Does Government have a Compelling Interest in Controlling Population Growth?

The creation story in the Bible includes God’s first commandment to human beings: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28 NIV) The implication of the commandment is that babies are blessings. Loving parents and the patter of many little feet in a family is a good thing, according to this rule, God’s first instruction to Adam and Eve.

After God later tries to destroy by flood the humankind that has chosen evil instead of good, he regrets doing so and decides never to do it again. He wants the earth to be full of people, even if they are headstrong and easily lured into bad choices by Satan. After Noah has come out of the ark with his family and a large assortment of animals, God repeats his first commandment, saying “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1 NIV) God, who loves people, wants lots of them to live in the world he has created for their joy.

The psalmist had a similar inspired thought when he wrote, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5 NIV) The Bible is full of stories centered on yearning for children and the joy of filling up a home with them. The most beautiful story in the world is the story of the birth of a child whose arrival was heralded by angels, but a birth story need not be filled with angels, shepherds and wise men in order for it to be filled with joy.

Why, then, the worldwide outcry that the world is overpopulated? The earth is far from being “filled” with people. What is the problem? Why does the UN have annual conferences around the theme of population control by means of contraception and abortion on demand? Why do so many politicians feel that it is politically correct to support abortion on demand? Why are the parents of large families treated as pariahs in some circles simply because they enjoy their children? When did the blessing of children become a curse that needs to be limited if not eliminated?

These questions are important. There is huge social and political pressure to remove any possibility of a woman giving birth to an “unplanned” baby. All this emphasis on “planning” opens the door to planning by someone other than a pregnant woman. It is so important that the US government is prepared to dive even deeper into financial deficits in order to assure that no woman need pay for birth control and that every woman be able to abort an unplanned baby as easily as she might discard last year’s sunglasses. The UN is in complete agreement with this principle. It is busy even now crafting a new statement of human rights that includes the right to avoid having children.

This imperative is having some effect. US population growth is slowing. European population growth is stalled. Apparently the UN wants the same thing to happen in Africa. The Chinese government has been doing its part for decades. Why do citizens permit governments to tell them when they may have children and how many? What makes citizens willing to suppress the birth of babies? How did the choice to have children become entangled with the power and responsibility of government?

These questions are at the root of the case now pending in the Supreme Court. Two companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, will have the opportunity in March to address the Supreme Court on this very subject. It comes to a head over the fact that the owners of both companies live by principles that are rooted in their religious convictions. Those principles proscribe the destruction of human beings, even if the human is only one fertilized cell. Because they believe that human life is God’s gift which human beings must protect at all costs, they cannot comply with the government requirement to pay for health insurance coverage that gives free contraceptives and abortifacient drugs to their employees.

A major point in the arguments will be whether the government has a compelling interest that is served most appropriately by forcing these business owners to act against their own consciences. It all really comes down to the ugly question in the early paragraphs of this post: Why do citizens permit governments to tell them when they may have children and how many? What makes citizens willing to suppress the birth of babies? The only compelling interest the government could have in bulldozing people of faith and their principles over contraceptives and abortion is population control.

The government may have some political idea that limiting the population is in its interest, but neither the goal itself nor the objective of achieving a precedent that puts the interests of government ahead of the convictions of people of faith is consistent with the Constitution’s limitations on the power of the federal government.

There are plenty of political spokespersons who will claim that these employers want to take charge of the lives of their employees. That is a ridiculous charge, because the employers do not now attempt to prevent their employees from obtaining whatever contraceptives or abortifacient drugs they want, and the employers do not intend to attempt to interfere with the private choices of their employees in the future. Contraceptives and abortifacient drugs are readily available today to any woman who wants them, and those who cannot afford them can easily find services to help them. The issue here is whether the government has the right to tell an employer that the employer must act against conscience.

The root argument of this case has nothing to do with abortion or contraceptives. The root argument is whether a government has the right to force anyone to act against conscience. The ancient Roman government had the same mindset as many members of the current federal administration. In the Roman Empire of the first century AD (I still like AD more than CE) the emperor expected people to worship him as an act of citizenship. A good citizen worshiped the emperor. Only a traitor refused. This same attitude is being displayed by the US government. Worship is not the word the present government uses; it simply demands submission.

In the first century AD Christians suffered arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution rather than worship the emperor. The book of Revelation was written for those Christians. That book is replete with reminders of the rewards God has in store for Christians who hold on to their testimony and refuse to disobey God in order to serve the government. Christians who believe that the Bible is their guide for faith and life understand that the message of Revelation applies every time any government tries to stand in the place of God, every time a government asks any citizen to choose whether he will serve God or human government. Christians in Nazi Germany chose to obey God rather than government to protect Jews. Christians in Iran today choose to obey God rather than their government, which says that being a Christian is a threat to Iran’s national security. The same sort of choice is facing some Christians in the USA.

The title of this post asks about a compelling need for government control of population growth, but the real point of this post is that God asks every human being to put him first. The government may have all kinds of agendas, and Christians who want to be good citizens always also want good government. Nevertheless, as the founders of the USA knew very well, it is possible for government to overstep the bounds God has placed on its role in society. When that happens, Christians cannot and will not comply with government mandates.

Do we need the government to control population growth? The answer is no. Some Christians may dispute the theological interpretation which puts other Christians at odds with the government, but every Christian holds dear the principle that God has made him a priest to understand and obey God’s teaching as well as he understands it. Each believer is responsible before God for the choices of his own conscience. Every believer knows that he cannot justify disobeying God on any point by accusing the government of forcing the disobedience. The authors of the US Constitution wanted the US government to respect each person’s conscience before God, and that is why the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The real question: is there any time when the government has a right to demand that someone act against his conscience to serve the government? The Bible and the US Constitution alike say emphatically NO.

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