Tag Archives: Affordable Care Act

The Hobby Lobby Decision is not the End of the Battle for Relgious Liberty

Many people rejoice that the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby is exempted from paying for insurance that covers medical services in conflict with the religious convictions of the owners. It is right and proper to give thanks for this outcome, but it would be foolhardy to believe that the Freedom From Religion Foundation will dissolve or that the federal government will no longer threaten the free exercise of religion. The decision in the Hobby Lobby case, along with two other cases that were bundled with it, was cast in very narrow language with the deliberate intent not to answer broader questions in connection with the case.
In fact, according to Mark Levin, a lawyer who specializes in constitutional law, the narrowness of the decision is actually a threat to the First Amendment. He pointed out in commentary delivered during his radio show on the evening of the decision that the decision is rooted in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, not in the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
In the syllabus for the case released by the Supreme Court on June 30, 2014, the foundation for the decision is stated:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicabil¬ity” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—(1) is in furtherance of a compelling govern¬mental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” 42 U. S. C. §§2000bb–1(a), (b). As amended by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), RFRA covers “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious be¬lief.” §2000cc–5(7)(A).
The short version of the decision is that the government has a compelling interest in providing women cost-free contraception in all the 20 forms currently available, but to compel an employer to underwrite the provision of any of the forms that conflicts with the employer’s religious convictions is not the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The high court declared, “The contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates RFRA. Our decision on that statu¬tory question makes it unnecessary to reach the First Amendment claim raised by Conestoga and the Hahns.”
In RFRA, the justices found a way to confine their deliberations. They declined to comment on the relationship of this case to the First Amendment, and their unwillingness to assert this relationship is a threat in future cases where religious liberty is under attack. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was intended to bolster First Amendment protections, but as often happens to good intentions, the unintended consequence was to give the court a way not to strengthen the First Amendment.
This decision only narrowly won the day. Four of the nine justices dissented. Breyer and Kagan published a dissenting opinion stating that they believe that Hobby Lobby had no standing before the court. They affirmed the finding of the Third Circuit which had “held that a for-profit corporation could not ‘en¬gage in religious exercise’ under RFRA or the First Amendment, and that the mandate imposed no requirements on the Hahns in their personal capacity.” Ginsburg wrote an expansive dissent, in which she was joined by Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan, the last two excepting a small section of Ginsburg’s analysis. The bottom line is that four of the justices on the court do not believe that the most important element of the decision is legitimate. Four of the justices on the Supreme Court do not believe that a corporation engaged in business for profit has any right to exercise the religious convictions of its owners.
The disagreement between the majority and the minority in this decision lies in the definition of a person who has the right to exercise religious convictions. Most people think it is just common sense to recognize that when a human being marries, goes to school, or starts a business, he is the same human being as when he goes into his house or his church. Furthermore, most people think that religious teachings shape the way a person lives and works, and most of the criticisms of religious people by non-religious are centered on observations of hypocrisy – the failure of a religious believer to live up to the standards taught by his religion. To most people, it seems only normal that a person of faith operating a business will not stop living by the principles of his faith when he is at work.
The Hobby Lobby case hints that this might be true, but it constricts the language of the decision so tightly that it is not very comforting. Christians cannot relax. They would be well advised to study the way legal proceedings surrounding religion develop in countries with acknowledged secular governments. The government of the USA does not label itself “secular,” but the patterns of thinking with regard to religion expressed by the current administration have much more in common with the government of Tajikistan than with the US government during the administration of George Washington. Jesus said that his followers need to be “wise as serpents,” and that is because Christians will always be walking among serpents who desire to suppress and shut down any expression of Christian faith in public. Christians should give thanks that the Hobby Lobby decision helps many businesses in crisis with the Affordable Care Act, but they should not believe that this means that Christians will no longer be challenged when they express their faith.

