Archive for the ‘Religious Liberty’ Category

Resistance to the Dictatorship of Relativism

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Pope Benedict famously warned about the impending dangers of a “dictatorship of relativism” — a state where truth is denied, morality is defined by subjective desires, authentic tolerance is extinguished, and political power is used to force compliance with the whims of the day.

Well, we certainly have enough relativism in our culture, and the slide to dictatorship seems to be accelerating.

Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen more and more Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Courts, er, I mean federal judges, overruling the democratic decisions of legislatures and the people, and redefining marriage.  We’ve seen elected officials foreswearing their oaths of office to uphold the laws, and refusing to defend the authentic definition of marriage.  We’ve seen hysterical and mendacious accounts of proposed religious liberty legislation, even to the point where defenders of the free exercise of religion are compared to Jim Crow racists.  Intolerance from the forces of “tolerance” is becoming the language of the day.

We need to be clear about what is at the heart of this situation, and what our response must be.  There are several fundamental truths that are being denied by our current culture:

  • Being male and female is an inherent aspect of the human person, they are not arbitrary and irrational concepts.
  • Marriage is ordained by God and by nature to unite a man and woman in a life-long bond that benefits them as persons, and that is the proper context for sexual relations and the procreation and raising of children.
  • A homosexual inclination is contrary to the true meaning and purpose of human sexuality as created by God and enshrined in human nature.
  • Homosexual conduct is always contrary to the will of God and the nature of the human person.
  • Persons with a  homosexual inclination must be treated with full human dignity and cannot be treated with unjust discrimination;  however, their unions cannot be recognized as equivalent to marriage, and their sexual activity cannot be approved.
  • Every human person has the right and obligation to follow their conscience, even when it disagrees with human laws.
  • The budding “dictatorship of relativism” is becoming more and more intolerant of these truths, and will gradually subject those who hold them to criticism, ostracism, and legal penalties.

    In the face of this, we must be ready to resist.

    The starting place for resistance is to recall several key points, most eloquently explained in Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless:

  • Resistance is a duty of all citizens when faced by injustice.  It is not an “extra-credit” activity.
  • It must be always be grounded in the truth.  It makes no compromise with lies, and always seeks to expose them.
  • It must always be pursued with love and respect.  It is not an excuse for violence and lawlessness.
  • The goal is conversion of heart on the part of those who support injustice, not overbearing their will with power.  It’s message always is “come, join us”, and never “we will force you to agree”.
  • The most important tactic is our willingness to testify to the truth by our words and our actions, and our refusal to cooperate with injustice and lies.
  • Underlying this duty of resistance is an important understanding of the freedom of conscience, and my duty of obedience to the truth rather than to mere human laws.  The government may attempt to coerce my external cooperation with injustice by imposing penalties, fines, and so on.  But no government, and no law, can force me to accept a lie as the truth.

    We cannot have any illusions.  Many, if not most of our family and friends will conform, and will consider us to be strange.  We may be estranged from loved ones.  It will be painful.

    Yes, we will be persecuted — indeed, it has already begun.  It will be a soft persecution, nothing like the hardship  suffered by our brethren in countries like Syria.  Nonetheless,  we will feel the steel fist under the velvet glove.

    Resist.  The power of truth and love cannot be extinguished.

    The Little Sisters of the Poor and the HHS Mandate

    Monday, January 13th, 2014

    [Last week, I was invited to participate in an online debate at U.S. News and World Report, about the lawsuit brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor against the HHS Mandate.  Here is what I contributed.]

    The Little Sisters of the Poor have dedicated their lives to giving witness to their Catholic faith by providing nursing home care for elderly needy people.   They do beautiful work, and are extraordinarily dedicated. You would think our society would cherish this mission and help it succeed.

