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.
Bethany Christian Services based in Grand Rapids, Mich., is a global nonprofit organization caring for orphans and vulnerable children on five continents. Founded in 1944, they are the largest adoption agency in the United States. Their mission “is to demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus Christ by protecting and enhancing the lives of children and families through quality social services.” Bethany cares for children and families in 20 countries and has more than 100 offices in the United States. Since 1951, Bethany Christian Services has placed more than 39,000 children in a home.
Bill Blacquiere has served as President of Bethany Christian Services since January 2006. I recently spoke with him on the issue of religious liberty and adoption. At the end of the interview I provided links to a few pertinent news stories for background that are related to this interview.
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On Tuesday June 11, Autocam Corporation went before the U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit Court in Cincinnati to argue against the enforcement of the Health and Human Services birth control mandate. President and CEO of Autocam and Autocam Medical, John Kennedy, says that “the law forces some employers to participate in what they believe is intrinsic evil.” But his request for an injunction had been denied by the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
A spokesperson from the Thomas More Society, which is representing Autocam and several other companies in the fight for religious liberty, said that their argument went well, but there is no telling how the court will rule or when they will make a decision. If the court affirms the denial of the injunction, Autocam and the Thomas More Society will seek review from the Supreme Court.
For more information about the various organizations in litigation, visit the Becket Fund’s Central Information page.
Three years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals to engage in political speech. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Citizens United decision, the “corporate identity” of a speaker did not justify a reduced level of free speech protection. Can that same concept about corporate identity be applied to religious liberties? Do corporations have religious liberty rights too?
Some legal scholars are claiming they do not:
In the latest issue of Renewing Minds, a journal of Christian thought published by Union University, I examine two different visions of religious liberty. They are roughly analogous to the two versions of the “empty shrines” of secularism described by Michael Novak and George Weigel, respectively, as well as to the visions of the American and the French Revolution. One has to do with the freedom of the church from state control, and the other has to do with freeing the public square from religion.
My piece, “Principle and Prudence: Two Shrines, Two Revolutions, and Two Traditions of Religious Liberty,” is one of the freely accessible preview articles available at the journal’s website. Check out the rest of the contents for this theme issue on religious liberty, and consider subscribing for the rest of the fine content.
After examining some of the premodern history of religious liberty, I pivot with a query about the relevance of Neuhaus’ law:
Given the developments since the sixteenth century, we might wonder if there is a secular corollary to that axiom from Richard John Neuhaus, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Neuhaus wrote this in 1997, and was talking specifically about orthodox doctrine within the context of the church. As he concluded, however, “Almost five hundred years after the sixteenth-century divisions, the realization grows that there is no via media. The realization grows that orthodoxy and catholicity can be underwritten only by Orthodoxy and Catholicism.”
As a devotee of neither Orthodoxy nor Catholicism but who is deeply concerned with orthodoxy and catholicity, I am inclined to wonder if Neuhaus’ Law, as it has come to be called, applies only to Protestantism. In fact, given the secularization that both Kuyper and Gregory point to in their own ways, it seems worthwhile to consider whether Neuhaus’ Law might be applicable outside the church, to the liberal political order as such. If so, the recognition that there is no via media might well apply to the purported neutrality of the secular state.
I conclude that these two visions of religious liberty are, in the end, irreconcilable: “We are faced then, with two competing and ultimately antithetical visions of religion and society. One is the way that leads to life and the other the way that leads to death.”
Read the whole thing at Renewing Minds.
We’ve almost all seen some of the creepy messianic videos associated with President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. If you’re in need of a refresher there are examples here and here. It isn’t solely a problem of the political left though. Throughout history there has been varying belief in political saviors of different ideologies. There are many on the right who firmly believe that political changes alone will transform our culture and institutions.
However, as government dependency continues to grow to record levels, we are reaching new heights in state worship and adoration. I wrote more about this topic in “As Secularism Advances, Political Messianism Draws More Believers,” a commentary I published last year.
