Posts tagged with: freedom of conscience

The Liberty Bell in PhiladelphiaRegarding the Hobby Lobby decision and the Supreme Court, I believe the National Review editors summed it up best: “That this increase in freedom makes some people so very upset tells us more about them than about the Court’s ruling.”

I address this rapid politicization and misunderstanding of religious liberty and natural rights in today’s Acton commentary. The vitriolic reaction to the ruling is obviously not a good sign for religious liberty and we’re almost certainly going to continue down the path of losing rights of conscience and free expression. Obviously, I hope I’m wrong. But I wanted to step back and take a more comprehensive look at where we are now.

One point I make in the piece is that our federal lawmakers no longer hold a consensus to protect religious liberty, as they did with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Back then, there was overwhelming unification and bipartisanship to protect and strengthen religious liberty, that is a thing of the past and it has been swallowed up by partisan politics. Our collective partisan politics is becoming bigger than our once common understanding of natural rights.

Another point I stress is that there is an obvious difference on the very meaning of religious liberty that cuts through our country. This is well known to those who pay attention to these issues. Many saw the Hobby Lobby ruling not as a ruling in favor of the rights of conscience and liberty, but only a temporary setback in divorcing religion from public human affairs.

The Supreme Court ruling is being politicized in a myriad of vicious ways and that by itself is a bad sign for religious liberty. It will be a tough task going forward to educate people on the necessity of a vibrant understanding of religious liberty and natural rights that promotes the common good.

Supreme_CourtSupreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority (5-4) opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision was decided in large part because it aligns with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that passed the U.S. Senate 97-3 and was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The law is intended to prevent burdens to a person’s free exercise of religion. At the time, it had wide ranging bipartisan support and was introduced in the House by current U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

That four justices voted against the decision speaks to the current ideological divide at the court and in the nation of a once non-controversial understanding of religious liberty.

Some significant lines from Alito’s majority decision are below:

As applied to closely held corporations, the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA.

Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.

…the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest.

RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty…

Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.

HHS has also provided no evidence that the purported problem of determining the sincerity of an asserted religious belief moved Congress to exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protection.

Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

Rise-and-DeclineThere is an informative podcast on a new book titled The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom over at the Library of Law and Liberty. The author, Steven D. Smith, is the Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, University of San Diego and Co-Executive Director of the USD Institute for Law and Religion. Smith challenges the popular notion that American religious freedom was merely an enlightenment revolt from European Christendom and was meant to uplift a secular interpretation of the First Amendment.

Smith will be a guest writer over at their blog for the month of July. Below is an excerpt from the description of the podcast:

Our conversation begins with the history of the ratification of the First Amendment. What do we make of the fact that the religion clauses were scarcely debated in the Congress that approved them? Smith argues that this should dissolve any notion that a grand constitutional moment occurred and that gave us the religion clauses as “articles of faith” in secularism. We discuss Smith’s view that the lack of debate owed to an existing consensus that wanted to prevent the national government establishing a national church while the states would continue their established churches, in some cases, and other lesser forms of religious influence in their laws. Contrary, Smith argues, to a national standard of religious freedom or secularism, the constitutional course was “contestation” or an ongoing conflict between religious and secular claims. Thus the Court’s separationist jurisprudence of mid twentieth century, Smith discusses, was a departure from original understanding of religious liberty and its practice for most of our history.

Smith also discusses and disputes the view that American religious freedom is an outcome of the Enlightenment. His controversial claim is that it is a recovery of a key concept of Western civilization, freedom of the church, and, its later Protestant development, freedom of the “inner church” or conscience. Recovery is here stressed because it was modern political development, Smith notes, that had subordinated the church to the state and to be stripped of institutional freedom.

Listen to the podcast:

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CVS-no-cigsThe CVS chain made an announcement a few weeks ago: they would no longer sell tobacco products at their stores. CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo said:

As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role through our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners. By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients and health care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company. Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. This is the right thing to do.

Merlo’s own father died of lung cancer, and Merlo felt that this was not only a business decision, but an ethical one. (more…)

Acton On The AirActon Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg joins hosts John Hall and Kathy Emmons on It’s The Ride Home on Pittsburgh’s 101.5 FM WORD to discuss President Obama’s scheduled visit this week in Rome with Pope Francis. Gregg notes the differences in worldview between Francis and Obama, and contrasts the likely relationship between the current pope and president with the more well-known relationship between an earlier pope and president, John Paul II and Reagan. You can listen to the interview using the audio player below.

The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, continue to express their views as to why the HHS mandate violates their faith. This short video highlights Green family members discussing their faith and how it informs all their decisions.

bake1I have already weighed in on the recent hubbub over whether bakers, florists, and photographers should be compelled by law to serve ends they deem unethical and in violation of their consciences.

Over at First Things, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration offers some helpful embellishment on that last bit — conscience — arguing that Christians ought to be far less blind and arbitrary when it comes to the shape and scope of their stewardship and service.

As for the case at hand (whether to attend or service particular weddings), Teetsel offers the following:

Have you prayed about it? How is the Holy Spirit leading you? Do you feel you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth? Will attending enable you to continue a Gospel presence in the person’s life? If so, then perhaps you should go…

…Individuals may be led one way or another according to their conscience. One may feel they can provide the service without endorsing or celebrating the event; another may feel the opposite. Religious freedom and the right of conscience preserve the rights of individuals to come to their own conclusions in such circumstances.

Of course not every act of commerce amounts to an assessment of the moral nature of homosexuality. But every so often a creator is asked to use their talents for something their conscience cannot abide. It may be a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony, or a cake in a lewd shape, or a cake celebrating abortion. In those instances, the Bible fails to provide an absolute answer. What is a Christian to do? The answer is a matter of individual conscience. Not whether Christians should or should not do something, but whether they must do something.

Yet when it comes to nearly every case the Christian encounters, that first paragraph is a rather helpful introduction to the types of questions we should be asking. From setting wages and prices, to innovating new products and services, to the ends those outputs elevate, conscience is integral to rightly ordering our efforts. (more…)

Mary Ann Glendon makes an excellent point about the outcry for more corporate responsibility while government is simultaneously stripping away the rights of religious conscience of businesses. In The Boston Globe, Glendon notes,

The simple truth is that if we want businesses, incorporated or not, to be responsible for their actions, they must be treated as having some moral agency. And with moral agency and accountability must go the freedom to act in accordance with conscience.

The push to ghettoize freedom of religion solely into the houses of worship is of course a disturbing trend. When the religious rights of civil society are pushed aside and made subservient to the state, we get not the church serving as conscience, but the state ruling tyrannically over man. “Once religion is reduced to nothing more than privatized conscience, the public square has only two actors in it—the state and the individual,” says Richard John Neuhaus.

Read the entire article.

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…)

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.