    Instead, the Administration is forcing the Sisters into a terrible “Sophie’s choice” — violate their faith, or be forced out of business.  The issue is the “HHS Mandate” — the requirement that all employer health insurance policies include contraceptives (including “emergency contraception”, which can cause early abortions) and sterilization.  Catholics, and many others, object to this because those services directly contradict our belief in the sanctity of human life and sexuality.

    The Administration has created a narrow exemption for churches, but not for religious non-profit organizations like the Sisters’ nursing homes.  The best the Administration offers is an “accommodation”.  But to qualify, the Sisters have to file a “permission slip” directing their insurance company  to provide the offensive coverage.

    This is what the Sisters, and other religious organizations, can’t accept.  Filing that “permission slip” means they would be directly cooperating in something forbidden by their faith.  The government doesn’t have the right to force anyone to do that.

    Would anyone think it is acceptable for the government to force the Sisters to sign a form that gives explicit permission for someone to come into their nursing homes to euthanize their patients?  Of course not  — it would be an unthinkable violation of their religious freedom.  And remember, the Sisters are not imposing their beliefs on anyone — their employees, who freely chose to work for them, will still be free to obtain those services elsewhere.   Only the Sisters are being forced to violate their beliefs.

    This is not an abstract legal controversy — the real-world stakes are very high.  For standing up for their faith, the Sisters are facing fines of $100 per day per employee as of January 1.  They employ hundreds of people at their thirty nursing homes.  So do the math — they are looking at fines of over $50 million per year, which would put them out of business.

    The real victims of that would be the poor elderly people the Sisters serve, who would lose such wonderful care.  That would defeat the good intentions of the Affordable Care Act — ensuring health care for all, especially the most vulnerable.  That’s surely not in the public interest.

    Yet the Administration won’t even agree to delay the fines so the Sisters can argue their case on appeal — even though they’re now letting businesses drop health insurance for their employees completely, with no fine at all.   This isn’t public policy, it’s a coercive ideology that considers contraception, sterilization and abortion to be “sacred ground”, and that will brook no dissent from people of faith.

    All of society is enriched when religious groups serve needy people.  Only ideology is served by the Administration’s intolerance against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

    How Much Times Have Changed for Religious Liberty

    Thursday, January 9th, 2014

    Every so often, it’s useful to review some history, and see if we can learn any lessons.

    In 1802, the United States obtained from France what is now the State of Louisiana as part of the famous Louisiana Purchase.  At that time, there was a group of Ursuline Sisters in Louisiana, educating poor girls at a school that still exists to this present day.  They were worried about whether they would be able to continue to own property and carry out their charitable work, once they became part of the United States.  So they wrote to President Thomas Jefferson, seeking assurances about their religious freedom.

    President Jefferson has an undeserved reputation as an enemy of religion, based largely on a misunderstanding of the meaning of his position that the Constitution created a “wall of separation” between church and state.  But he gave no evidence of any hostility or indifference to religion in his response to the Ursulines.  Instead, he wrote:

    I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana. The principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it’s own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. Whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and it’s furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up it’s younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.  I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship & respect.

    President Jefferson clearly recognized the fundamental freedom of people to live according to their religious beliefs.  After all, he was the author of the famous Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.  He understood that government had no business interfering in the practice of religion, or in coercing the consciences of believers.  In fact, he recognized the benefit to society from the good works of religious individuals and institutions.

    Sad to say, it is difficult to imagine the incumbent President writing a similar letter to the present-day Little Sisters of the Poor.  Times have indeed changed.

    The HHS Mandate — Where We Stand, In Plain Language

    Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

    The HHS Mandate continues to make news, so I thought it would be worthwhile to give a quick, plain-language overview of where things stand, and what’s at stake.

    What is the “HHS Mandate”?

    The “HHS mandate” comes from a provision in the “Affordable Care Act” (the “ACA”, which is typically being called “Obamacare”) that requires all employers who offer health insurance to include coverage for “preventive services”.   The term “preventive services” has been defined by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to include contraceptive drugs and devices (including “emergency contraception”, which causes early abortions) and sterilization operations.

