Tag Archives: conscience exemption

What is the difference between faithful conviction and discrimination?

Is your church on a mission to end the existence of all other churches?

You will probably answer a resounding NO to such a question. Then you will probably try to understand who would ask such a ridiculous question. It is a ridiculous question, but in the current cultural malaise it makes more sense than might seem reasonable at first glance.

Try this question. Is Barack Obama on a mission to end the existence of Christian schools at all levels? You might think that this is a ridiculous question, too. He has not even mentioned Christian schools in any recent speeches. He has been busy with ebola in Africa and ISIS in the Middle East. However, he recently signed an executive order that forbids federal contractors to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This order does not include a conscience exemption for anyone whose religion regards homosexuality or gender confusion as sin. Like so many other actions of the president, this one eludes easy examination. Most of us do not easily translate the legalese in such orders to simply human language. However, the fact that the president thought such an order was so urgent that he promulgated it even as the Congress was considering a similar order that would have included the exemption does raise the antenna of anyone watching for evidence that the executive branch of the government wants to shut down the free exercise of religion in the USA.

The order sounds relatively ordinary until one is made aware of another piece of news.

On August 5, 2014, Michael Zigarelli reported a most unusual situation. The president of Gordon College, a Christian college in the Boston area, recently signed a letter in which he exercised his right as a citizen to express his view on an action of the federal government. He joined others (the others who signed the letter are not named in this article) in a request that the executive order forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity be modified to include a conscience exemption for people whose religious convictions conflict with the order. The president of any institution is responsible to whatever board operates the institution, and if the board found this action unacceptable, it would not be news to hear that he suffered some consequence. However, the board that runs Gordon College has not expressed any concern about this letter. The concerns have been expressed by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. This Association is the accrediting authority for Gordon College. When this Association learned that Gordon College’s president had asked for this conscience exemption to be included in the executive order, the association pulled out Gordon College’s accreditation for formal review. Gordon College, a Christian college, could lose its accreditation because its president asked that the president of the United States include a conscience exemption in an executive order. How can this be?

There are many reasons for Christians to be very concerned about the possible consequences of the president’s executive order. It sets a precedent for federal action that could ripple out through many, many consequences. This issue with a college immediately calls to mind the fact that federal student loans are the most widely used plan for paying college costs. If an accreditation association can even consider pulling the accreditation of a college whose president merely asked for an accommodation on a very controversial executive order, what happens if the administrators of the federal student loan program declare that student loans may not be issued for colleges that ask for a conscience exemption in hiring. In other words, if a college refuses to hire a gay professor, because to do so is inconsistent with its statement of faith, will students no longer be able to attend and pay with federal money? Is a college that accepts federal student loan money therefore a contractor with the federal government? Does anyone know the answer to this question?

Is it possible that a college with religious scruples about hiring gays and transgenders could be denied the right to be paid with federal student aid? Is it really possible that a college with religious objections to hiring gays and transgenders could be refused accreditation for that reason when all other educational standards were met or exceeded? Is it possible that the LGBTQ agenda for social and political activism is about to overwhelm every corner of the country without any recourse for the people to who have religious convictions rooted in teachings as old as humankind?

This is a matter for serious prayer. Christians have no interest in hurting or diminishing people with sexual problems – homosexuality, gender confusion, adultery, or any other affliction. Christians, however, do have strong convictions about placing people with any of those problems, and an assortment of others, in positions of leadership anywhere. Christians do not want to spend their days in close proximity with people who are advocating these behaviors as if they were normal and desirable. Christians make this distinction with regard to advocacy much more than with regard to the behavior itself. If a pastoral candidate told the church’s call committee that he or she thought it was important to march in the streets for the right to adultery in open marriages, the church would almost certainly reject the candidate. If a pastoral candidate told the church’s call committee that a previous marriage failed, but a new marriage is more successful and the pastor has no desire to advocate divorce as a positive action, the church would almost certainly give the candidate an unbiased review. The same thing would likely be true with regard to a candidate for professorship in chemistry at a Christian college. It is unlikely the review board would probe the sexual orientation of the candidate unless the candidate compelled examination of the matter. If the candidate brought it up as an important issue, it would be easy to expect that the reviewers would reject the candidate simply because a professor of chemistry does not need to be putting his primary energy into advocacy for deviant behavior.