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Why US Christians Should Watch the Federal Government

American citizens rightly look to the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment, to protect their right to protection against government control of their exercise of religion. It should make Americans nervous to hear that the US president makes even the vaguest comparison between Ho Chi Minh and the patriots who established the USA.

Historically, First Amendment issues have often centered on the passage of well-intentioned laws that unexpectedly imposed pressure on the individual right to exercise religious convictions. Conscription of soldiers in wartime was not an attempt to interfere with the free exercise of anyone’s faith, and when that unintended consequence arose, men of good will found a faithful and patriotic way to manage the problem. For more than two hundred years, it could be said with confidence that the government of the USA had no real desire to interfere with the freedom of any citizen to live according to his faith.

The current transformation of the US culture to a secular worldview is actually redefining the words “religion” and “worship” and “exercise” in ways that make it much more difficult to defend the free exercise of religion. For example, it is becoming popular in the culture to characterize the Christian religion as a collection of rules. Based on that imagery, some people have praised Buddhism because “it is a way of life, not a religion.” In contemporary everyday speech, people routinely conflate the words “worship” and “religion” as if they were totally synonymous. Further, when someone mentions a religious conviction as the determinant for personal action, it is common for someone who hears this statement to express a desire that people keep their religions to themselves. Not only is the culture redefining what a religion is, but the culture is increasingly pressing against all religions in an attempt to keep them confined within their houses of worship. These definitions and attitudes are shaping government language and attitudes. Over time, almost unnoticed, the culture and the government use the words of religion, worship and faith to mean something other than what the Founders meant, thereby lulling Christians into a false feeling that the First Amendment still protects their free exercise of faith.

Couple the cultural redefinition of the meaning and place of religion in public life with the fact that the federal government is operated outside the Constitution’s boundaries, and it becomes obvious that people of faith must be vigilant and assertive to protect their rights.

When the chief executive of the United States, the person with the great weight of responsibility to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” compares Ho Chi Minh with the Founders of the United States of America, it is reveals that the holder of this high office has no respect for the principles and values of the Founders. If the president does not mean what he said, citizens should be alarmed that he would deliberately life. If the president does mean what he said, citizens should be alarmed that he things this way.

Ho Chi Minh persecuted Christians along with people of other faiths as part of his campaign to create a pure Communist culture. He had enough success that the current government of Viet Nam is completely secular. From the beginning, churches in Vietnam were considered undesirable. They were highly regulated. In January, 2013, the government enacted new regulations for church registration which will make it extremely difficult for any Christian church to attain legal status.  What’s more, the new law includes a requirement of every religion that its “ceremonies and activities … do not contradict fine national traditions and customs.” Christians fear this requirement will expect them to worship ancestors and national heroes. Since they will only worship God, this requirement seems like a deliberate attempt to get rid of Christians. This law is the natural outgrowth of the completely secular government established by Ho Chi Minh, who supposedly has common values with the Founders of the USA.

How long before the government of the USA attempts to regulate Christian churches the same way Vietnam regulates them? It could be sooner rather than later. The Affordable Care Act, administered by the IRS, provides the perfect vehicle to kick off that process. Buried in the regulations for the Affordable Care Act is the conscience provision that exempts an employer from the mandate to include contraception, sterilization and abortion as preventive health services in a group health insurance package. The regulation reads as follows:

For purposes of this exemption, a religious employer is one that: (1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves

persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Code. Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) and (iii) of the Code refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.

You can find this information online by searching for Federal Register/Vol. 77, No 31/Wednesday, February 15, 2012. At present, this exemption relies on self-certification of eligibility, but just as the current law in Vietnam replaces an older, more lenient law, it is highly likely that the IRS will seek to assure that no ineligible employers escape and that will require some sort of registration and database, processes not in the current rules. It won’t even call for new legislation. Since the non-compliance of an employer ineligible for the exemption calls for a fine, the IRS could conceivably create a regulation and a process as part of its assurance of compliance with the law. Once there is a database of houses of worship, then the door is open for the government to continually redefine those entities eligible for inclusion. If one arm of government has its thumb on churches, it will be easy for others to use the database or to ask for more data to be included, and soon churches could be regulated so tightly that, like the churches in Vietnam, it would be extremely difficult for them to continue to exist.

