Posts Tagged ‘Religious Liberty’

A Bleak Outlook for Religious Liberty?

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

For the past few years, disputes over religious liberty has been very prominent parts of the American legal and political agenda. No observer of the state of religion in our nation can fail to be struck by the series of difficult and contentious controversies. The HHS mandate and the redefinition of marriage are just the most recent examples that have brought the conflict into stark view.

This conflict has attracted a great deal of attention from legal and political scholars.  In my view, no book does a better job of explaining its background and likely future course than the recent sobering work by Steven Smith, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom. Prof. Smith is one of the leading scholars of religious liberty, which might scare people off from this book. But his writing is remarkably accessible to non-experts, and anyone with a basic knowledge of American history would find it a fascinating and compelling read.

The basic thesis of the book is to contrast what Prof. Smith calls the “standard story” of American religious liberty, which is generally accepted and taught in academia, with a “revised story” that he proposes as a better explanation for where we’ve come from and where we’re going.

The “standard story”, in essence:

tells how, under the influence of the Enlightenment, the American founders broke away from the intolerance and dogmatism of centuries of Christendom and courageously set out on a radical new experiment in religious liberty. More specifically, the founders adopted a Constitution that committed the nation to the separation of religion from government and thus to secular governance that would be neutral toward religion.  These commitments were not immediately realized… Even now the achievement is under threat… mainly from religious conservatives…

This basic description of the “standard story” should be familiar to all, since it is reflected in Supreme Court decisions and the general public debate about the role of religion in our society.  It is the story that I learned in law school, and, I imagine, that is taught in every high school and college history and political science class.  It is the story of the alleged “wall of separation” that keeps push religious groups and ideas out of the public square.  It is the reason that our courts and legislatures increasingly find little reason to accommodate or protect unpopular religious beliefs and practices.  Prof. Smith says that the general acceptance of the “standard story” has reached such a point that nobody feels a need to explain or defend it.  Instead, it has become one of those things of which people say, “as we all know…”

According to Prof. Smith, the problem with the “standard story” is that it is actually false in many significant respects.  Instead, he proposes a “revised story” that better explains the history of American religious liberty in key ways:

  • American religious freedom is mostly a retrieval and consolidation of Christian themes (with some pagan principles mixed in), particularly libertas ecclesiae (freedom of the church), and freedom of the “inner church” of conscience.
  • The First Amendment religious clause did nothing radical or dramatically new, but instead re-stated principles that were uncontroversial at the time — a limitation on the jurisdiction of Congress relating to Churches and religion.
  • The first century and a half of our history were a “golden age of American religious freedom”.  It was not a time in which the Republic failed to live up to the ideals of the First Amendment, but instead  those ideals were allowed to grow and work out through the democratic process.  Prof. Smith proposes that this was the time of the “American settlement”, which rested on the separation of church from state (but not a strict exclusion of religion from government) and freedom of conscience, together with “open contestation” about what that meant in practice.
  • The modern Supreme Court, far from restoring the original ideals of the First Amendment, wrongly rejected the American settlement and instead declared that secularism is the controlling principle of constitutional law.  This brought an end to the open discussion and debate about our differences, and sought (usually inconsistently and incoherently) to impose hard rules to limit the role of religion in law and government.
  • The result is that religious freedom is in jeopardy, particularly when it comes into conflict with the modern ideologies of egalitarianism and sexual liberation.
  • In the end, Prof. Smith is pessimistic about the future of religious freedom in America, and he believes that life in our nation will suffer as a result.    Given all that we have seen in recent years, it is difficult to disagree with him.  One thinks of the intransigent refusal of legislatures to grant sufficient conscience clause exemptions from laws redefining marriage, or expanding availability of contraception or abortion.  Or we can cite the Administration’s denial of the right of religious organizations to choose their own ministers, according to the dictates of their faith.  And there is always the rhetorical tactic of certain politicians to brand religious believers as “extremists” who are unwelcome in their own home states. Or the tendency of judicial opinions to brand religious beliefs on marriage as irrational hatred or bigotry.

