Tag Archives: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Freedom of Worship does not equal Religious Liberty

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

Rejection of Babies — An Attitude That Will Come Home to Roost

A friend sent me a link to a frightening video that I view with the same blend of skepticism and concern I try to apply to all apocalyptic warnings. There were elements of the presentation that I need to verify from other sources. I don’t just swallow things whole.

However, a single statistic did capture my attention and my concern. It is a statistic I have seen elsewhere. I used to see it reported about the population of Europe, and now I see it reported about the population of the USA.

US Fertility Rate = 1.6.

This is a number to make any thinking person get busy thinking a lot more.

The reason this number gives me pause is another statistic. The birth rate required for a culture to sustain itself is 2.11. The consequence of a birth rate less than 2.11 is the death of a culture. I won’t try to predict what follows the death of the culture we know, but as far as I can tell, the culture I once thought was the USA is truly dying. If the birth rate continues at the rate of 1.6 then there will come a time when the USA that led an alliance to set a whole world free of tyranny in World War II will be a dim memory, if it is remembered at all.

I was captivated by this number. US Fertility Rate = 1.6.  During the election campaign of 2012, a dominant theme was the so-called “war on women.” The primary issue in that so-called war was a newly discovered universal human right to contraception, abortion and sterilization. The one thing everyone came to know about the new healthcare law, scornfully labeled Obamacare, is that it requires every employer to provide preventive health services for women that include contraception, abortion and sterilization at no charge to the patients. A lot of time was spent during the campaign maligning anyone who suggested that contraception is not health care or a preventive health service. Any candidate who proposed that people pay for their own contraception would have been hooted off the stage.

This campaign only highlighted the fact that in the USA, abortion and contraception have become almost interchangeable issues, and nobody seems to correlate this emphasis with the decline in the birth rate that means the culture cannot sustain itself. I’m no statistician, but those who are say that to date, no culture has ever rebounded from a birth rate of 1.6, although the rate from which it is supposedly mathematically impossible to recover is a bit lower.

What happens if the birth rate of the US remains at 1.6? What happens if it becomes even lower?

What bothers me is that people seem to be very concerned that somebody will interfere with contraception and abortion, and nobody seems to be concerned that this country will not be recognizable in a couple of generations if this birth rate continues. It appears to me that nobody cares that the culture of the USA will soon be only a memory, and that the people who will likely fill the gap really won’t care at all to preserve that memory.

If you have read this far and have asked yourself, “What does this have to do with being Christian?” my answer is this: about 70% of people in the US self-identify as Christians, and they are part of the statistic on the fertility rate. Self-identified Christians make up more than half of the US population, and it appears that Christians are just as interested in preventing or terminating pregnancy as the rest of the population. The national issues that have grown out of the passage of the Affordable Care Act make it clear that many Christians see no conflict with their faith in the emphasis on contraception, abortion and sterilization. The conversation about these issues, however, never seems to include any reference to the fact that before this act was even passed, our national fertility rate was low enough that the end of the culture that passed the act was already inevitable. Viewed that way, one wonders what is the reason for all the excitement. The people who worry about the doom of the culture are completely out-numbered by those who believe that prevention and termination of pregnancy are essential to the national well-being. Those who want pregnancy under control will absolutely get their wish according to the statistics. If Christians do nothing different from whatever they are doing now, American Christians are already a dying breed.

I must ask why abortion and contraception are so important to our government and our national leaders. I must ask why the female leaders in our nation not only support but also energetically advocate abortion and contraception. I must ask why so many Christians support an agenda to prevent or terminate pregnancy. Why?

I will write more on this subject later, but for now I simply ask this question: What becomes of our country if there is no next generation? What becomes of Christianity in the US if there is no next generation of Christians?

Conscience, Conscience, Who’s Got Conscience?

“They say freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. I … do not know what conscience is. … I could not figure out the full meaning of the words ‘freedom of conscience.’” This statement expressed the viewpoint of Allahshukyr Pashazada, the head of Caucasus Muslims Office in Azerbaijan at Baku, Azerbaijan on November 14, 2012.

The speaker was attending a conference titled “Freedom of religion and belief: Legal, political and public aspects.” After reading these words, anyone might be entitled to wonder if Mr. Pashazada can legitimately participate in such a conference. Yet this man has held his current position in the government of Azerbaijan since before the fall of the USSR.