Christians must pray for wisdom, insight, and leadership with character. This nation was founded with deep respect for the religious convictions of people of all faiths. The balance between the prohibition of state religion and the assurance of the freedom for free exercise by private individuals has always redounded to the benefit of the nation as a whole. May the USA not be deluded by a call to suppress free exercise of faith by people who have faith, more than 90% of the people.



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.


Iran Imprisons and Tries an American Christian

If the world hates you,
be aware that it hated me before it hated you.
John 15:18 

During a press briefing on January 15, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no answer when a reporter asked if the president of the United States were aware that a Christian who is an American citizen is being held prisoner in Iran. Obviously the president cannot know everything, but this situation is so extraordinary that most people would expect not only that the president would know about it but also that the president would have a strong statement to make on the subject. Saeed Abedini is an American citizen and a Christian. He was arrested during a visit to Iran during which he was helping Iranian Christians build an orphanage. He traveled to Iran subsequent to an agreement with Iran’s intelligence police that authorized him to travel inside Iran and to work on the orphanage. Charges against Abedini have not been made publicly available, but they are known to accuse him of being a threat to national security. The attorney who will represent him in Iran was only given access to his case file during the past week, even though the case is scheduled for trial on Monday, January 21. Members of the US Senate and the US House of Representatives have requested that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton work through her international contacts to request that Iran set this American citizen free and clear him of charges that are obviously false, but she has taken no action. There has been no statement of support for Saeed Abedini from either the President or the Secretary of State.

American Christians wonder why.

Most American citizens believe that our nation stands for the broadest possible interpretation of religious liberty. That idea grows out of the First Amendment to our Constitution which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In the USA we do not believe in having a state religion, and we do not believe that the government should inhibit, prohibit or punish the exercise of religion. We do not believe a citizen should be prevented from or punished for actions and words consistent with the teachings of his faith. (There have been some very limited deviations from that principle, mostly due to activities alleged to be religious which are nevertheless themselves an assault on basic human rights. We would, for example, draw the line at allowing parents to burn their children on altars as sacrifices to any god.)

Representatives of the USA have promoted this same freedom around the world. When the United Nations was first organized, one of its earliest accomplishments was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes strong statements mandating religious liberty. Wherever the government of the USA has had any influence, it has historically spoken out for religious freedom. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for Christians in the USA to expect that when a US citizen is arrested for being a Christian while visiting some other country, the administration of the USA would speak and act strongly to persuade that country to release this citizen.

It startles and disturbs American citizens to discover that our government is doing nothing at all to help an American citizen arrested for being a Christian, accused of being a threat to national security because he is a Christian, and put on trial before a judge with the reputation of imprisoning human rights attorneys for being just as much a threat to national security as their clients. Why would the government of the USA be so reticent to speak in this case?

The answer may lie in an issue closer to home. At present, more than forty suits have been filed against the federal government seeking relief from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it infringes on religious liberty. More than forty cases are in the federal court system right now, and they all hinge on whether the federal government has properly defined the boundaries of religious liberty. The federal government is standing firmly behind a regulation that defines a “religious employer” and the government contends that First Amendment protection applies only to a “religious employer.” The government has further stated in arguments before the courts that nothing religious happens in a for-profit business and that therefore no owner of a for-profit business can claim to be expressing his faith in the course of operating that business. The definition of a “religious employer” is clear. It applies to houses of worship and nothing more.

This definition might make sense if our Constitution protected only “freedom of worship.” If the Constitution only protected our right to attend any church we like without the threat of being arrested, then the federal regulation defining a “religious employer” would make sense. If that were the case, we might understand why our President and our Secretary of State do not speak out and take all the actions within their power to influence Iran to release Saeed Abedini and drop all charges against him. After all, Saeed Abedini was helping to build an orphanage as an act shaped by his faith. Building an orphanage is not an act of worship inside a building dedicated to worship. If freedom of worship is the issue, then maybe Saeed Abedini belongs in prison, because he was not engaged in worship. He was engaged in actions motivated and directed by the tenets of his faith. Because our President and our Secretary of State are not making any statements or taking any action, we must conclude that these two very powerful leaders in our country actually believe that our Constitution protects only “freedom of worship,” and that our moral leadership around the world is also limited to “freedom of worship.”