 

This is why Christians should fear a presidential statement comparing Ho Chi Minh to the Founders of the United States of America. It would be easy to laugh off such a ridiculous statement if the current president were simply guilty of an ignorant gaffe. This president, however, knows his communists, and this comparison is not an accident. It is purposeful, and for now, we can only guess at the purpose. It reveals a dangerous worldview, which should not be dismissed, because politics is the concretization of a worldview.

 

Even while Christians take careful note of the president’s worldview, they must be actively asserting their own. As Jesus was about to ascend to heaven, he explained how Christians are to assert their worldview:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20

Christians need not cower and tremble because of the threats to their future. The persecuted church in Vietnam would have disappeared by now if that were their response. Instead, they act on Christ’s authority and work diligently to make disciples. When the government oversteps its quite considerable authority, they stand up and push back. They pray and worship faithfully, remembering and acting on Christ’s promise not to abandon them. Christians in the US have much more freedom now than Christians in Vietnam have ever known. There is no reason for US Christians to cringe or backpedal on Christ’s imperatives just because the US government is trying to redefine the meaning of free exercise of religion. US Christians, like Vietnamese Christians, must act on Christ’s authority and diligently make disciples, trusting that Christ will never abandon them, no matter what the government does.

 

The Consequence of Making Science a God

“To deny young adolescents access to medically necessary and proven care is essentially reproductive slavery.” Read more.

These words in an op-ed by Cathleen London, MD, were written in reaction to the news that the US Government had dropped its attempt to impose age restrictions on sale of “morning after” contraceptives.   The author triumphantly closes her column by saying, “Finally, science trumps politics.”

The vast majority of parents in the US will not share Dr. London’s good feelings about this action. Despite the increasing evidence that secular thinking dominates the federal government, evidence of polls and votes reveals a populace whose values and convictions are rooted in a different worldview. Some parents may believe that children know best what they need, but most parents believe that children need guidance and instruction in order to learn right from wrong and to develop the character to choose right rather than wrong.

Dr. London’s words make it clear that she sees nothing wrong with adolescent children being sexually active, and she does not believe that parents have the right to know if a sexually active child fears being pregnant. Dr. London does not believe in the family the way most people believe in family. She does not believe in the role of parents in the upbringing of their children the way most people do. Clearly, she does not believe in the biblical admonitions to parents that they have the obligation to instruct and admonish and guide their children to a high standard of personal morality. She also clearly does not believe that a family is the sort of relationship the Bible teaches it to be.

 

Why do Christian parents object to this policy?

  •  Christian parents trying to teach abstinence feel that the public attitude makes it harder for them to teach their values. (They know that the world does not share their values, but they thought the government respected them. Now it seems that the government is deliberately making it hard for them.)
  • Christian parents respect the natural consequence of sexual activity, and therefore they reject a practice that leads a child not to respect it. The “morning after” fix trivializes sexual activity. 
  • Christian parents want to teach children to respect the sexual union as God intended it. Easy availability of “morning after” contraception implies that unplanned pregnancy is a human inconvenience, not a blessing of God. 
  • Christian parents believe that fertilization is the beginning of human life – as would any scientist who knows that a fertilized human embryo will never produce anything but a human being. They want to teach their children to respect human life from the moment of conception. 
  • It is a fact that abstinence prevents pregnancy, but Christian parents teach abstinence in the context of biblical teaching about marriage and family. Diminishing sexual intercourse to the status of a recreational choice diminishes the meaning of marriage and family at the same time. 

This is not a triumph of science over politics.

This is a triumph of secular worldview over Christian worldview. Since the secular worldview makes science the source of the “discovery” of moral standards, it can appear that this policy is a triumph of science, but the policy came into being through purely political processes. People with political views expressed their views for and against the policy. Science had no opinion.