    The mandate went into effect as of January 1.  As of that day, religious non-profits were faced with a terrible dilemma — sacrifice their religious beliefs and obey, or face the consequences of non-compliance.

    What’s at stake if organizations don’t comply?

    If an employer’s health insurance plan does not provide the coverage required by the HHS Mandate, they are subject to a fine of $100 per day per employee.  An employer with 100 employees would be fined $10,000 every day, or $3.6 million per year.

    There are thousands of religious non-profits in this situation.   Take one small case — the Little Sisters of the Poor (whose case is much in the news these days), who employ hundreds of people at their thirty nursing homes.  They could face fines of over $50 million per year for non-compliance.  Obviously, that would put them and their nursing homes out of business.

    When you look at the even bigger picture, the numbers become staggering.  Catholic Charities reports that their affiliated agencies have over 70,000 employees nationwide.  If all of those agencies were non-compliant, they would risk a total of over $2.5 billion in fines every year.

    Isn’t there an exemption for religious employers?

    There are many exemptions from the entire ACA.  For example, members of religions that oppose insurance benefit programs (e.g., the Amish) do not have to comply with any part of the law.  Over the past few months, the Administration has granted new exemptions, waivers, and delays, due to the mess associated with the new health exchange websites, and all the other chaos involved in implementing such a complicated new law.  So there are lots of people who don’t have to comply with all or part of the ACA.

    As for the HHS Mandate itself, the Administration did give a very narrow exemption from the HHS Mandate for churches.  There is an “accommodation” for some religious non-profit organizations (e.g., Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals).  There is no exemption for for-profit companies.

    But there’s an important catch involved in the “accommodation” for religious non-profits.  They can only qualify if  they file a form that directs their insurance company  to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization.  This is not “just a form”.  Instead, it’s a “permission slip” — it is the key document that triggers insurance coverage for the offensive services.

    So, regardless of the Administration’s claim that they have “accommodated” religious non-profits, the reality is that faith-based organizations have to become directly involved in immoral behavior — or risk the ruinous fines outlined above.

    What’s going on in court?

    There are dozens of lawsuits across the country challenging the HHS Mandate, on the basis of religious liberty.  The cases rely on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a federal law called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”.  These cases are all working their way through the federal courts.

    A number of for-profit businesses have brought lawsuits against the HHS Mandate on the basis of their religious beliefs.  The Supreme Court has agreed to decide cases brought by two businesses (Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood).  There are a number of thorny legal issues involved in these cases, including whether corporations have religious liberty rights at all.  The issues will be hotly contested, and many people will file briefs on the case, including the US Bishops, who will support the companies’ position.  The Court will decide the cases by June.

    Many other cases have been brought by religious organizations, including the Archdiocese.   Twenty of these cases have been decided so far, and nineteen have resulted in victories — the courts have held that the “permission slip” form is a violation of their religious liberties.   The Government is appealing their losses, and the Supreme Court will have the final word.   But no decision is expected for at least a year.

    One case that has been in the news was brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  They lost in the lower court, but Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor has issued a “stay” — an order that puts the lower court’s decision on hold, so that the Sisters could appeal.  The government has opposed the “stay”, and a decision by the full Supreme Court will determine whether the Sisters will face tens of millions of dollars in fines while they appeal.  But no matter what the Court rules on the “stay”, the Sisters will still have to go back and fight out their case in the lower courts on the merits.

    So what can we do?

    Of course, the most important thing is to pray for the conversion of heart of the President and his Administration, and for the success of the lawsuits against the mandate.  There are lots of prayer resources at the U.S. Bishops’ website.

    We can also take action.  Please contact your Congressional representatives and urge them to support authentic conscience protection, and a full repeal of the mandate.  The quickest way to do that is through the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment’s Action Center.

