We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:29
Over my lifetime I have heard many people use the term freedom of worship as if it were synonymous with the freedom protected by the First Amendment. Certainly that freedom is protected, but the words of the First Amendment protect a much broader freedom than the right to worship. The First Amendment is about the freedom to live by the tenets of your faith. Secular thinking defines religion as the act of worship and thinks of religion as acts of worship that take place in a space dedicated to worship. Because secularists view religion this way, they tend to see advocacy for freedom to live religiously in all contexts as a demand for privilege, not freedom. The culture of the USA is becoming increasingly secular. Many secular thinkers hold high elective office and serve in a variety of administrative, legislative and judicial posts. As a consequence, interpretation of the First Amendment is at risk. More than forty lawsuits currently making their way through the courts are attempting to affirm the original principle stated in the First Amendment. In the court of public opinion there is a great deal of fractious rhetoric. This post will focus on the text of the First Amendment and the threats to its intent in one government regulation.
The motivation for this post is a definition of religion that is buried in the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act:
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.
This definition is found in the Federal Register /Vol. 77, No. 55 /Wednesday, March 21, 2012. It applies to DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, 45 CFR Part 147 [CMS–9968–ANPRM] RIN 0938–AR42 and the title of the rule is Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act.
The definition of a religious employer is probably a reasonable one. What is unreasonable is the way this definition is being used. In the administration of the Affordable Care Act, widely and uncharitably known as Obamacare, a religious employer is entitled to have a conscience objection to some features of the law. There is no provision, however, for any other sort of employer who has religious principles which shape his life. The First Amendment protection says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….
The free exercise of religion is not limited in the First Amendment to exercise by religious employers. The First Amendment protects the right of every citizen to choose and to exercise his religion. The exercise of religion permeates all of life. People exercise their religion when they use its teachings to decide what is right and what is wrong. They exercise their religion when they act on the determination that something is right or wrong. The right to make these decisions and act on them is granted by the Constitution to every citizen. This protection applies whether a citizen is an employer or an employee or unemployed. The definition of a religious employer applies a regulatory limit to religious liberty that is at odds with the Constitution.
To limit a conscience exemption this way is to say that the federal government respects freedom of worship but it does not respect religious liberty.
For more than two hundred years, the USA has been the place where people seeking freedom of religion ran for refuge. If the definition of religious employer in the regulations of the Affordable Care Act is allowed to override the First Amendment, religious freedom in the USA will be dramatically reduced. Many Christians who do not live according to the teachings of Catholic theology think this struggle has nothing to do with them. They should not feel this way. Every person of faith, Hindu, Muslim, Catholic or Baptist or any other religion, is affected by this act. If the Catholics can be compelled to disobey the tenets of their faith by the federal government, then no person of any religion can claim protection for the right to live by the teachings of that religion. Christians and all people of any faith must resist the attempt by the federal government to force any person to disobey the teachings of his faith. In Laos today, some government officials have decided that it is in the compelling interest of their government for Christians to be compelled to drink water blessed by a shaman and then to renounce Christ. In the US today government officials have decided that it is in the compelling interest of the government for Catholics to be compelled to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion, services they believe to be sin. Persecution for religious reasons takes many forms in many places. Today in the USA it takes the form of a pretense that freedom of worship is freedom of religion.
What should you do about it? Please pray for God’s guidance. You can write your Senator or Representative. You can even write to the President. You can blog or write a letter to the editor of your local paper. You can call a local talk radio host. Trust God’s guidance and follow it. Everybody can pray about this problem, even people who are not religious employers.
Choose this day whom you will serve. Joshua 24:15