As many Americans began the process of remedying their New Year’s hangovers yesterday, and others pledged themselves to various and sundry resolutions, or began dismantling Christmas decorations, a fundamental shift in the country’s landscape occurred that went unmarked by people sweeping up confetti or reaching for their aspirin. It is no secret that various laws and provisions of Obamacare went into effect on Tuesday.
One of those is the mandate that certain companies provide coverage for contraception, abortions and abortofacients, regardless of the religious beliefs of the owners. The company in question in this case is Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby’s owners rejected the mandate on the basis that they feel life begins at conception, and are thus opposed to abortion.
On Thursday Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor denied an appeal by Hobby Lobby and the Mardel chain of bookstores for an injunction to stop Health and Human Services from forcing them to pay for abortions in their respective corporate insurance plans, and to spare them a potential fine of 1.3 million dollars per day for not complying. The mandate and the fine went into effect for the companies on New Year’s Day.
Keep in mind Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not keeping people from having abortions. And those who want their health care plans to cover their abortion are free to seek employment or coverage elsewhere. The companies are simply saying that they do not wish to fund abortions because doing so conflicts with their Christian beliefs which have been a cornerstone of these companies’ identities since their inceptions.
The rationale of the Obama Administration is that since the companies are secular, for-profit organizations, they are not entitled to free exercise of religion and are thus unable to opt out of paying for abortions. The administration contends that since the law is applicable to all companies not just those owned by Christians, enforcing it does not constitute the persecution of Christians or the abrogation of the exercise of their faith.
Of the two, the first line of reasoning concerns me the most. In effect the administration is asserting, apparently successfully, that it is the arbiter of what is and is not an exercise of religion. While Justice Sotomayor seems content to uphold this notion, there is nothing new under the sun, and this government is not the first to regulate religion to suit its policies.
American Christians have been offended for years, feeling as if their religious freedom has been gravely wounded because one group of malcontents or another successfully won a bellyaching contest in front of activist judges by whining about a crèche in a public venue, or a high school coach praying with his football team. And these affronts are unfortunate to be sure, and speak volumes about the ethical compass of a nation. However the decision by Sotomayor has its roots in a much darker corner of history, one with which American Christians have not had to contend.
In his book “Tortured for Christ”the late Reverend Richard Wurmbrand recounts the years of hell he and other Christians endured under Communist rule in Romania. The book is a testimony not to the power of hate and persecution that can be leveraged by a dictatorship but to the power of people who held on to their faith in the face of beatings, threats, blackmail, imprisonment and a variety of tortures to numerous to mention here. But what is germane to this discussion is the fact that Wurmbrand points out that the government did not eliminate the churches. Those priests and pastors who followed the Communist Party line and wrote and preached what they were told were allowed to continue with a government sanction. That meant equating Christianity with Communism, and spying on their flocks when so directed. In short, those churches that conformed to the government’s version of the Gospel were allowed to keep their doors open. Christians who opposed the Communist version of Christianity went underground for fear of their lives. Religion became what the government decided it was.
While the situation involving HHS and Hobby Lobby is in no way as dire as that of Christianity under Communism, the parallel between the two is startling. By telling Hobby Lobby that it is not entitled to first amendment rights by virtue of articles of incorporation, the government has in fact limited the rights of the owners and employees in one arena. And it has set itself up as the authority on what is to be considered the free expression of religion.
Anti-Christians seize upon Jefferson’s Deism, his eponymous Bible and his statements on the separation of Church and State as their basis for attacks on Christianity in one venue or another. But as they sink their fangs into Jefferson’s spirituality and then pick them clean with his Bible, they are woefully unmindful of a major driving force behind the First Amendment.
The Founding Fathers were concerned with protecting the church from the state, more than the state from the church. They were all too aware that a monarch that also controlled a nation’s faith could dictate the tenets of that faith. And that such a thing is contradictory to free men and women worshipping as they see fit. Preventing governments from dictating how and when faith may be exercised is the very reason the First Amendment was put into place. And the Obama Administration is ignoring that. And it is doing so at your peril.