On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases combined for one hearing on the subject of religious liberty. The point of conflict in the case is whether two employers, both privately held corporations, may decline to cover specific medical services required by the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act. They both object to medical interventions that result in the death of a human embryo. At issue is the fact that their objection is rooted in convictions shaped by the teachings of their religion.
Every Christian needs to care about religious liberty. For that matter, every human being needs to care about religious liberty. Many of the people who fled to this continent in the 17th and 18th centuries came here because of religious persecution. That experience resulted in the protections embodied in the First Amendment to our Constitution. This protection has made this country the first choice of refugees from religious persecution around the world. People of many faiths are persecuted, not just Christians, and people of all faiths have good reason to hope that religious liberty in the USA will be preserved.
Because of history, it is highly disturbing for the US government to make it clear that it has no regard for religion or for the freedom of citizens to live by the teachings of their religion. The federal government’s argument is that when someone is operating a business, he or she does not have religious liberty. The government alleges that a person who operates a business is not a person with inalienable human rights. It is this attitude that brought the case popularly labeled “Hobby Lobby” to the Supreme Court. There are two employers, not just one, in the combined case, but many, many employers are trying to deal with the problem these employers face. The issues in this case affect many employers around the country. The decision in this case will, therefore, affect many employers and many more employees.
However, the significance of the case is much greater even than all the employers and employees who share the specific issues of this case. The precedents set by this decision will ripple through the fabric of US culture. The best way to see the potential impact of the case if it is settled in favor of the government is to look at the fears secular thinkers express about the possibility that it might be settled in favor of the employers. In an article at Center for American Progress, Joshua Field lists what he believes will be the negative consequences of a decision in favor of the employers. It is a sobering list that lays out the secular agenda already at work in the culture, an agenda that would result ultimately in locking religion inside church buildings.
What does Joshua Field fear? In the list below, Field’s points are presented, but his language has been lined through and reworded in the positive language of the benefits that might be enjoyed if the Supreme Court decides for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods.
Letting your boss into your bedroom.Employees will need to buy their own Plan B or Ella as guided by their own consciences.
Field’s heading is a prime example of the way secularists twist and snarl the language to make people angry. The thesis of this statement is that a decision for the employers forces employees to live by the religious tenets of the employer, like it or not. This allegation is, of course, not true. Even without the Affordable Care Act, the medications the employers decline to cover are readily available. A decision for the employers will not prevent the employees’ doctors from prescribing the meds, it will not prevent pharmacies from dispensing the meds, and it will not make fewer pharmacies available to provide the meds. It will not close down Planned Parenthood, where all these options can be obtained at little or no cost. A decision for the employers will not compel employees to do or not do anything.
The wording chosen by Field deliberately turns the whole concept of religious liberty on its head. It implies that to allow religious liberty for one person somehow removes liberty from another person.
A blueprint for codifying discrimination into law. The government will not be able to compel Christians to act against conscience in business transactions.
Secular thinkers fear an outcome in which, to quote Joshua Field, “the Supreme Court agrees with the plaintiffs in these cases that corporations aren’t just people but also people of faith.” This truly is the root of the case. Secularists have not recovered from the Citizens United decision in which corporations were ruled to be people with the right of free speech. A decision that says that corporations are people with the right to free exercise of religion would devastate the progressive agenda to compel people to act against conscience with regard to same-sex marriage and a host of related sex and gender issues. Secularists do not simply want to forbid religious people to have free exercise of religion; they want to compel action in direct conflict with religious action, and they want to compel speech that approves the action. They are right to fear a decision that concurs with the precedent of Citizens United, because it would pull the rug right out from under a great many projects of secular activism.
They choose the language of this statement with the deliberate intent to strike fear into the hearts of LGBTQ activists. They craft this statement to fool people who only see the word discrimination and immediately conclude that the speaker means the same thing the reader would mean by discrimination. Conscience-bound, respectful dissent and non-participation is not discrimination. Discrimination is mindless, heartless, hateful lack of respect for others. If people whose consciences are shaped by the teachings of their religion are compelled by government to act against their consciences, that would be worse than discrimination; that would be tyranny.
When a Christian baker or florist or photographer declines to participate in a same-sex marriage, the couple has the freedom to patronize a business who will gladly provide the goods and services. The same-sex couple is no worse off than if the baker had that date already filled, or the florist did not have the skill to do the requested arrangements, or the photographer had a heart attack two weeks before the wedding date. A same-sex couple has many choices for the services and goods for a wedding. When Christian baker or florist or photographer is compelled to participate in behavior he or she considers to be sin, then that person will either suffer the fine or suffer the pangs of conscience for participating in sin. This consequence severely impacts a person of faith and is precisely the sort of conflict the First Amendment was intended to prevent.