Christians must pray for wisdom in this matter. As we pray that God will act to turn the heart of the judge and the national leadership of Iran toward the release of Saeed Abedini, we must pray with heavy hearts. We must also pray for our own country and for our own religious liberty. We must bow our heads and our hearts before God and ask him for guidance and strength to fight a battle we never thought we would need to fight. We thought that the First Amendment protected our liberty to live our faith without interference from our government, but we cannot assume that protection anymore.

If anyone asks our President or our Secretary of State or our Secretary of Health and Human Services if they believe in First Amendment protection of religious liberty, every one of them will answer “Yes!” They will surely think they are speaking the truth. Unfortunately, if the definition of “religious employer” in the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act is allowed to stand, the meaning of the First Amendment is redefined and our freedom to live and speak our faith in the USA is severely restricted.

What should we do?

Pray for Saeed Abedini and for his attorney in Iran. Pray that Saeed will be released and that all the charges against him will be dropped. Pray for Iran to stop considering that any religion but Islam is a threat to national security. Pray that no matter what happens, Saeed will be strengthened in his faith and his testimony for Christ. Pray that in our prayers we may be joined with Saeed in his suffering and his testimony.

Then pray for the USA. Pray that our President and his administration will be enlightened to understand that the regulation defining a “religious employer” is a breach of First Amendment protection of religious liberty. Speak out when people talk about these issues. Help others understand that whether you are Hindu or Muslim or Christian or atheist, this freedom is essential to all. Pray for God to guide your words as he shapes your heart in order that the discourse surrounding this issue is loving, respectful and directed by the Holy Spirit, not by anger or fear. Pray that the USA will continue to be a beacon for the freedom God gave to all of us in the Constitution. Pray. Pray that no matter what happens, the faith and the testimony of each Christian will be strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that in our prayers Saeed may be joined with us in our suffering and our testimony.

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ
not only to believe on him,
but also to suffer for him.
Philippians 1:29



A Christian Never Engages in Secular Activity


The Affordable Care Act has generated a great deal of discussion among American citizens. The 2000+ pages of this act contain provisions which encourage some citizens and outrage others. One of the more contentious issues is the act’s requirement that employers provide health insurance coverage of specific services at no cost to the covered employee. Jumping past the definition of contraception as a “preventive health service,” many individuals and owners of corporations have resisted the requirement to provide contraception as a component of health insurance coverage. For Catholics, contraception, sterilization and abortion are classified as sins, and no practicing Catholic engages in those behaviors. There are others who reject these behaviors for religious reasons, but the Catholics are a majority among employers who feel that their consciences are compromised by this requirement. They all recognize that the act does not require them to engage in the behaviors, but the act does require the employer to fund the behavior through the payment of insurance premiums. Their life as Christians is compromised when they fund something that is a sin.


The issue with the government arises because Christianity, contrary to a lot of opinion, is a way of life. It is popular to say that Buddhism is not a religion because it is a way of life, but the people who say that accuse Christianity of being nothing but a body of rules acted out in churches. It is exactly this notion that is at issue when employers accuse the government of forcing them to act in opposition to their religion while the government accuses them of trying to say that they are engaged in religious practice while operating a secular business. When Hobby Lobby sued Kathleen Sebelius for a conscience exemption on the basis that underwriting contraceptive services required Hobby Lobby owners, who are Catholic, to act against their religious beliefs, the government responded:


Plaintiffs’ challenge rests largely on the theory that a for-profit, secular corporation established to sell art and craft supplies can claim to exercise religion and thereby avoid the reach of laws designed to regulate commercial activity. This cannot be.


Nor can the owners of a for-profit, secular corporation eliminate the legal separation provided by the corporate form, which the owners have chosen because it benefits them, to impose their personal religious beliefs on the corporate entity’s employees. To hold otherwise would permit for-profit, secular corporations and their owners to become laws unto themselves.