    This book is an important contribution to the ongoing debate over the role of religion in contemporary society. It provides a much-needed balance to the “standard story”, which has dominated the public discussion and the law-making process. It is essential that legal professionals, policy makers, and engaged citizens understand the true history of religious liberty.

    Prof. Smith reminds us all that religious liberty is very fragile, but it is very important to a healthy American society. Such a fundamental freedom, deeply rooted in American and Western history, cannot be so lightly thrown away, or forced to depend on narrow majorities of the Supreme Court. In particular, he warns us that “states that fail to protect religious freedom usually trample on other freedoms as well”.

    The Enemies of Religious Freedom Declare Themselves

    Saturday, July 12th, 2014

    There have been many results from the Supreme Court’s religious freedom ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case.  One is that we can more readily identify many people who either lack fundamental reading comprehension skills or are subject to such ideological blindness that they egregiously mis-characterize what the case actually held.

    Perhaps most important, though, is that we can now see very clearly who the enemies of religious freedom are — and we can see that they are heavily represented in the Democratic Party delegations in Congress.

    This can be seen very plainly from new bills introduced in both the House and the Senate (S.2578 and H.R.5051), reportedly in consultation with the Administration.  These bills purport to be a way of overturning the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood decision, and forcing for-profit businesses to comply with the HHS mandate to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.

    But they go much, much further than that.  In fact, they directly and seriously endanger the religious freedom of every church and religious non-profit, and any other organization that is operated by faith-based persons who don’t want to cooperate with evil.  This is a proposal of “startling breadth” (to quote Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood), and astonishing audacity.

    As with every bit of legislation the devil (literally) is in the details.  So let’s break down the actual language of the bill, and explain what it means.  Here is what the House version of the bill says (in italics), with my analysis to follow:

    (a) In General — An employer that establishes or maintains a group health plan for its employees (and any covered dependents of such employees) shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service with respect to such employees (or dependents) where the coverage of such item or service is required under any provision of Federal law or the regulations promulgated thereunder.

    The key word here is “employer”.  Nowhere in the bill does it define that word, so it is an outright lie to claim that the bill is limited to overturning the Supreme Court’s decision, which was limited to family-owned corporations.  This bill would instead reach every single employer in the United States that has an employee health plan — individual business owners, churches, schools.  Nobody would be exempted.

    It would also cover any health care “item or service” required to be covered by federal law or regulation — which is so broad as to potentially include any number of evils our federal government might choose, such as abortion, contraception, IVF, sex-change operations, and euthanasia drugs.

    The significance of this becomes even more clear when we look at another section of the bill:

    (b) Application – Subsection (a) shall apply notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, including [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act].

    This would give employers essentially no defense to any law passed by Congress or imposed by executive fiat that would substantially burden their faith by requiring them to cooperate with evil.  In other words, people of faith would be reduced to second-class citizen status.  This echoes infamous prior court decisions, as if the bill’s sponsors thought that religious employers “had no rights which the [government] was bound to respect” (to quote the Dred Scott decision], or as if they were not “recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense” (to quote Roe v. Wade).

    It gets even worse — here’s where the real evil lies:

    (c) Regulations — The regulations [relating to the current HHS mandate] shall apply with respect to this section.  The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury may modify such regulations consistent with the purpose and findings of this Act.

    In other words, the government shall have carte blanche to change the HHS mandate at a whim, or to impose any other mandate they wish.  So there is no limit to what can be done by a future administration with even more commitment to the Cult of Moloch (i.e., the Planned Parenthood, pro-death agenda) than the current regime.  Nothing would stop them from removing the current HHS mandate exemption for churches and “accommodation” for religious non-profits, and enact regulations that would require coverage for abortion, euthanasia, you name it — and there would be no defense under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

    If there were any further question about the fragility of religious freedom in America today, this bill removes any doubt.  The sponsors of this wicked bill have openly declared themselves to be enemies of religious freedom.

    Here is a list of the House sponsors — 142 as of the date this is posted, all of them Democrats.  Here are the Senate sponsors — 42 of them, all Democrats, including the original sponsor of RFRA, our own Senator Charles Schumer. If your representative is on the list, contact them right away.