    An Important Victory for Religious Freedom

    Monday, December 16th, 2013

    An important victory was won today for religious freedom.  In a well-reasoned decision, Judge Brian Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, issued a permanent injunction barring the enforcement of the HHS Mandate against Catholic agencies in the Archdiocese.

    This is not the final stroke of victory against this iniquitous and repressive mandate, as we might hope.  But as Winston Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

    The key element in Judge Cogan’s finding was his specific rejection of the Administration’s minimalistic approach to religious liberty.  The Administration continues to operate on the view that religion is a private matter. It apparently believes that any time a person or organization steps into the public square in any way, they leave their religious freedom behind, and can be compelled to conform their every action to secularist rules of behavior and thought.

    Judge Cogan rejected that view.  He rightly found that the HHS Mandate improperly requires church agencies to perform acts that are directly contrary to our Catholic faith — by forcing them to affirmatively endorse and facilitate access to abortion, contraception and sterilization, under penalty of ruinous fines.  The essential quote from the decision:

    [The plaintiffs] have demonstrated that the mandate, despite accommodation, compels them to perform acts that are contrary to their religion… there can be no doubt that the coercive pressure here is substantial…  and the Government has failed to show that the Mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling governmental interest.

    This is a very important point, and one that should be axiomatic to anyone who believes in ordered liberty.  If religious freedom means anything, it means that the government can’t force people to do things that they believe God has forbidden.  For people of faith, there is a hierarchy of authority, and it is unjust for the government to try to arrogate to itself the ultimate authority over people’s consciences.  Coercion on matters of conscience are a gross violation of human rights.

    Pope Francis has made this point forcefully in Evangelii Gaudium, saying

    “A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism.”  (255)

    This fundamental principle underlies Judge Cogan’s well-reasoned decision.  At some point, one hopes that the Administration will awaken, and recall that there are necessary limits on state power, if a nation, and its people, are to be truly free.

    A Crossroad for Religious Liberty

    Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

    It is becoming increasingly clear that we are reaching a critical point in America, where fundamental questions of religious liberty will be decided.  Decisions will be made by the courts over the next few months and years that will shape the freedom of religion in our nation.

    The Supreme Court has agreed to take two important cases.  Two private employers owned by people who take their Christian faith seriously are challenging the HHS mandate (which requires health insurance plans to cover contraception, including abortion-causing drugs and devices).  The particular legal issues are interesting — the scope of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and whether for-profit businesses have rights under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  At stake is the ability of religious people to give full expression to their faith, even when they are carrying out commercial activity.

    Other key cases are working their way through the courts.  A decision was just handed down by a federal district court in Pennsylvania, protecting the religious freedom of Catholic institutions that reject the HHS mandate.  This case is but one of many others filed by religious organizations seeking to vindicate their right to give witness to the Gospel, free of morally offensive government regulations.

    Even more important than these particular cases, though, is the underlying debate over the very nature of religious liberty.

    In each of these current court cases, the Administration has taken a very narrow and crabbed position on the scope of religious freedom.  They have essentially said that religious liberty extends to devotional and worship activities, and no further — that it is something exercised on Sunday morning, or in the privacy of our homes, but which must be put aside on Monday morning when people go out to work.  Despite a specific rebuke of this argument by the Supreme Court in 2011 (in the Hosanna Tabor case — see here and here), the Administration continues to try to limit our religious freedom to mere “freedom of worship”.

    There is a growing number of people who agree with the Administration — people who consider themselves “liberal” or “progressive”, but who really are radical secularists who see little or no value in religion in the public square, or who pooh-pooh our concerns about religious freedom.  This editorial from the Times is fairly typical of this point of view. I have experienced this attitude many times in public debates — most recently at a debate I participated in at NYU over the re-definition of marriage — where there was an assumption that religious beliefs were disqualified from even being considered as part of the discussion.

