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Beltway Buzz

Defending Religious Liberty

It's a concern among many religious conservatives: the trampling on of religious liberty here in the United States. So much so that a spate of laws are springing up across the country to protect the fundamental right to freedom of religious expression.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is set to sign a bill designed to protect religious freedom in the Magnolia State passed by the legislature earlier this week. Similar bills have sparked controversy elsewhere. (Think Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer's ultimate and dramatic veto late February.)

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving Hobby Lobby stores and its challenge to the contraception mandate in Pres. Obama's signature health care law, Obamacare. Critics decry the mandate as an assault against religious liberty.

Such was the theme of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's recent speech at Liberty University.

He used the contraception mandate and the IRS's targeting of conservative non-profit groups as examples of the current erosion of religious liberty.

"These are troubled times. And religious liberty - the very first liberty in the bill of rights, the very first protection we have - has never been more imperiled than it is right now," Cruz said.

The potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate challenged the students to boldly fight for their fundamental freedoms.

"As believers, we are called to action," he implored. "Not to sitting quietly and hiding our faith under a bushel, but to stand and speak no matter what the consequence."

** Click here to watch Sen. Cruz's entire speech **

Cruz took the opportunity to cite examples of his own stand to defend religious liberty when he served as Texas's solicitor general.

While others out there might disagree with the premise, it should be more than clear that this is a very real and important issue among religious conservatives, particularly Evangelical Christians.

Take, for example, the case of Robin Frazier. She's a local commissioner in Carroll County, Md., and is at the center of a conflict that could land her in jail.

Frazier found herself on the receiving end of a court-ordered injunction that forbade the commission's opening prayers to include references to any deities linked to specific religions.

Frazier had been singled out for prayers in which she invoked the name of Jesus.

One day after the injunction, she wouldn't back down, declaring that she was willing to go to jail over her right to pray.

"This is an infringement on my First Amendment rights of free speech, and I think it is a wrong ruling," she said before the commission meeting.

However, instead of offering her own prayer, she recited one found in George Washington's personal prayer journal, saying "Let thy blessings guide this day and forever, through Jesus Christ."

It's the Beltway Buzz's position that America has taken a major detour (or perhaps a U-turn), if a prayer from one of America's preeminent founding fathers isn't seen as acceptable today.

However Frazier's case plays out will be a pretty good indication of whether there really is a war against religious liberty.

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