The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, 1982:
Article 36. Religious freedom
Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.
No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.
And yet, we know how freedom of religion plays out in Communist China. According to a 2010 US State Department report:
The Department of State, the U.S. embassy in Beijing, and the U.S. consulates general … consistently urged the government to expand the scope of religious freedom in keeping with the rights codified in the constitution and internationally recognized norms…
The constitution protects religious freedom for all citizens but, in practice, the government generally enforced laws, administrative orders, and other policies that restrict religious freedom. Religious groups were vulnerable to action by local officials who often regulate through administrative orders.
The Constitution of the USSR, Article 52:
Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda.
We know the reality of religious freedom in the Soviet Union, though, don’t we? In fact, we even held Congressional hearings (find transcripts here) addressing religious persecution in the USSR, and we heard testimony such as this:
Religious groups do not have the status of independent public organizations under Soviet law…The law is structured to prevent the clergy or hierarchy from exercising effective control over church affairs. At the same time, it allows state officials to manipulate church activities and policies…
It is in this context that the Soviet attitude toward religion can be readily understood. To the extent to which religion can serve the ruling class it will be used. To the extent to which it interferes with the objectives of the ruling class it will be suppressed. In today’s Soviet Union these persons (the common people) may engage in religious observance as long as that is done in a place authorized by the government, at a time authorized by the government, and in a format authorized by the government.
The Constitution of the United States, Amendment 1:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
So how did we, the great bastion of freedom, the “shining city on a hill,” get to this point:
The Department of Health and Human Services’ new rule requires almost all employers to provide insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacient drugs. Its religious exemption will not cover most Catholic institutions like health systems, universities, and charities.
The announcement prompted a strong outcry from religious schools, hospitals and charitable organizations, as well as Catholic individuals running secular businesses, who say that the requirement would force them to violate their religious beliefs.
However, despite the storm of protest, the Obama administration has refused to broaden the exemption to the mandate.