their employees, even those who aren't Catholic, even if insurance companies rather than the hospitals and colleges themselves pay for the insurance. The bishops also demand that Catholic owners of secular businesses be allowed to deny their workers contraceptive coverage: "If you work for me, you'll follow my religion. And by the way, my religion says you'll work 12 hours a day so forget about those wage and hour laws you may have heard about."

The religious bigots will claim that they're only after Obama. Religious freedom is their real target.


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