Tag Archives: RFRA

Christ has Already Overcome the World

For Christians, life in the USA today feels like a war. There is a reason for that feeling. Jesus told us long ago, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV)

Prayer_Christ _in_the_Garden

The Founders and Framers of the USA were wise men. They were all men of faith, even though they might not all have expressed it in the same way. They all recognized the significance of faith in their own lives, and all were well aware that their lives would have been very different if the original colonists in North America had brought with them the power structure of state churches in the Old World. Some of the most egregious offenses to religious liberty in the New World were simply old bad habits. Some of the colonies had state religions, while others eschewed any such thing. After independence from England, when the colonies recognized that they needed each other for security and trade, they also discussed whether to have a state church. In the government they designed in the Constitution, a national established church was forbidden. State churches in individual states were not forbidden, and some were already in place. However, over time it became clear that the interests of liberty-loving citizens would best be served by keeping the church out of the political structure.

A study of the Bible makes it very clear that when religion integrates with politics and power structures, it becomes like them. Priests, pastors, and any other religious leaders are not immune to the temptations of power. Immersed in the political structures, they start acting like political animals. The oil of political progress, compromise, comes to seem like gospel, and when that happens, the Gospel is discarded in favor of “bipartisanship” or “getting things done.”

This does not mean that laws ought not to embody God’s moral teachings. The Founders never advocated that the nation put religion in a locked box and make up morality as the notions came to them. The people who fought for independence and then wrestled with the concept of self-government believed profoundly in the importance of morality expressed in the lives of citizens, especially in the lives and actions of citizen leaders. They firmly believed that the Constitution was shaped by their faith, and they believed that law and order in the new nation would also be shaped by moral and ethical constructs of people of faith. They did not believe it was wrong to live and act by faith; they did believe that it was wrong for government to tell people what faith they had to live by. The Founders and Framers expected that people would want the body of law in the new nation to have a moral and ethical flavor in keeping with their personal moral and ethical principles. Government of, by and for the people should have the same moral flavor as that of the people governed.

The design of the Constitution means that Christians must influence the culture by being distributed throughout, expressing and acting on faith wherever they are. Jesus said the same thing when he said that we were to be salt and light. Instead of being the power at the top, Christians best influence the culture by being distributed through all the layers of the culture. When ordinary citizens like Crystal O’Connor simply live and act on their faith, the faith is most faithfully preserved and protected, and the culture is most powerfully influenced. As a consequence of her act, people who donated to a crowdfunding project on her behalf cast thousands and thousands of “votes” for faithful obedience to God’s moral teachings.

The crucifixion of Jesus demonstrates what the powers that be in the world will do to expressions of faith. The priests and church leaders were utterly absorbed in the political structure of Jerusalem and the Roman Empire. Their influence as God’s witnesses operated like a mold, not a seasoning. A mold is strong, solid, and unforgiving. A culture pressed into a mold will have all the noncompliant elements carved off. A culture seasoned with the salt and light of faith in Christ promotes the best expression of all the different ingredients.

There is a nonreligion in the USA today that is creating the role of the state church. This religion says that there is a mold all people must fit, or be carved and prodded till they do fit. The peculiar aspect of this nonreligion is that it loves all religions except Christianity. This nonreligion read news that Muslim bakers refused to bake wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies that pretend to be weddings, but the nonreligion was not even interested in hearing about it. There was no Twitter war against a Muslim bakery that rejected participation in homosexual sin.

This nonreligion advocates “interfaith dialogue” where many religions get together, pour all their convictions down the disposal, and agree to adopt the secular language of diversity and inclusion. Instead of worshiping their individual gods, the various religions agree to worship the god of “getting along” by never differing from one another over such trivial issues as a real god or a fake god. Much better to light some candles and hum a meaningless syllable for hours than to fundamentally transform sinful human nature into something better.