    This is unacceptable.  Our religious beliefs stem from the very core of our being, and are expressed by every aspect of our lives.  They cannot be confined to a narrow scope of the private sphere.  The Gospel is for every aspect of our lives, and we are on a sacred mission to spread it to all.  All of society benefits from the contribution of religious beliefs to the public debate and to the common good.

    We are reaching a critical moment in the debate.  It is timely, then, that we have Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, on the New Evangelization.  In this document, the Holy Father gets right to the heart of the our current debate over religious liberty:

    A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace. (255)

    Our nation is clearly in danger of moving into a time where religious belief is victimized by this “discrimination and authoritarianism”.   The freedom of all is threatened when the freedom of any is at risk.  We are at a crossroad.

    Any Chance for Reasonableness?

    Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

    There’s even more furor and confusion than usual in Washington, as the House, Senate and White House struggle over the passage of budget bills, raising the national debt limit, funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and government shut-downs.  But something important is being overlooked — the continuing threats to the conscience rights of individuals and institutions in the Affordable Care Act and the regulations that are implementing it (including the HHS contraception/abortifacient mandate).

    In a normal, functioning governmental system, important public policy measures are introduced as individual bills, public input is obtained through hearings, and the measure is openly debated by legislators.  Since we no longer appear to have such a system of government, important policy issues are tacked onto spending bills, and our government leaders rely on confrontational strategies and parliamentary gamesmanship to bend others to their will.

    Lost in all of this is that crucial constitutional and natural rights are being threatened, and legislative action is needed to provide necessary protection for those rights.

    One such proposal is to delay the implementation of the HHS mandate.  The Administration has already granted numerous waivers, delays, exemptions, and grace periods for various provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  What we would like to see is for Congress to vote to delay the implementation of the HHS mandate for one full year, which would give the Supreme Court time to decide some of the cases challenging the mandate.  In essence, all we are asking is that Congress put the controversy on hold, out of respect for the seriousness  of the constitutional rights at stake.

    The House has already passed a continuing budget resolution that included that provision, but the Senate has rejected it.  We hope that a more conciliatory, reasonable approach will prevail, and that this common-sense measure would be accepted.

    We also hope that genuine conscience protection legislation would be considered by Congress.  For example, the USCCB is advocating with Congress to include the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (which would provide broad protection for religious liberty among health care workers and institutions).   The bishops have also been pressing for legislation to address the specific conscience problems presented by the HHS mandate.

    The situation in Washington is extremely frustrating, and it is difficult to see a solution to the partisan gridlock.  All we are asking is for some breakthrough of reasonableness, so that precious liberties aren’t lost in the process.

    That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

    The Manhattan Declaration Challenges and Rallies Us

    Friday, September 27th, 2013

    On Wednesday evening, September 25, an amazing event was held on the campus of Columbia University, “The Manhattan Declaration Returns Home”.

    The Manhattan Declaration is the ecumenical statement of conscience by Christian leaders, dedicating themselves to defending life, marriage, and religious liberty.  It was signed in 2009 by numerous leading figures of every Christian denomination and church.   The Declaration has since been signed by over 550,000 other people, who have committed themselves to its core principles.  It is a vitally important rallying point for people of faith who are engaged in the struggle to defend and restore a true civilization of life and love in our nation.   If you haven’t signed it yet, I strongly encourage you to sign it right away.

    This event at Columbia was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese, Alliance Defending Freedom (who have been heroic leaders in their defense of the Declaration’s core principles), the New York State Knights of Columbus, and DeSales Media from our neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn (who livestreamed the event over the internet).  The event was a landmark, because it represented not only a return of the Declaration to the borough where it was signed, but because of the power of the presentations and the uplifting spirit that they gave the audience.