The kind of pressure Christian businesses in the US are resisting today is reminiscent of the pressure on German people to mistreat and abuse Jews under the Nazi regime. When Nazi officers were tried after World War II for their complicity in the administration of laws which treated Jews worse than animals, the officers tried to defend themselves by saying that they were simply obeying laws or obeying orders. That defense failed, because the court said that every human being who knows right from wrong has the obligation to obey conscience and do the right thing, no matter what the law says and no matter who gives the order. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods and many other employers are in court because they want to obey their consciences and do the right thing.
Power for corporations to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, to evade federal law. The religious liberty embodied in the First Amendment and affirmed in RFRA will actually be used to protect Christians and any other religion from being compelled to act in conflict with their faith.
The choice of language for this point is intended to evoke shouts of “Not fair!” from every citizen. Why should anyone be permitted to evade the law? One answer, of course, is that the Affordable Care Act is very poor law, poorly designed and poorly administered. This law should be repealed simply for the reason that it is bad law. But even if it is the law, it does not trump the Constitution. Any part of it that bumps up against Constitutional boundaries is automatically null. The fact that it takes a Supreme Court decision to affirm that truth does not change the fact that this law is unconstitutional on many points. The attempt to suppress free exercise of religion is only one.
On this particular point, Joshua Field made several sub-points. Read his article for the full list. The issues he mentions are mostly expressed in language designed to make people afraid. This section is full of rhetoric that fills the air waves daily and is intended to make people of faith fear to exercise their faith. In fact, it is intended to make every person fear a confrontation with the federal government. It is a fairly recent development for secularists to invoke the government overtly as their own god.
A victory in the right’s organized attack on the ACA This decision might energize efforts to repeal a bad law and restore the rights of individuals to manage their own insurance and healthcare decisions. This is possible outcome is not about religion at all. It is about the universal human right to liberty and the tyrannical intrusion of government into an area where it has neither expertise nor Constitutional justification.
The political right is a set that is not necessarily congruent with the set of all people of faith. This equivalence has been asserted with the specific intent of equating religious conviction with political conservatism. Such equivalence diminishes the significance of religious conviction by associating it with dirty politics. People of faith have the same civil rights as other citizens, and they have the right to deplore the ACA. It very well could be that a decision for the employers in the Hobby Lobby case would add to momentum to repeal such a bad law, but the employers are not pursuing that goal in their cases.
Loopholes that corporations can use to avoid providing health care. The law really is about health insurance, not health care, but either way, the Hobby Lobby case is about religious liberty, and it only touches on health insurance, not health care. It is a moral wrong for the government to have imposed the tyranny of requiring health insurance, but that is not at issue in this case. The Affordable Care Act alleges to make it easier and less expensive to obtain health care, but health insurance, not health care, is the subject of the law.
The fact that the law requires an employer to provide health insurance is an abomination in itself. However, the employers in this case are not protesting that requirement. They are protesting specific mandated coverages. The coverages they protest are minor as components of the law, but major in regard to the faith convictions of the employers. Nothing in a decision to allow them exemption on these points would do anything to weaken the mandate that employers provide health insurance. This case is about religious liberty, not the tyranny of the ACA as a whole.
Complications in corporate governance.As a consequence of this case, people might actually use the right to free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.
Field’s major concern in this regard is that arguments internal to corporations might involve religious issues. Why that is a problem is hard to say. Rights such as free speech and free exercise of religion would seem to require that corporations be resilient enough to handle such conversations.
The list of issues served up by Joshua Field in this article consists mostly of the very issues you would expect to be touched by a decision for Hobby Lobby. People who advocate free exercise of religion in the context of the First Amendment would want the precedent of a Supreme Court ruling to apply in the same areas where secular thinkers fear the application. This list is a good list for study, meditation and prayer in days to come. The Supreme Court could phrase the ruling so narrowly that the threats feared by secular thinkers will be non-issues, but that is not likely. This issue is divisive across the fabric of the culture, and people want a ruling that will settle some issues rather than raise new ones.
When people of faith contemplate such challenges it is easy to wish for some specific outcome and be disappointed in God if the result is not what was wished for. The important thing to remember is that Jesus taught us to pray to God, “Thy will be done,” before we ask for daily bread or even forgiveness. If Christians doubt that a negative outcome in the Hobby Lobby case could possibly be God’s will, they should read the Old Testament more attentively.
Kirk Cameron was recently asked what he considered to be the greatest threat for Christians. His answer is significant. He said, “The greatest threat is the people of God failing to be faithful to the One Who made them.” Then he elaborated and reworded his point. He said, “The thing that concerns me is apathy in the church.” Read his interview here. Think about his statement. Ask yourself if you are faithful to God yourself, even as you advocate for religious liberty when Hobby Lobby’s owners litigate for their right to be faithful. They are not being apathetic about their faith. They are not complacent, choosing the easy way of compliance rather than the hard way of asserting their faith. Do the people of God in the USA give secular thinkers any real reason to believe that they want to live Christ-like lives in every aspect of their lives? Do the people of God show Christ to their customers in the course of everyday business transactions? Do the people of God show Christ in their commitment to quality and integrity in business dealings? Think about these questions prayerfully. Add your comments on this issue. What do you think?