    Nelson Mandela once said “I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom.”  Ask your representative why they don’t agree, and remember well the answer, when they come asking for your vote.

    Getting Past the Hysteria

    Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

    The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case has certainly been the cause of much controversy. This is natural, and to be expected, since it touches upon so many key issues in the so-called “culture war”, and it was both a hotly contested and much anticipated decision.

    But much of the reaction to the Court’s decision has been, well, a bit unhinged. Some have claimed that the Court was casting women back into virtual slavery. One legal commentator for a major newspaper stated openly — and bizarrely — that the reason for the Court’s majority ruling was simply that they lacked a uterus.  Right.

    Why all the hysteria?

    I think much of it is a result of the nature of the controversy itself — one that goes to the heart of conflicting visions of who we are.

    One of the key issues underlying this case is the role of women in society, and how that is to be assured. Everyone agrees that women should be a full and equal participants in society, free from unfair treatment. But we are in a pluralistic society, and there are many views on how that is to be accomplished, which necessarily involves differing views on the questions of fertility, sexuality, human life.

    Many women and couples consider controlling their fertility to be a core value, and have organized their lives around it. They believe that easy, low-cost access to contraceptives is essential to their lives.  They view anything that works against that value, and, indeed, anything that casts doubts upon it or appears to disagree with it, as a direct attack on their self-definition and identity.

    We disagree with that value. But, in our pluralistic society, it is a reality that we must recognize.  The fact is that those views have a place at the table in the public discussion.

    But pluralism is a two-way street. As Catholics, we have a different view of sexuality, fertility, and human life.  Our values are based on our faith, reason, and a particular understanding of the nature of the human person. We believe that fertility is a gift, not an “unwanted physical condition”. It’s a blessing given to us by God, inherent in human nature as male and female, and not a curse. To deny this is to deny an essential part of who we are, and to set us at war with ourselves.  As a result, we believe that the “contraceptive mentality” is bad for individuals, relationships, and society.  We are convinced (largely from our own failings and hard-earned experience) that the virtue of chastity is a beautiful, beneficial way for people to live and love.

    We also believe in the sanctity of human life, from the first moment of conception. It is a scientific fact, not a matter of religious belief, that at the moment of conception a new, individual, unrepeatable human being comes into existence. We also believe, based both on faith and reason, that it is a grave injustice to deliberately end the life of any innocent human being, and is a sad failure in our duty to love one another.

    We have also organized our lives around these values, which are central to our religious faith.  It’s not just something that we do on Sunday morning, or in the privacy of our homes.  It’s essential to our self-worth and identity, and it affects all aspects of our lives.

    We understand that many people disagree with us — just as we disagree with them.   But, again, in our pluralistic society, it is a reality that others must recognize.  The fact is that our views have a place at the table in the public discussion.  In the end, people should certainly be free to make their own decisions about fertility and sexuality and the meaning of their lives – but so should religious people.

    The American way is to guarantee the freedom, equality and autonomy of everyone, including religious people, to live lives of integrity, in keeping with their core values.   We have long recognized that.  Our laws are full of religious accommodations, like the exemption from the draft for Quakers, and the freedom from saying the Pledge of Allegiance for Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This is a matter of basic respect, civility, and just plain good manners. 

    The bottom line is that there is a serious conflict of values going on here, one that is difficult, if not impossible, to resolve definitively.  There’s no easy answer, no magic bullet, that will solve all the disputes and make everyone happy.  And “winner take all” is a terrible way to conduct politics — some people will triumph, but it also means that many of our neighbors will be “losers”.   That’s no way to have a healthy community.

    People naturally respond emotionally, even hysterically, when they’re scared that their way of life and values are threatened.  Even though we won this particular case, we’re scared too — our religious freedom is very fragile right now.

    So maybe it would be a good idea to turn the volume down a bit, recognize the raw feelings on all sides, and try to find a way that we can preserve as much as possible of everyone’s values, while preserving a sense of unity, solidarity, and mutual love.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.