    The speakers were a powerhouse lineup of experts and activists: Eric Teetsel (the director of the Manhattan Declaration); Alan Sears (head of the Alliance Defending Freedom); Ryan Anderson (The Heritage Foundation, and co-author of the seminal book, What is Marriage?  Man and Woman: A Defense), Sherif Girgis (Ph.D. Candidate at Princeton University, J.D. Candidate at Yale University, and co-author of What is Marriage?); Marjorie Dannenfelser (Susan B. Anthony List), Eric Metaxas (Bestselling Author and Radio Commentator), and Jennifer Marshall (The Heritage Foundation).  The evening kicked off with an ecumenical prayer service featuring Cardinal Dolan, who got the program started off on just the right note of prayer and dedication to God’s mission among us.

    I served as the emcee of the event, and I made just one small point in my introduction.  In spite of the conditions of our society, and the challenges we face, people of faith remain convinced that it is our duty, our privilege, and our honor to bring God’s light into the public square, into the marketplace of ideas.  We believe that the eternal truths have something important to off our secularized world.  And we are certain that God’s light and truth will enrich the lives of every single human person, and society as a whole.

    “The Manhattan Declaration Returns Home” event was important on several levels.  It offered people an outstanding panel of speakers who are actively working to defend life, marriage, and religious liberty.  Their work and expertise offered a sobering view of where we are in America on these issues, but also hope and encouragement for the struggle ahead.  The event was also significant because of where it took place — Columbia University, which was founded as a religious school but now is completely secularized and largely inhospitable to Christian values.  Having this event, at this location, is a microcosm of the work people of faith are doing in the public square — bringing timeless principles of our faith to a society that has largely lost those values, and challenging them to recapture the truth and beauty that they are still yearning for in their hearts.

    This struggle is difficult, and the challenges are many.  The world is working very heard to discourage us, and to convince us that the battle is over, and lost.  But we know better.  As Ryan Anderson reminded us, and as the Manhattan Declaration proclaims, the battle is never lost as long as we have truth on our side.  Truth always wins in the end, over any alluring lie.

    What the Persecution Will Look Like

    Monday, August 26th, 2013

    For quite some time, the Church and our allies have been warning that there are grave threats to religious liberty, presented by such developments as the redefinition of marriage, the advance of “gender theory”, and the defensive entrenchment of the pro-abortion mindset.

    In response to our warnings, we have been widely ridiculed.  Elite academics, media pundits, and combox denizens pooh-pooh our concerns as mere sensationalist fantasies.  Interestingly, amongst the denials, you can frequently hear a subtle undertone, as if to say “of course your fears of religious persecution are ridiculous (but in any event you are bigots who deserve it because of the immemorial oppression by Christians against [insert your favored group here])”.

    Well, for those who have eyes unclouded by ideology, our concerns are becoming even more difficult to deny.  Some recent events give a good general picture of what the persecution will look like.

    Excluded from economic activity

    Last week, a decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of New Mexico that points the way that our courts will handle cases of religious liberty.  The case involved a photographer who declined to take pictures of a “commitment ceremony” for a lesbian couple (New Mexico does not recognize same-sex “marriage”, but this event was tantamount to a wedding).  Her reason was that participating in such an event would violate her Christian religious beliefs.  The lesbian couple then chose to sue the photographer for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

    The lower court, and ultimately the New Mexico Supreme Court found that the photographer had violated the state’s anti-discrimination statute, and levied a fine against her.  While the result is troublesome enough, the language in the concurring opinion is truly chilling to hear.  Having lectured at length about the Supreme Court’s decisions on civil rights cases, the concurring judges ended with this:

    All of which, I assume, is little comfort to the Huguenins, who now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering. It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.

    The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead… But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

    So we can now be compelled by law to compromise our most sacred religious beliefs, as the price of being American citizens.  The court’s message is clear — keep your religious beliefs behind closed doors, and don’t dare to try to live in accordance with them in the public square.

    In other words, conform or be cast out.

    Disqualified from public office

    A second example of the coming persecution happened recently in San Antonio, Texas.  A bill was introduced that would affect eligibility to serve in public office in that city.  The bill states, in part:

    No person shall be appointed to a position if the city council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability.