Currently, I am reading Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became our State Religion by Benjamin Wiker. The book offers some good insights on the assaults on religious liberty, increased secularism, and political messiahs. Here’s an excerpt from his new book:
Modern political utopianism, as we shall see, is an attempt to discard the necessity of grace (and hence of the church), even while state power replaces grace as the instrument for perfecting man. Liberalism is more than the rejection of Christianity; it is the absorption and transformation of its doctrines. Before the Christian doctrine of grace, no one would have dared think about perfecting the whole human race–a few, select individuals, a small group or clan or class of society, yes, but not the whole human race. With Christianity, God’s grace is indeed open to all, and so all may share in the perfection of holiness, but this offered grace takes full effect only in the Kingdom of God, that is, only in heaven. Liberalism takes the church’s salvific mission and makes it a merely political goal, one to be achieved in this world by human power alone, a heaven brought down by force to earth, where we become the authors of our own salvation.
And finally, here is a look at the somewhat comical yet sad end result of state and leader worship in North Korea:
Increasingly, governments and private parties are arguing that there is only one appropriate view of the relationship between religion and money-making: Exercising religion is fundamentally incompatible with earning profits.
This claim has been presented recently by state governments and private parties in litigation over pharmacy rights of conscience, and by state governments enacting conscience clauses with regard to recognizing same-sex marriages (non-profits are sometimes protected, but never profit-makers). The most prominent and developed form of the argument has been made by the federal government in the HHS mandate litigation, where it is currently arguing the point in at least seventeen different cases against businesses and business owners who cannot comply with the mandate on religious grounds.
Do our religious liberty laws protect profit-making businesses and their owners? Or is the government correct that, to borrow a phrase from the Gospels, you “cannot serve both God and mammon”?
When considered in the light of religious teachings, actual business practices, and the law’s treatment of for-profit businesses in other contexts, it is clear that there is no inherent disconnect between earning profits and exercising religion. For this reason, there is no principled basis for excluding profit-making businesses and their owners from the protection of our religious liberty laws.
For George Washington’s birthday, Julia Shaw reminds us that the indispensable man of the American Founding was also an important champion of religious liberty:
All Presidents can learn from Washington’s leadership in foreign policy, in upholding the rule of law, and—especially now—in the importance of religion and religious liberty. While the Obama Administration claims to be “accommodating” Americans’ religious freedom concerns regarding the Health and Human Services (HHS) Obamacare mandate, it is actually trampling religious freedom. President Washington set a tremendous example for the way that Presidents should handle such conflicts.
Washington knew that religion and morality are essential to creating the conditions for decent politics. “Where,” Washington asked, “is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?”
Religion and morality are, Washington wrote, essential to the happiness of mankind: “A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.”
According to the Becket Fund, there are currently 44 active cases against the Obama administration’s HHS mandate requiring employers to include abortion, sterilization and abortifacients as “health care”. There have been 14 for-profit companies that have filed suit; 11 of those have received temporary injunctions against implementing the mandate.
“Hobby Lobby will continue their appeal before the Tenth Circuit,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing Hobby Lobby in the case. “The Supreme Court merely decided not to get involved in the case at this time. It left open the possibility of review after their appeal is completed in the Tenth Circuit.”
Duncan said Hobby Lobby will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees.
However, to remain true to their faith, Duncan added, “it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.
“The Constitution protects your right to believe and worship, not force your beliefs on others.” That’s a response Acton received via Twitter regarding a blog post on the HHS Mandate. This type of statement is a typical one in our society: you can believe whatever you want, but don’t force your beliefs on anyone else. Religious belief and worship should be a wholly private affair; bringing your beliefs into the public square constitutes “forcing” them onto others.
In the latest issue of Faith and Justice from Alliance Defending Freedom, twelve women talk about what happened when this very scenario happened to them. As nurses working at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey elective surgery unit, these women were told by their employer that they must assist in elective abortions. Despite an employment clause that said nurses were exempt from this except in emergency situations if they believed abortions were immoral, the hospital stood its ground, and the nurses were told they would lose their jobs. Their union declined to help. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the nurses. (more…)