                   Read the government’s entire response here


The government’s response embodies a notion consistently expressed by secular thinkers – when a person is not in a church building engaged in church activities, that person is exclusively engaged in secular activity. Such a separation is not even possible for a Christian. The perception that it might be possible is a sad commentary on Christian testimony for the past two thousand years. If Christians were consistent in word and deed in our witness to our faith, people would know that we are never, not anywhere, not anytime, engaged in secular activity. We are always the agents of the Kingdom of God, breaking into a world where Satan runs rampant, acting to bring people into God’s kingdom. Too many people do not know that this is what Christians really are.


In reality, every Christian is a little sacred space housing the Holy Spirit in his body. No matter where a Christian goes and no matter what he (or she, if you are so gender-knotted that you can’t use the masculine for a generality) is doing, a Christian is engaged in love and service to Christ. It isn’t even about obedience. It is all about relationship. A Christian bears the presence of God into every space. A Christian speaks the message of Christ to every situation. A Christian is always in the center of sacred space performing a sacred mission – gospelizing, disciplizing and baptizing. If secular thinkers don’t see that when they see us, we are failing. The evidence of our failure is a situation like the Hobby Lobby case.


The Bible teaches us that just as the Holy Spirit fell into Christ at his baptism, the Holy Spirit indwells every Christian at the time of baptism. Paul wrote, “Didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) Christians cannot shed the Holy Spirit or their relationship with him simply by going to work, or by opening a shop, or by paying a bill. The Holy Spirit is present in all these activities. The owners of Hobby Lobby legitimately claim that to perform an act judged to be wicked by the Holy Spirit is an act against conscience. The First Amendment of the Constitution, written by people who knew their Bible, protects conscience, not just for Christians, but for all people of all faiths. It protects the owners of Hobby Lobby from being forced by government to commit an abomination against the Holy Spirit.


To say this is not to assert that every Christian at every moment is acting and speaking as the Holy Spirit directs. We would have no sin to confess if that were so. Christians are not perfect. Nevertheless, when Christians are committed to live their faith, the government must respect that commitment and back off. The First Amendment does not reserve the right to judge whether this Christian “deserves” the protection while that one does not.


In this particular case, the government alleges that not to enforce this act on Hobby Lobby would do harm to Hobby Lobby’s employees. The government response recites all sorts of dire statistics about unintended pregnancy as if pregnancy were an actual disease. The government further alleges that women cannot compete in the workplace as the equals of men if they are subject to unintended pregnancy. In other words, should the court decide that forcing Hobby Lobby to comply with the rule actually is an act against conscience, the government believes that there are compelling health reasons and social justification for this requirement that far outweigh any assault on the conscience of the owners of Hobby Lobby.


How this case will be decided remains to be seen. For Christians, the important thing about this case is not whether Hobby Lobby wins or loses. The important thing is a widespread perception that a Christian can be secular in one place and sacred in another. This is the misconception that makes it so difficult for us to share our faith. If we are not consistently testifying in word and deed that we are little Christs bearing the light of Christ’s love to a dark world, then we are failing in the only task that really matters. The health insurance coverage we pay for is a lot less important than our commitment to tell the world that Christ died for love of all people. We must be vigilant in every word and deed to keep that message clear for all to see. The people who lived in Antioch observed that people who followed Christ were so much like Christ that they called those people “Christians” – little Christs. If we are not being little Christs to everyone we meet, we need to re-examine the way we live and the way we speak. It must never be credible to say that any Christian is secular in anything he says or does.

Henri Nouwen’s book “The Selfless Way 0f Christ” is a Call to Faithful Testimony

Blogging Through the Book — The Selfless Way of Christ by Henri Nouwen

Every Christian at least occasionally thinks about what it means to give testimony to the work of Christ in his life. In The Selfless Way of Christ the author puts it this way: “We can only call ourselves witnesses of Jesus when we have heard him with our own ears, seen him with our own eyes, and touched him with our own hands.” (p. 14) He further says that the basis for the work of the apostles was not knowledge but rather their “having lived with Jesus.” (p. 14)

The testimony of a Christian is, therefore, crafted by living with Jesus. In prayer, in Bible study, in worship, in conversation, in quiet moments when truth bursts into evidence like a pyrotechnic extravaganza – these are the moments in our life with Christ that shape our testimony. Testimony does not emerge only inside worship buildings during the activity of worship. Our testimony is our life. Washing dishes. Making beds. Navigating rush hour traffic. We are living with Jesus every moment, and every moment testifies to him.