Science never has an opinion.

Science is about what is and what isn’t – within the time/space frame of reference. Science is not about the value of a discovery; science is about the discovery.

Science discovers that a drug initiates a sequence of events that results in a lack of hospitality for the implantation of an embryo in the lining of the uterus. That is all science has to say about the drug. Science doesn’t care if the drug is used or not. Science doesn’t care if everyone can get the drug. Science doesn’t care about drug versus abstinence or about the age when sexual activity is appropriate or whether age has anything to do with the appropriateness of sexual activity. Science simply reveals that certain chemicals act in the human body in a certain way.

Politics speaks to a specific worldview. In fact, politics is the establishment of a worldview by force of law.

Secular worldview says that sex is natural, and that physical maturity that inspires and drives sexual activity appears simultaneously with the maturity of judgment to choose or not choose sex and to choose or not choose the drug. The secular worldview says that sexual activity is as natural and normal as eating, and that adults (anyone past puberty) only need to be sure that sexual activity is a mutual choice carried out safely. The moral boundaries people with other worldviews establish are not part of a secular worldview.

Christian worldview says that sex is natural, but that the physical maturity to engage in sexual activity may well develop before the emotional maturity to make good judgments about sexual activity. It also says that parents are responsible for the moral upbringing of their children and that parents must participate in the decisions children face when they are not mature enough to make those decisions on their own. Christian worldview sees sex as God’s gift for the creation of human life as well as for mutual joy and as the energy that fuels marriage and family. Therefore the Christian worldview does not support the trivialization of sex into a recreational choice.

The idea that the “morning after” drug is “proven” is an opinion based on a particular view of the science that produced the drug. Many, many drugs have been marketed as “proven safe and effective” only to prove otherwise in the real experience of users. The idea that it is “medically necessary” either means that pregnancy is a disease as undesirable as pneumonia, or it means that every physician faced with the “symptoms” of unprotected sex would consider it “necessary” to prescribe this drug. There is no evidence for either interpretation. It is a secular worldview that says the expectation that a woman carry an unplanned pregnancy to term is “reproductive slavery.” In fact, the secular worldview appears to say that human beings are powerless against sexual desire. That powerlessness implies slavery to the sex drive, a notion that millions of people, even non-Christians, reject. Certainly Muslim parents will strongly object to the political insistence on the availability of the drug for children, and they will almost certainly reject the idea that it is “medically necessary.” The most troubling element of this situation is the insistence of the government to create pressure to separate children from the guidance and influence of their parents.

Christian parents have the same job they always had – to teach their children to love and serve God in the midst of a hostile world. The “morning after” policy makes the job harder, but it never was easy.  Rearing a child to live differently from the prevailing worldview is always hard. The first Christian parents contended with the worldview of the Roman Empire. The current US worldview is not really worse, despite its differences.

The real problem Christian parents have is their own equivocation with the world’s views. Christians who themselves adopt secular views and blend them with Christian views make it hard for themselves to keep their children within the boundaries of faith and life. The evidence of polls that ask self-identified Christians what they believe reveals that many people who call themselves Christians actually hold a worldview closer to secular thinking than to Christian. Many self-identified Christians do not believe that the Bible is either true or authoritative. Many self-identified Christians do not believe in abstinence. The notion that human life begins at conception will find opponents in any group that calls itself Christian. A parent who does not believe the Bible is actually God’s guide for faith and life will not likely teach a child to believe the Bible, either. Christians who do not believe Christian teaching make it harder for Christian parents who do believe Christian teaching to inculcate their children with the same values. They also fuel the cultural momentum against a Christian worldview.