Christians will never win this war. Christ wins this war. It is a secular teaching that if you believe something strongly enough you can make it real. Christians do not believe in an idea. Christians do not believe in themselves. Christians believe in Christ. Our faith, our words and our deeds participate in the victory, but they do not bring the victory to pass. Right now, the world is simultaneously trying to ignore us and to clobber us. It will not succeed in either goal, because Christ himself has overcome the world. The world’s apparent victory at times is only temporary. People like Crystal O’Connor participate in the ultimate victory of Christ before it even happens by testifying to their faith by word and deed. May all Christ’s followers be encouraged and motivated to do the same thing. We will not bring the victory of Christ to pass, because on the cross, he has already won the victory. If we fail to testify to it by our faithful words and deeds, it is not Christ who loses. We lose.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABaltasar_de_Echave_Orio_-_The_Prayer_in_the_Garden_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/Baltasar_de_Echave_Orio_-_The_Prayer_in_the_Garden_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

By Baltasar de Echave Orio (ca. 1558 – ca. 1623) (Spanish) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Good News! Senate Bill S 2578 Defeated

Free speech and free exercise of religion are fundamental human rights.  The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was always intended to affirm protection of those rights. American citizens of any faith or no faith at all should rejoice that the Senate acted to affirm that religious liberty is still a core value in the USA.

Without Citizen Vigilance Religious Liberty Will Be Lost

The owners of Hobby Lobby, a private corporation, went all the way to the Supreme Court in the name of religious liberty. The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to be exempt from paying for services which conflict with the religious convictions of the owners. The ruling applied a section of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the mechanism for resolving the conflict between the interests of government and the values of free citizens. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act provided an easy way out of the conflict between private convictions and public agendas.

This resolution of the matter is not acceptable to some people, because there are actually citizens in the USA who do not want Christians to be free to live according their consciences. A law is being proposed in the US Senate which says that and employer ‘shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service’ such as abortifacient drugs mislabeled as contraceptives. The bill S2578 includes a statement intended to prevent an outcome in the Supreme Court such as the Hobby Lobby decision. It says that this provision “shall apply to employers notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The title of the bill, “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014,” cloaks the subversion of religious liberty in a political agenda that demonizes corporations and pretends to respond to a threat not in existence, all in order to move forward an agenda designed ultimately to shut all reference to religion or its moral and ethical teachings out of public life.

In the body of the bill S 2578, the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case is referenced, and the accusation is made that “some for-profit corporations can take away the birth control coverage guaranteed to their employees and the covered dependents of such employees through their group health plan.” The reader will immediately notice that the language says, “take away” birth control coverage, a statement that is ridiculous in view of the fact that the employer in question provided 16 different methods of birth control.

S 2578 further states that the Hobby Lobby decision allows Hobby Lobby “to treat a critical women’s health service differently than other comparable services.” The “critical health service” is birth control, and the decision only addresses 4 of the 20 FDA-approved methods of birth control. With regard to the 4 pertinent items, the Supreme Court decision assures the employees that those 4 items will be available to the employees without cost-sharing, just as federal law requires. The change that takes place as a consequence of the decision is completely administrative and not visible in the experience of the employees. They suffer no loss. If they want abortifacient drugs at no charge to themselves, the Hobby Lobby decision in no way impedes their ability to obtain them and in no way costs them any money. The Hobby Lobby owners might actually wish that nobody used abortifacient drugs instead of birth control, but the decision rendered does not have that result. The Supreme Court protected the owners of Hobby Lobby without creating any intereference for someone who prefers to abort an existing baby rather than prevent conception in the first place.

The real consequence of the Hobby Lobby decision is that government is required to respect the religious conviction of the owners of Hobby Lobby, a conviction rooted in moral values upheld in their faith for thousands of years, a moral standard that says it is a sin for believers to participate in the murder of unborn human beings. Senator Murray’s bill fails to state that it is all about authorizing the murder of unborn babies, because the politicians do not want to say that the drugs in question are abortifacient, and they most emphatically do not want to say that abortion is the murder of unborn human beings. That sounds terrible. Barbaric. Completely uncivilized. It sounds like something the most primitive tribe along the Amazon would know was evil, so politicians do not want to say in public that they think the murder of unborn human beings is something every woman ought to be able to do, even if she must compel her employer to participate in the murder by paying for the drug that does the deed.