    This is another chilling development.  Apparently, all candidates for any kind of position with the city government will be required to pass a test to ensure that they have never uttered a statement that might be construed as “bias” by a bunch of local politicians.  So, for example, if you have ever expressed a faith-based belief about such issues as the immorality of homosexual behavior, opposing the re-definition of marriage, casting doubts upon the notion of “transgender rights”, or even on the evil of abortion, you might be declared ineligible to hold public office.

    In other words, conform or be cast out.

    The Return of the Penal Laws

    Those of Irish heritage will recall the infamous days of the Penal Laws, which systematically excluded Catholics from full participation in society — owning property, serving in the government, and certain professions were all banned for Catholics.  Some of these laws carried over into the United States in the colonial and post-revolutionary era.  Similar laws (like the Alien and Sedition Acts and the anti-Communist bills of the McCarthy era) have been passed at various times in our history to penalize unpopular opinions.  Yet all of these efforts to suppress dissent were eventually rejected as inconsistent with the American dedication to liberty.

    But our nation is now returning to that ugly path.  The way is now becoming clear to placing religious believers in an ideological ghetto, if they fail to adhere to the modern view of sexuality.  This will be done in gentle, seemingly-reasonable, gradual and incremental steps.  Courts and legislatures will claim that they are merely extending the reach of previous decisions, and executive agencies will say they are just applying the law as they interpret it.

    Sadly, many religious people will choose to conform, as the Israelites did during their captivity in Babylon.  But make no mistake, the remnant will feel the effects of the coming persecution.

    Yet Another HHS Mandate Fraud

    Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

    The Administration has once again announced yet another attempt to square a circle, and they have once again failed.  And so, we now have new regulations on the HHS mandate — the requirement that employer health insurance policies cover abortifacient drugs, sterilization, and contraception.

    The objections of the Church to this violation of our rights are well known, and were asserted yet again by Cardinal Dolan on behalf of the U.S. Bishops.

    The Administration and its allies, on the other hand, continue to assert that they have already satisfied all objections, and, in effect that religious people and organizations should just sit down, be quiet, and obey.

    Not so fast.  The new regulations — just like the old ones — are a fraud and a violation of fundamental rights.

    Consider the alleged “exemption” and “accommodation” for some religious employers.

    The “exemption” would certainly grant protection to many religious organizations, but nobody knows how many, or how few.  The key provision in the regulation refers to an obscure part of the Internal Revenue Code that is not exactly written in clear and self-evident prose.  Nobody knows how, in the end, the IRS will interpret and apply that provision.  Does anyone trust them to do so in an even-handed way?

    The “accommodation” is even more problematic.  Every religious non-profit that objects to the mandate knows that when they offer their staff health insurance, they will also be providing them the objectionable products and services.  It is true that they won’t have to list the offensive things in their plan booklet, but they know that they’re covered in any event — and that the employer will be paying for them.  As a moral matter, that’s really no different from directly and explicitly providing for the coverage in the insurance plan.

    The “accommodation” is basically asking religious non-profits to accept a lie and pretend that it is the truth.

    The new regulations offer no help whatsoever to for-profit businesses.  They will be coerced into providing, promoting, and paying for morally offensive things.  Nothing is changed for them in the fundamental injustice of the HHS mandate, and their many lawsuits against the mandate will go forward.

    The heart of the matter ultimately doesn’t depend on specifics of these very complex regulations.  We have a situation where the government is forcing people to cooperate in immoral activities, either directly or under a transparent fig leaf of lies.

    There is a core of liberty that is inherent in the nature of the human person, into which the government may not intrude without becoming a tyranny.  One such area is the natural right of individuals and institutions to be free from government coercion of their consciences.  One would have thought that this was made clear on July 4, 1776, and that the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials would serve as ample reminders of those principles.

    Apparently the lesson has been forgotten in our nation’s capital.