Dr. London holds the view that science has triumphed over politics, and she believes that science is the proper arbiter of moral and social values. She is wrong. Science is a neutral engine of discovery and learning. The assignment of value and the imposing of political force upon any discovery comes from somewhere outside of science. In the case of the Plan B contraceptive, the value is assigned by people who agree with Dr. London’s worldview, but the values do not originate in science. They originate in people. Dr. London may want science to be the god from whom all values originate, but that is not the domain of science. To find the source of the political activism that has resulted in the Plan B policy, one must search among political activists.

The Plan B contraceptive is just one more factor in the political/cultural drive to overrun and suppress Christian influence in the public forum. Christians must not mistake government for the kingdom of God, but they must be sure they carry out their civic duty to participate in the public discussion of policy and law. For the moment, in this issue, the secular worldview prevails. It need not prevail in every issue at all times. The First Amendment still protects the right of people of all faiths to express and exercise their faith in public.

Why Should Christians Pay Attention to Government Scandals?

The IRS scandal sounds quite scandalous to citizens who are accustomed to believe that government must obey the laws and act with integrity. The scandal of the government wiretapping and hacking the email of journalists boggles the minds of people accustomed to think of journalists as the watchdog of government on behalf of the citizens. Attentive readers and listeners feel the hackles on the back of their necks rising in response that something not quite named that feels sinister and disturbing. The spectacle of a woman at the center of the IRS controversy declaring “I have done nothing wrong,” and then taking the fifth like a Mafia don makes people who live on Main Street nervous.

In the United States, we have until recently prided ourselves that our government was itself governed by law. The Constitution and the body of federal law applies as surely to our officials as it does to us. Until recently, people felt they did not need to fear the government, because the government was subject to the same law as everyone else. Stories about a federal agency targeted citizens who want to organize for charitable purposes or targeting journalists who want to get the facts behind the news they report daily are worrisome. Christians who have always suspected politics of being a dirty game feel justified in smugly saying “I told you so,” but there has not been any murmuring about one aspect of the situation that should be worrisome. They may not be well-informed about what happens in other countries. There are many countries around the world where churches are so highly regulated that even an unofficial prayer meeting is a legal infraction on the level of a charitable organization in the US trying to claim tax-exempt status without having qualified officially. In some countries, a Christian church that has actually registered can nevertheless be summarily shut down. A church that wants to be registered may feel that it has been singled out for attention due to unwarranted requests for additional forms and membership lists and copies of worship materials.

In countries where the government considers itself above the law, there is no recourse for citizens abused in the same manner as the non-profits applying for tax-exempt status in the USA. In other countries where the government is above the law, news reports must be compliant with the government message. Reporters suspected of non-compliance have their email monitored, their phone calls checked, and risk arrest or worse. In many countries, people targeted by government have a way of simply disappearing. American Christians have not seen anything like this and are quick to reject suggestions that it could happen in the USA. Sadly, anyone who reads news of the persecuted church around the world has seen things like this and worse things, all perpetrated as the legal acts of the government involved. American Christians, who have had good reason to wonder what the federal government means by the definition it uses for a religious exemption in the healthcare law, should look abroad for some forewarning of the sort of things governments do when they start defining religion and putting it under regulatory control.

Below is a short list of some issues that are eerily parallel to the bureaucratic hullabaloo associated with tax-exempt status for non-profits in the US:

  • Targeted groups were asked to provide membership lists and donor lists, documentation not required for groups that were not targeted.  
  • Further, the donor lists of 501 ( c ) 4 groups are supposedly confidential, which makes a request for such lists illegal.
  • Targeted groups were challenged on the basis of religious elements, such as prayer, and the groups were asked to provide the contents of prayers.
  • Targeted groups were asked to provide member lists, plans for membership drives, and the names of people that might join or be invited to join.
  • Bureaucratic strategies to delay official completion of registration included “lost” applications or unofficial holds on processing.
  • Targeted groups were asked to identify people that might hear presentations, or participate in future educational activities.

Delays of a year were not uncommon, and in some cases the delay continued for two or three years.

Governments who want to suppress unwanted political and religious views in other countries follow the same practices.