We may have trouble saying it clearly, but our lives are our testimonies. This is why people of faith live in constant tension with people who only acknowledge time and space as reality. The indwelling Holy Spirit places us at the intersection of time and eternity. Secular thinkers protest that this time/space reality is all there is. Some secular thinkers kindly tolerate our testimony as a gentle aberration, but others take offense at the idea that there is something beyond the universe we keep trying to measure. Their offended feelings are beginning to be expressed more commonly in our culture.

In the US, our culture predominantly self-identifies with Christianity, but the percentage is trending downward in recent years. Immigrants affiliated with a variety of different religions are part of that changing trend. However, over the past twenty years one statistic has increased noticeably, and in 2011, one poll reported that 19% of Americans self-identify as completely secular. Even that number is deceptive, because many religious people adopt secular standards in public. Many religious people agree with pure secularists that religion is a private matter and religion should not be discussed or even mentioned in the public forum. There may be a poll that records this category, but lacking that, personal experience suggests that 20% of the population, if asked, would agree that religion ought not to be mentioned in public. Christians who hold that view believe that all testimony and all evangelism must be confined inside the walls of a building dedicated to religious activity.

Henri Nouwen would find this observation appalling, because he says, “To be a Christian is to witness to this Word,” the “Word” being Christ, the Living Word of God. Most Christians would agree that this is a good definition of the life of faith, but in our culture, most secular thinkers and most religious people who prefer the secular standard in public life, reject this definition. Many simply think it is good etiquette to avoid the subject of religion in public, but some are adamant that freedom of religion is not enough; the nation needs freedom from religion. This latter concept challenges adherents of any faith who believe that their faith is the basis for their moral and ethical choices.

As the acceptance of secular thinking increases in the culture, it is natural that it will increase in the government. Students of the judicial system report many cases in which long-standing cultural practices growing out of respect for the Christian faith have been ended or dramatically modified in recent years. Interestingly, the secular standard has also been embedded in administrative regulations during the past year. The employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act does not authorize an exemption for all individuals or employers to opt out of the mandates of the law based on their ethical and moral convictions that grow out of their faith. There is a conscience exemption for some employers, but it is exceedingly narrow. The wording of the rule for this exemption is clearly consonant with the ideas expressed by secular thinkers on numerous websites:

American Humanist Association

Council for Secular Humanism

Freedom From Religion Foundation

There are many more that you can find by searching the web. 


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.   

We who live with Jesus do not confine our exercise of our religion to the limits of this definition. Every moment of our lives is shaped by the presence of Christ. When we are hiring employees, building a house, planting a garden or changing a baby’s diaper we are always living our faith. We do not leave our faith in the church building when we depart. We exercise our faith when we buy insurance or set up a break room for employees.

The First Amendment guarantees citizens of the USA the freedom to exercise their faith. It sets no limits on the place where they can do that. Even though many Christians hate politics (with good reason), all Christians need to stand firm for our freedom to live our faith. Christians around the world suffer under governments where speaking the name of Christ is grounds for arrest or where a Christian who prays in public may have his home burned down while the police watch it happen. Those persecuted Christians only dream of a day when they have protected freedom to exercise their faith.

The regulation implementing the Affordable Care Act for which the conscience exemption is written may not even compromise every Christian’s personal standards. That issue is something every individual must decide for himself. First Amendment protection for the free exercise of faith, however, is every Christian’s concern. When Jesus ascended into heaven, his last words to his followers were not, “Go into buildings and pray there and do it often.” The last words of Christ as Eugene Peterson translates them are, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.” (Matthew 28:19) The phrase “everyone you meet” means the people we encounter in daily life, not just the people we see at church.  The training is not to be how to get to a church building; it is how to live “this way of life.”

If the federal government’s definition of religious activity is allowed to stand, then the First Amendment is a lot of empty words. We must be free to testify to our faith. In order to do that we may need to choke back our desire not to be sullied by politics and at least write to our representatives and senators, asking as free citizens in a free nation, for the government to enforce the freedom embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Henri Nouwen has given us a powerful explanation of Christ’s call to make disciples by testifying to our faith at every opportunity. We cannot permit the government to act on a secular definition of religion that prevents us from living our testimony as Christ calls us to do.