Category: Freedom of Conscience

Ever since the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that requiring most employers to cover birth control, abortificients and abortions as part of employee health care coverage, there has been a firestorm of attention pill in handfocused on the mandate. Both secular and religious employers have fought the order, stating that it violates their moral and/or religious principles to pay for these things, which many do not believe fall into the category of “health care.” (See Acton PowerBlog posts here, here, and here.)

Today, August 1, was the date the mandate was to go into effect. However, HHS has given a “stay” for religious non-profits until January 2014. That isn’t good enough for the group “Women Speak For Themselves” (WSFT), founded by Helen Alvaré, Professor of Law at George Mason University. In today’s Washington Post, Alvaré and Meg T. McDonnell give 5 reasons why women care about this mandate. She says, in the words of one of the organization’s members that these women “don’t want anyone buying the phony message the government is selling…that ‘women care more about free birth control than freedom of religion.'” WSFT backed up their convictions by protesting today in Lafayette Park across from the White House. (more…)

Michael and Shaun Willis, brothers and attorneys at Willis & Willis, PLC in Kalamazoo, Mich., have filed suit against the federal government’s mandate regarding the inclusion of artificial birth control, abortificients and abortion as part of willis_brothersemployee health care. The brothers are both committed Christians and staunchly pro-life; one is Catholic, one Protestant. In addition to their law practice, they have a legal aid organization, doing pro bono work for the homeless in southeast Michigan. They also fund scholarships for children of military parents who’ve been killed or disabled in combat. This fund, the Corporal Christopher Kelly Willis Foundation, is a memorial to their brother, who was killed in an auto accident after returning home from active duty. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
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religious-freedomIn its fullest and most robust sense, religion is the human person’s being in right relation to the divine, says Robert George, and all of us have a duty, in conscience, to seek the truth and to honor the freedom of all men and women everywhere to do the same:

. . . the existential raising of religious questions, the honest identification of answers, and the fulfilling of what one sincerely believes to be one’s duties in the light of those answers are all parts of the human good of religion. But if that is true, then respect for a person’s well-being, or more simply respect for the person, demands respect for his or her flourishing as a seeker of religious truth and as one who lives in line with his or her best judgments of what is true in spiritual matters. And that, in turn, requires respect for everyone’s liberty in the religious quest—the quest to understand religious truth and order one’s life in line with it.

Because faith of any type, including religious faith, cannot be authentic—it cannot be faith—unless it is free, respect for the person—that is to say, respect for his or her dignity as a free and rational creature—requires respect for his or her religious liberty. That is why it makes sense, from the point of view of reason, and not merely from the point of view of the revealed teaching of a particular faith—though many faiths proclaim the right to religious freedom on theological and not merely philosophical grounds—to understand religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

Read more . . .

Hobby-Lobby-StoreAccording to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, for-profit businesses won a significant victory for religious liberty today. A federal court granted Hobby Lobby a preliminary injunction against the HHS abortion-drug mandate, preventing the government from enforcing the mandate against the Christian company.

This victory comes less than a month after a landmark decision by the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled 5-3 that Hobby Lobby can exercise religion under the First Amendment and is likely to win its case against the mandate.

“The tide has turned against the HHS mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and lead attorney for Hobby Lobby.

In an opinion read from the bench, the court said, “There is a substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them while these difficult issues are resolved.”

Nietzsche-e1348964402763In the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche makes an interesting observation about cultural elites and how a culture defines what is “good”:

[T]he real homestead of the concept of “good” is sought and located in the wrong place: the judgement “good” did not originate among those to whom goodness was shown. Much rather has it has been the good themselves, that is, the aristocratic, the powerful, the high-stationed, the high-minded, who have felt that they themselves are good, and that their actions were good, that is to say of the first order, in contradistinction to all the low, the low-minded, the vulgar, and the plebeian. It was out of this pathos of distance that they first arrogated the right to create values for their own profit, and to coin the names of such values (italics his)

As frustrating as Nietzsche can be for many, his point here is helpful in understanding why it is that elites feel justified in using power and coercion to force those who are not as enlightened and advanced, in the opinion of the elites, to live according to the elite’s imaginings for human life. This is a basic orientation of the type of progressivism we see playing out in American politics today. Progressives see themselves as more enlightened than the rest of us and believe that it is within their right to exert power over the common person to conform us all to a progressive vision for society.

Progressive elites not only know what is best but they will always use power to implement programs to actualize their social visions. Back in 1920, Herbert Croly, a key apologist of progressivism that heavily influenced the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, described it this way:

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One of the consistent themes in Christian social teaching is the recognition that this world has both material and spiritual realities. As such, it is not only important that we think about the moral, political, and economic structures that contribute to set the stage for human flourishing but that we also pray for those who are suffering that they would be free to live out their callings as human persons made in God’s image.

The Friday weekly intercessory prayer from the The Book of Common Prayer from the Church of Ireland directs our attention to these populations.

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In an open letter to all Americans, religious leaders as varied as Catholic Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Susan Taylor, the National Public Affairs Director of the Church of Scientology, have responded to the Obama religious-freedomV2administration’s “final” ruling regarding the HHS mandate that all employers carry health insurance that includes birth control, abortificients and abortion coverage. The letter, entitled “Standing Together For Religious Freedom”, acknowledges the signators have a wide range of beliefs and that many of the signators do not have a moral problem with birth control and/or abortion, but are concerned with the threat to religious freedom that the HHS mandate represents.

Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception. Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens. Whether or not we agree with the particular conscientious objection is beside the point. HHS continues to deny many Americans the freedom to manifest their beliefs through practice and observance in their daily lives.

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On Friday, June 28, the Department of Health and Human Services offered up its final ruling on the mandate for all employers to offer insurance plans covering abortion services and abortificients. The ruling itself is over 100 pages, and will sebeliustake some time to dissect. However, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty made this statement:

‘Unfortunately the final rule announced today is the same old, same old. As we said when the proposed rule was issued, this doesn’t solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our non-profit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses’ says Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. ‘The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires. Instead this issue will have to be decided in court.’ (more…)

There is little doubt that America is moving further away from the kind of broad and liberal religious freedom that was championed during the founding period. In terms of intellectual thought, that period was certainly the high water mark for religious liberty around the globe. As Americans celebrate their freedoms and Independence next week, I seek to answer the question in this week’s commentary about America’s ability to remain the land of religious liberty.

Sadly, the outlook is rather bleak, and America will need a fundamental shift in thinking to secure protection for the rights of conscience and houses of worship. It’s evident the significance of spiritual freedom is waning and can’t really be articulated by the wider culture. Spiritual freedom is essential to self-government and self-control. In fact, I make the point in my commentary that the most dangerous detriment to religious liberty is the popular notion that religion and faith constricts liberty. Obviously, just winning mere court cases is not enough. That ship has sailed.

I suspect today’s Supreme Court ruling regarding the Defense of Marriage Act will only complicate matters of religious conscience for churches and dissent from culture and society becomes more dangerous. Secularization of society and the rise of centralized federal power is creating a government that seeks to operate above fundamental truths and the rights of conscience. It seeks to crowd it out and diminish its influence and limiting power upon the state. During his closing address at Acton University, Samuel Gregg explained so well how moral relativism now operates in a dictatorial fashion.

Just before the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his cousin Zabdiel that I think points to our inevitable path as a nation without a rejuvenated appreciation and understanding of religious liberty. Adams declared,

The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, They may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.

 

Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg took to the podium on the final night of Acton University 2013 to deliver the closing plenary address for the conference. Below, Gregg closes the conference with a reflection on modern threats to religious liberty, and how the faithful can respond.