  • Claims of lost applications
  • Claims of missing or incorrect information on applications
  • Repeated requests for verification of the same information on applications
  • Demands for documentation considerably in excess of the documentation required on the form
  • Deliberate delays in processing applications
  • Repeated inquiries about the status of an application are politely deferred to a later date
  • Press reports on religious issues are suppressed and non-compliant reporters and publishers are arrested or at the very least spied upon (AP leak scandal/wiretap scandal)

There is a wealth of information available to inform Christians who wonder what it might be like to be subject to a government administrative bureaucracy for churches. However, a more pleasant way to learn about the situation is to read Martin Roth’s excellent book Coptic Martyr. Roth’s story details are fictitious, but his event details are quite accurate. In fact, given the news out of Egypt lately, Roth’s story may be considered a mild version of the way things work for a Christian church in a Muslim-dominated country. Roth’s novel Brother Half Angel tells a comparable story of the situation in a secular state such as China.

The allegation of scandal in the IRS is strongly disputed by all participants and will not be sorted out any time soon. It bears close watching regardless of your political view, because the problem is not who was targeted: the problem is that a federal agency targets anyone. The IRS has a single job to do: administer the law. It is not the job of the IRS to prevent anyone from obtaining tax-exempt status; it is the job of the IRS to certify tax-exempt status to each applicant who provides the information required by the application process. Demands for additional information required at the behest of the official who is processing the application without any legal or regulatory authority for such a request are illegal. Yet the power of the government and the applicant’s fear of the government are both so strong that few applicants have the courage to stand up against the onslaught.

Christians who have been flummoxed by the behavior of the federal government in regard to the Affordable Care Act would do well to pay attention to the allegation of scandal in the administration of law by the IRS. The IRS is the agency specified in the healthcare law to enforce compliance with the requirement to buy health insurance. If the reported behavior of the IRS toward the applications of non-profits is ultimately upheld as lawful, it will continue and expand. That is the nature of government. Just like a gas in a bottle, government expands to fill the power vacuum available to it. The definition of religion contained in the Affordable Care Act is a model which, in the absence of any pressure to do otherwise, will be replicated as the model for administration of the right to free exercise of religion. If the behavior of the IRS in targeting applicants for tax-exempt status is upheld, that sort of behavior will continue and be replicated toward applicants for the conscience exemption in the Affordable Care Act.

Every citizen has both the right and the obligation to participate in the government of the United States.  Many citizens believe that because they elect representatives and senators and etcetera, those people represent us and can act on our behalf. They believe they don’t need to be so involved and vigilant, because their elected officials will act on their behalf. The evidence suggesting scandal in the IRS is only one example of evidence that voters cannot afford to relax and let elected officials operate without let or hindrance. Christians have even more motivation than other voters to exercise vigilance and be active in the government. Christians are not a demographic minority, but in government affairs, they are a worldview minority. The worldview of the federal government is increasingly secular, making it quite challenging for Christians to assert the right of free exercise of religion or any other rights deriving from that one.

This post is not written for the purpose of stating a conclusion about the behavior of the IRS so much as it is written for the purpose of alerting voters, especially Christian voters, to questionable, if not deliberately illegal, behavior by employees of the IRS. Public statements suggest that the behavior is authorized and approved at high levels. Every voter should care about the integrity of the administration of the law, but Christians must be very alert to the manner in which this process forewarns all who might wish to claim the conscience exemption of the Affordable Care Act. It could be an alert to problems that may be seen in the future if the conscience exemption of the Affordable Care Act becomes a model for general use with regard to religious liberty. Pray for wisdom. Speak for freedom. Stand up for integrity and for religious liberty.

The President of the USA Still Does Not Understand the Christian Life

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.