It is not possible to read the bill S 2578 without concluding that religious liberty is not respected by the supporters of this bill. The First Amendment to the US Constitution was passed by the very First Congress of the USA, and it was speedily ratified by all thirteen original states. Citizens in those states valued freedom from a state-sponsored religion and the freedom to exercise their own faith. They all felt that their faith was the proper source of guidance in matters of right and wrong, and when the state chose a course that conflicted with a person’s faith-guided conscience, the first citizens of our nation believed that the state should step back. The citizens who founded the USA did not want the government to decree moral standards; they felt that morality was best expressed in the consciences of voters who would, in their votes and in their voices to elected representatives, make their moral standards heard. It was expected that the moral voice of the people would be reflected in the actions of their elected representatives and senators. When the people’s representatives and senators overstepped their bounds, the first citizens of the USA looked to the Supreme Court to reign in the inappropriate actions of the Congress. Just as citizens today continue to do. It was the most natural thing conceivable that Hobby Lobby’s case should come to the Supreme Court, because it is an instance of conflict between a political agenda enacted into law and a citizen’s religious conviction which defines what is morally right and wrong. The First Amendment was intended to resolve those instances where such conflicts arose with a bias toward preserving personal religious liberty.

In the early 90’s a series of events led Congress to decide that the First Amendment protections were in danger, and Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to bolster the protections provided by the First Amendment. Harry Reid and many others who are still in the Senate today voted for that law. It was viewed as a good and necessary enhancement to protect religious liberty in the US.

Now, the Senate is considering a law that pulls the teeth of the very protections the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was designed to strengthen. This proposed law would override the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and force employers to do exactly what the Hobby Lobby decision exempted them from doing. This proposed bill is a malicious and vindictive assault on the freedom of people of any faith whatsoever to live according to the teachings of their faith.
This law is not only bad for the employers who are encumbered by the Affordable Care Act. It is an omen of future events. If the Congress of the United States of America passes such a law, it is a clear indicator that the Congress does not want citizens to have religious liberty. If this law passes, the next time Congress considers a law that requires people to do the opposite of what their faith teaches them is right, the precedent set by this law would be to include the same statement in the new law: “shall apply to employers notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” If Patty Murry’s bill to force employers to pay for abortifacient drugs despite their religious convictions to the contrary, it will mean that the Congress has the desire and the will to end religious liberty in the USA.

Time for prayer. Time to write your Senator and say “Vote No on S 2578” . Time to tell your neighbor to do the same thing.

Who Needs Autonomous Religions?

