By Mark Kelly
The majority of people in the United States seems not to care a whit about an outrageous situation in which the federal government is ordering people of faith to violate their genuine convictions in obvious violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Most don’t seem to think the situation matters or that it affects them personally. Some even have publicly approved.
I’m talking, of course, about the federal Health and Human Services Department requiring all employers to provide health insurance that covers access to contraception — except that the issue for some isn’t contraception but abortion. The federal government’s definition of ‘contraception’ includes toxic chemicals like the “morning-after pill” that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in its mother’s womb. For a great many earnest evangelical Christians, that isn’t contraception; it’s abortion. (For traditional Catholics, the violation of conscience is even more serious.)
Many Christian institutions and businesses have filed suit against the HHS requirement, citing the First Amendment’s clear language that Congress may not adopt any law the prevents the free exercise of religion. Although the HHS abortion-drug mandate clearly violates the First Amendment, federal lawyers say religious people have no religious freedom rights once they step into the “secular” public square. On Dec. 26, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied a request from the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby that federal fines of up to $1.3 million per day be held off while their suit against the law is pending. The esteemed justice said the potential fine fails to satisfy the legal standard for an “emergency.”
I shudder to think what it would take for Ms. Sotomayor to declare an emergency for these business owners.
Americans who value their freedom ought to be deeply concerned about this situation. Even those who do not see the current regime as a threat must realize that regimes change. We live today in a highly polarized society. Various factions, each completely convinced of the rightness of their opinions, would be totally comfortable binding the entire society with laws based on those opinions.
I’d love to hear from those of you who aren’t deeply concerned about the HHS mandate and its effect on religious freedom. What will you think when another regime comes to power that is aggressively opposed to your convictions? Even if you disagree about the “morning-after pill” and the issue of abortion, why would you not want to defend the freedom of Hobby Lobby’s owners to conduct their lives according to the mandates of religious conviction?
Isn’t their freedom your freedom?
Muslims, why are you not already up in arms over this culture’s celebration of immorality and promotion of homosexual marriage? What would you do if a regime comes to power that condemns Muhammad as a cruel tyrant, forbids possession of the Quran, outlaws Sharia as a backward, unjust legal code, and denies faithful Muslims the right to live according to its precepts?
Jews, many of you already are outraged by the favoritism expressed by this administration toward Palestinians and Islamists over Israel’s right to peaceful existence. What would you do if a regime declares that your religion promotes racist apartheid and closes your houses of worship, outlaws U.S. citizens assisting Israel, uses its military might to displace the Israeli government, and installs a Palestinian government in its place?
Buddhists, your path to deliverance from suffering demands right views, aspirations, conduct, and livelihood, to deny the craving that enslaves us all. What would you do if the U.S. Department of Commerce declared it the patriotic duty of American citizens to teach their children the virtues of consumption and to bolster the economy by purchasing a set amount of goods and services each year — with tax penalties for failure to meet the quotas?
Hindus, you celebrate the vast diversity of your divinities, some of which represent values abhorrent to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. What would you do if a regime comes to power that declares those gods a danger to society and forbids their worship under penalty of law, placing federal observers in your temples to ensure compliance?
Christians, where do I begin with you? You ought to be deeply, deeply concerned already. But there is more to come, I assure you. What would you do if your church was forbidden to conduct any activities outside the walls of its building? What if heavy taxes are laid on church property and receipts? What if government elementary schools actively promote adult/child sexual relationships as just another “sexual identity” and “lifestyle”? What if parents lost custody of their children for teaching them the “intolerant” belief that Jesus is God and the only path to salvation?
Secularists, ignoring the First Amendment affects you too — if not the free exercise clause, then the clause that forbids Congress from enacting laws that establish one religion over others. What would you do if a Dominionist party managed to gain control of the government and mandated fundamentalist Christian church attendance, tithing and school prayer?
Yes, some of these scenarios are less likely than others, but none of them are inconceivable, given the animosities and polarization of U.S. society today. You know there are elements in this country right now that would be delighted to implement some of the policies mentioned above. Why are you not standing to defend conscientious objectors to the HHS mandate?
Perhaps it’s because you are comfortable and don’t want to rock the boat: You’ve got yours and no one is trying to take it away; let others figure out how to handle their own problems. Perhaps you have your hands full just trying to survive in this economy. Perhaps you simply are distracted — preoccupied with sporting events or Facebook or Angry Birds or Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Distracting the people with “bread and circuses” is a proven way for tyranny to worm its way into power unopposed. Perhaps, as I said before, you agree employers should provide such insurance and you have no sympathy for someone who disagrees, even for religious reasons.
Whoever you are, it’s time to start paying attention to this issue. Look past the specifics of this conflict and focus on the principle of religious liberty, both free exercise and establishment. The First Amendment’s religious liberty provision is all that stands between you and the tyranny others would like to impose on you. The Constitution must be defended if we are to maintain freedom and liberty in this country.
Their freedom, whoever they are, is your freedom.
You can take a stand for faith freedom by learning more from the ERLC or the Manhattan Declaration website, signing a petition, donating to a religious liberty organization like The Becket Fund, and contacting the White House, Health and Human Services, and your Congressman.