On March 1, 2022, President Biden delivered his first State of the Union address. In a time of tremendous uncertainty, President Biden began by expressing strong opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Interfaith Alliance believes democracy is the foundation for a vibrant, diverse society – both at home and abroad. Our thoughts are with the displaced people of Ukraine as we continue to work domestically to promote policies that protect both religion and democracy.
The State of the Union provided an opportunity for the president to present his plans to meet the challenges of the current moment. It also provided an opportunity to see how the administration will approach issues of religious freedom in the year ahead.
A New Era for COVID-19
Two years have passed since the coronavirus began spreading through our communities. Throughout the course of the pandemic, millions of Americans have struggled to make ends meet, to care for loved ones, to access healthcare, and to draw strength from one another. But thanks to public health safety measures such as masking and vaccination, people across the country are starting to remove their masks and return to a more normal way of life. In his speech, President Biden reiterated what public health experts have been saying: vaccination is the most effective tool to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Times of crisis demand that all community leaders—religious, secular, and governmental—work together to find solutions. That is why Interfaith Alliance has continued to advocate for public health measures guided by expertise and compassion. As a member of the COVID Community Corps, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we joined with groups across the country to encourage communities to get vaccinated. We also offered written testimony on the overwhelming support for COVID-19 vaccination among people of faith.
While we’ve come a long way, we still have a long way to go to combat the spread of COVID-19. During the State of the Union address, President Biden announced the “test to treat” initiative which would allow Americans to get tested at a pharmacy and, if they test positive, receive antiviral medication at no cost. In times of crisis, it is the most vulnerable committees that are most at risk. By eliminating economic barriers to treatment and increasing access to testing, it is our hope that the “test to treat” initiative will provide essential treatment to those in need. As we move into the next phase of this crisis, It is our hope that the Biden administration’s policies will continue to be guided by public health experts and rooted in justice.
Voting Rights for All
For democracy to work for all of us, it must include all of us. To protect voting rights for all, Interfaith Alliance joins President Biden in urging the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Voting is one of the most direct ways we can impact the moral arc of our nation. But instead of ensuring every voter can access the ballot box, the Religious Right and their allies are working to undermine voter protections for those who don’t subscribe to their belief system, often using religious justifications.
Our elected officials pledge to serve Americans of all faiths and none, not just those with who share their beliefs. Passing much-needed voting rights legislation will strengthen our democracy – now and for the future.
Reproductive Freedom is Religious Freedom
In his address, President Biden called for the protection of access to reproductive healthcare. For nearly three decades, Interfaith Alliance has led the fight for an inclusive vision of religious freedom that protects people of all faiths and none. Our commitment to this basic right demands that we speak out against threats to religious freedom, no matter the circumstance.
That is why Interfaith Alliance joined over 130 faith-based and civil rights organizations in calling on the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) into law. The Women’s Health Protection Act would ensure that each person can make decisions about abortion led by their own circumstances, faith, or beliefs. It would also protect the religious freedom of individual health care providers seeking to administer quality care to their patients and enable providers to deliver abortion services free from burdensome restrictions designed to impede access rather than improve patient health.
Various religious traditions approach matters of healthcare differently and people of all faiths and none seek comprehensive reproductive services, including abortion, every year. As a matter of religious freedom, we urge the Biden administration to ensure all people can access healthcare consistent with their beliefs and needs.
Affirming Religious Freedom and LGBTQ+ Equality
To protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people, President Biden called on the Senate to pass the Equality Act – a legislative priority of Interfaith Alliance. He acknowledged the “onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families,” and expressed solidarity with transgender youth who stand to suffer the most.
At a time when transgender Americans are being targeted by state legislatures, it is more important than ever that the Senate passes the Equality Act. This bill ensures that LGBTQ+ people, including religious and non-religiously affiliated people, enjoy the same freedoms under the law as their neighbors. It also strengthens existing civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion by making sure these laws address contemporary challenges.
Every person has inherent dignity and worth, deserving equal treatment under the law. But a small group of religious conservatives is working to distort the meaning of religious freedom to include the right to discriminate against those who identify or believe differently than they do. This is a radical departure from the established meaning of the First Amendment – and one that continues to cause harm in the name of faith.
Religious freedom and quality and complementary, not contradictory, values. We join President Biden in urging the Senate to pass the Equality Act and protect the rights of all Americans.
The Biden-Harris administration has made progress on its agenda to strengthen civil and human rights. But as we look to the coming year, more must be done to protect religious freedom and democracy. We hope that President Biden will be guided by a view of religious freedom that is forward-thinking and celebrates Americans of all beliefs and identities.
Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s efforts to protect true religious freedom.