In his 1993 book, The Culture of Disbelief, Stephen L. Carter said, “autonomous religions play a vital role as free critics of the institutions of secular society.” The hubbub surrounding the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision makes it clear that the culture is flummoxed by any idea that a religion could be autonomous. It is autonomous religion that teaches its members to live by their principles 24/7. That little icon, 24/7, is the key to the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, and it underlies a great many ongoing disputes.
Twenty-first century culture deifies the notion of living 24/7. Be a dreamer. Seek your goals and don’t let anyone crush your dream. Stand up for yourself. Be who you are 24/7, and don’t let anyone steal your self from you. This is the mantra of secular self-actualization, but when a person of faith lives by his or her faith 24/7, all of a sudden this commitment means that this person wants to push his faith off on other people, and the culture cannot tolerate someone who does that. The fact that activities to explain faith or even invite other people to believe are not the same thing as becoming tyrannical over other people seems not to be important. The important thing is that somebody somewhere has decreed that people with religious faith must keep their faith to themselves, this despite the fact that other people’s beliefs assault people of faith in the form of ads on websites for general news and public service announcements ceaselessly teaching the philosophies politicians espouse make it difficult to watch or listen to any content on any subject without being invited, or even forcefully motivated, to think what someone else thinks is a good idea.
Comments online and even on television and twitter repeat the cultural accusation that the Supreme Court has ruled that an employer may invade the bedroom of an employee. Yet all the owners of Hobby Lobby ever asked was the Constitutional right to “exercise” their faith. They did not ask that the law be changed to require every American citizen to do what they do. They asked only to be free to live according to the teachings of their faith. They learned the teachings, because in the USA, their religion is autonomous. The government of the US, unlike the government of China, does not try to tell any religion what it must teach. Unlike the government of Tajikistan, it does not tell parents that they may not teach their religion to their children. Unlike the government of Laos, it does not withdraw citizenship from someone whose faith principles prevent him from celebrating local animist rituals that other citizens practice habitually. In the USA, the Constitution gives each religion the autonomy to decide its own teachings and the freedom to teach its adherents the principles of its faith. Every follower, like the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby is protected by the Constitution when “exercising” the principles taught by his religion.
Why does Carter believe that the role of religions is vital to a secular society? The answer lies in the values taught by religions. Secularists tend to think that whatever makes an individual happy is right for that individual. This rule of thumb may work for a person who lives in isolation, but not so well for communities. In a community, people need standards of more enduring value and broader application than each person’s individual muse.
The important thing to know about autonomous religion is that it operates independently; nobody outside the religion’s governing structures tells the religion what to believe or what to teach. An autonomous religion determines its beliefs, its teachings and its values without input from the culture or the government. In fact, those entities, important as they are, have no influence on the teachings of an autonomous religion. The religion has its own sacred sources from which it receives direction with regard to principles.
Furthermore, an autonomous religion reacts and develops independently of culture or government. In the Hobby Lobby case, the developments which resulted in passage of the Affordable Care Act derived from political considerations shaped by secular pressures in the culture. Politics may feel the need to respond to cultural pressure, because the people in the culture vote, but an autonomous religion has no obligation to voters. Its wisdom and moral guidance does not come from the culture; it comes from the religion’s sacred sources by means of writings, tradition, revelation or any combination of those elements. There may be religions that are culture-oriented, but if so, they are rare and sparsely followed. Hobby Lobby’s owners live by a religious tradition of values that go back thousands of years and that have been taught consistently to millions of believers. These religious values are shaped by revelation, tradition and sacred writings, none of which take any note of changing cultural trends. It is very common for cultural trends to clash with immovable religious standards. An attempt to compel people whose moral fiber is shaped by their faith poses incalculable stresses that the government need not impose. The Constitution is designed specifically to prevent the behemoth of government from imposing such stresses on people of faith.
The Constitutional solution is important for the health of the nation. When people are compelled to choose between faith and government, the pressure is incalculable. Early Christians faced exactly this kind of pressure, and there was no Constitutional protection for them. They were beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and executed, because there was no protective buffer between individuals and that powerful government. Good people died, because they could not sacrifice the faith that sustained their lives. Strong people died. Talented people died. Leaders died. The Empire lost many valuable citizens because the empire of Rome could not tolerate autonomous religions.
Thank goodness the government of the USA is constrained by the Constitution to allow religions to exist in autonomy. The government may not choose a single religion and force everyone to belong. The chosen church may not deliver edicts to the head of state in opposition to the will of the people. In the USA, the autonomy of the religions sets up a culture in which the values taught by the religions are expressed in the political discourse and the decisions of the electorate, not in the administrative bureaucracy of government. The values expressed in the votes of the people become the values that shape specific acts, but at no time is any particular religion “in power.” The citizens with their votes are always “in power.”
The Hobby Lobby decision is an example of what happens when the autonomy of religions and the fundamental human rights of believers are respected. The Hobby Lobby decision gave government the guidance it needed in order to achieve what it said were compelling government interests without exerting tyrannical control over private citizens whose religious convictions were outraged by the Affordable Care Act.