Matthew 7:24-25 

On Friday, February 1, the President announced a new rule for the administration of the Affordable Care Act. Last February, when the original rule defining religious exemptions from the employer mandate was announced, the government also created what it called a “safe harbor” for some employers for a period of one year while the government reviewed the problem posed by employers whose religion rejected certain required coverage. However, the safe harbor only applied to employers with some religious connection to the business itself, and the newly-announced accommodation in the rules implementing the Affordable Care Act retains that limitation. A university operated as a ministry of the Catholic Church can be exempted from paying for health insurance that provides contraceptives to employees, but a hardware manufacturer who lives by the teachings of faith is still required to fund that coverage.

The President and his administration still do not understand that a Christian lives by the teaching of his faith at all times, not just in church. The administration remains of the opinion that religious convictions apply only within the bounds of religious organizations. The original conscience exemption definition was limited to the walls of a church or its organization, and this new announcement barely reaches outside to ministries that are governed by or closely attached to the church body. Clearly, the President and his administration share a common secular misconception about the Christian faith. They all believe that people express their faith inside a church and its organizations. This is a solidly secular view of religion of any sort. It is not true of Christianity, despite the secular perception that Christianity is defined by church rules and hierarchy. Jesus called people to live selflessly, putting obedience to God ahead of all other loyalties in every area of life. The US government does not understand that when a person receives Christ the commitment to serve Christ applies to every moment of life. A Christian does not divide life into sacred and secular partitions. Every part of life is sacred. Christ is Lord at all times. Jesus died to redeem all of life, not just the part that takes place in a church building or a denominational organization.

The men who wrote the Constitution understood what it meant for all of life to be subject to God. This is the reason they wrote in the First Amendment that Congress could not write any law to limit or proscribe the “free expression” of religion. That freedom is not bounded by the location where religion is expressed, by the organizational connections of the group expressing it, or by the work that the individual is doing while expressing it. The religious liberty protected by the First Amendment applies to all citizens at all times.

The Sermon on the Mount is a long speech by Jesus. It is a guide to life that clearly covers every facet of life. Nobody reading this text would confuse it with a worship guide. It is about business and family, friends and neighbors, life and death. Most students of Christianity, whether or not they put their faith in Christ, recognize that in this sermon, Christ called people to a way of life, not a ritual. The men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the birth of the nation that became the United States of America recognized that religion was not simply an obligation to attend worship on Sunday morning. They knew that whether a person put his faith in Christ or Vishna, the faith teachings shaped a way of life, not a worship schedule.

Until recently Christians believed that the First Amendment protected Christians, and all other people of all faiths, from the kind of oppression that other governments in the world showed toward religion. Some governments suppress all religion, preferring that citizens not put any loyalty ahead of service to the government. Other governments favor one religion above all others and suppress any competitors. Sometimes the suppression is expressed by government order, and sometimes the suppression is expressed by allowing violence against religion to proceed unacknowledged by government. In the US, we have believed that our government protects all citizens and restrains itself from interfering with anyone’s faith convictions because of the First Amendment. We are learning that it is possible for the government to say the words of the First Amendment without meaning what we think the words mean. This latest announcement makes it clear that we must continue in prayer and action to assert the full religious liberty protected by the First Amendment.

History teaches that when citizens permit any government to restrict freedom, the restriction only grows tighter with time. If we want the freedom to live our faith unhindered by government, then we must exercise both our civic responsibilities and our Christian faith. As citizens, we must use our right to speak with our elected leaders and influence them to comply with the Constitution. As Christians, we must pray for our elected leaders and for our own courage to stand firm in faith.

One footnote. Some Christians have said that they do not agree with the employers who reject the employer mandate for religious reasons. They are quite comfortable in compliance, and they see no need to speak or act in support of individuals and businesses who feel persecuted by the mandate. We do not need to hold the same beliefs in order to agree that every person has the right to express his faith in his life. The issue is not whether we agree theologically; the issue is whether we will give up the freedom to live by our faith. If one faith loses that freedom, all faiths lose that freedom. Pray. Speak. Act. Do not permit our religious liberty to be lost forever because it is not your toe that is being stomped. 

Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:29