Since Mr. Pashazada serves in the government of a nation that is officially secular, one might forgive him for not recognizing the concept of conscience, but his role as head of Muslims makes one ask if he can possibly be serious. Azerbaijan falls at number 25 of the 50 nations with the worst records of religious persecution, making it important to probe a bit deeper into the meaning of Mr. Pashazada’s words. Could his words explain why this nation is on a list of such nations? What might his real meaning be?

These words, “I … do not know what conscience is,” reminds us of a corollary situation in the USA. Recently Tyndale House publishers sued Kathleen Sebelius for exemption from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act on grounds of conscience. In the USA, we all think we know what a conscience exemption is. We think it means that government will respect people’s convictions when they say that they cannot obey a law because their religion defines the behavior required by obedience as sin. Quakers, who believe that all violence is sin against God, have been given non-violent work to do in the military, exempted because of conscience, from bearing arms. Most reasonable people thought that the Affordable Care Act would make that same sort of accommodation.

However, the conscience exemption defined in the regulations implementing the ACA limit the conscience exemption to houses of worship that qualify for the IRS 501 ( c ) 3 classification whose business is defined as follows:           (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.
See the Federal Register August 3, 2011, 45 CFR Part 147

This definition is extremely tight, and this definition would never have allowed Quakers to be conscientious objectors as individuals during wartime. Many individuals and businesses have considered this definition to be far too narrow, given the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment for the free expression of religion. However, the administration’s response to the suit by Tyndale House was that Tyndale House was not “religious enough” to qualify for a conscience exemption.

Many people would say that the current administration, in the person of Kathleen Sebelius, does not understand what conscience is any better than the head of Caucasus Muslims Office in Azerbaijan, Mr. Allahshukyr Pashazada. Many people would say that in this instance, the USA no more protects religious liberty than one of the fifty worst countries in the world for religious freedom, Azerbaijan.

Interestingly, in Azerbaijan, all religious groups must register, but since January 1, 2010, no church has been allowed to register. They are required to register, but when they submit registration forms, those forms languish in some office somewhere, and the registration never is certified by the government. An attentive reader parsing the language of the regulation for conscience exemption relative to the Affordable Care Act might see in that language the likelihood that in the future, all the churches that wanted to qualify for the exemption would be required to register and be certified before the exemption could be granted. Somehow or other, the government must actually recognize those churches that qualify for exemptions. How better than to simply have a database somewhere where all the churches that meet the legal definition are registered? If that becomes the rule, what happens when the government tires of dealing with it? What happens when churches apply for exemption with all their forms filled out, and the official who must do the certification never actually does it?

Further, Azerbaijan is officially a secular state with no state religion. In theory, the government of Azerbaijan does not prefer one religion over another. In fact, in theory, the government of Azerbaijan is completely neutral with regard to religion, and this stance is the only one that makes real sense of Mr. Pashazada’s statement. Someone who considers religion a mildly comical aberration in the human psyche might very well consider a conscience to be a mythical concept invented for the purpose of avoiding legal obligations. This very attitude permeates the recorded statements of the administration in the court records of three suits filed to date seeking exemption from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The government appears not to recognize that a Christian is obligated by his faith to live according to the teachings of the faith at work, at home, in a laundromat, in the grocery store, while driving to work, and anywhere else he may be. The tenets of Christian faith do not lose their effect in a person’s life as soon as he exits the church building, yet the government feels justified in saying that nothing religious happens in a for-profit business.

What is conscience but the outworking of faith in the life of an individual? What happens when government tries to compel people to act against conscience, to ignore conscience?

I have found no record of the intentions of the people who founded Azerbaijan, but there is a well-documented record of the intentions of the people who founded the USA. The people who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America never intended for the government to compel anyone to act against conscience. Are we who claim the name of Christ ready to go to jail and/or pay huge fines for our unwillingness to act against our conscience shaped by the teachings of Christ? Will the USA someday be on the list of the worst fifty nations for religious persecution?
Christians purport to believe in prayer. Now is a good time to pray that the US government will be enlightened about the meaning of the First Amendment and cancel the regulations that are currently imposing secular moral values on individuals, businesses and institutions which operate by Christian values. Christians need to pray that they will themselves be very clear about the values they live by and that they will be ready to pay the price for their convictions. In Azerbaijan, people are arrested, fined and imprisoned for their values. Are Christians in the USA ready for the same thing? Are Christians in the USA ready to act and speak and pray with all their hearts for religious liberty for Christians in Azerbaijan and in the USA?