President Barack Obama, meet President Thomas Jefferson.
Of course, our president is acquainted with his predecessor. But it seems clear Obama is unfamiliar with one of Jefferson’s most important works. A growing backlash to the Obama Administration’s mandate requiring coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) would be quickly resolved if the president would follow Jefferson’s convictions about religious freedom.
Specifically, the president should become familiar with Jefferson’s assertion: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”
Before Jefferson was elected third president of the United States (1801-1809), he was, of course, one of the key Founding Fathers of our nation. Most importantly, Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Less well known, but also critically important, was Jefferson’s role in protecting religious freedom in the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (Virginia Act), a pivotal development in that worthy cause for which Baptists have been among the chief advocates.
Authored by Jefferson in 1779, three years after he wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Act was not adopted by the General Assembly until 1786. The law’s purpose was to prohibit the state from financially supporting a state endorsed religion, removing an entanglement of church and state carried over from Great Britain when the colonies were established.
It may seem at first that the Virginia Act is not terribly relevant to today’s debate about the Obama birth control mandate. Considered more closely, however, Jefferson’s act is quite relevant.
The Virginia Act stipulated, “That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
Clearly, this is first about not requiring persons to support through the collection of taxes religious views they do not hold. But don’t miss the clause, “nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.”
At last count, 33 separate lawsuits have been filed seeking religious freedom protection against the arbitrary rule imposed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requiring all employers—no matter their conscientious convictions—to provide health care insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs and birth control services. Many of the lawsuits have been filed by Catholic organizations, objecting on grounds that the mandate violates Catholic teaching on abortion and birth control. However, a number of evangelical organizations—including several Baptist universities—have also sued, charging the mandate violates their biblical beliefs about the sanctity of human life by requiring coverage of abortion-inducing drugs.
Clearly, these organizations are going to “suffer on account of [their] religious opinions or belief,” contrary to Jefferson’s Virginia Act.
In reality, however, the situation is far worse than that contemplated by Jefferson more than two centuries ago. Rather than merely violating their consciences by using the coercive power of the state to tax for the propagation of religious views they don’t support, the Obama mandate makes employers complicit in the act of ending human life or preventing pregnancy by payment with private funds, contrary to the deeply held religious opinions of these organizations.
While churches and denominations are exempt from the abortion/birth control mandate, the exemption does not provide protection for many religious organizations and religiously convicted businesses.
Baptist Press reports, the HHS mandate provides an exemption for churches and church-like bodies provided they are non-profit and meet all four of the following criteria: 1) “The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization”; 2) “The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization”; 3) “The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization”; and 4) “The organization is a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, a convention or association of churches, or is an exclusively religious activity of a religious order, under Internal Revenue Code 6033(a)(1) and (a)(3)(A).”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty notes, “Not even Jesus’ ministry would qualify for this exemption because He fed, healed, served and taught non-Christians.”
Several recent lawsuits against the abortion/birth control mandate vividly illustrate what is at stake in this matter.
Tyndale House Publishers, whose primary mission is publishing Bibles, has filed suit against the mandate because the Obama Administration has declared that as a for-profit business it is ineligible for inclusion in the narrow religious exemption. As the suit notes, “The federal government has deemed devout publishers of the Bible to be insufficiently ‘religious’ to enjoy religious freedom in America.”
Hobby Lobby, a privately held retail chain with 500 arts and crafts stores in 41 states, is one of the other for-profit businesses seeking relief from the HHS mandate. Before Secretary Sebelius instituted the abortion/birth control mandate, no employer—for profit or otherwise—was required to provide such coverage.
“Americans don’t forfeit their rights just because they go into business to provide for themselves and their family,” the Becket Fund noted. “Business are ultimately made up of people, and people have religious beliefs.”
Recently, East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University filed suit against the mandate.
“Baptists have always advocated religious liberty, and religious liberty is what is at stake in this situation,” said ETBU President Samuel Oliver. “As the famous Baptist preacher, George W. Truett once remarked, ‘A Baptist would rise at midnight to plead for absolute religious liberty for his Catholic neighbor, and for his Jewish neighbor, and for everybody else.’ We are rising today to ensure that religious liberty, the first freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, is protected and preserved.”
HBU President Robert Sloan said while “we are reluctant to enter into lawsuits, the government has given us no choice.”
During the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden claimed about the HHS mandate, “With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution— Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital— none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”
Clearly, that is not a fact. The vice president dissembled—to be as charitable as possible.
In stark contrast, during the Oct. 3 presidential debate, Gov. Mitt Romney spoke against the HHS mandate.
“The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents,” Romney said, referencing a platform display with words from the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. “First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people.
“Second, in that line that says we are endowed by our creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country,” he said.
Elections have consequences. Those who win office make policy. President Obama has sought to enact his convictions. On the matter of abortion and related issues, the president is unswervingly committed to the pro-abortion agenda, which now includes violating the religious freedom of those who disagree.
Interestingly, Jefferson—who was by no means an orthodox Christian—found government coercion of religious views both “sinful” and “tyrannical.” Artfully, Jefferson gets at the heart of this matter: government violation of religious liberty is both wrong—“sinful”—as a matter of personal spiritual convictions and it’s wrong—“tyrannical”—as a matter of the proper role of government.
It’s no small thing that 33 lawsuits have been filed, representing a diverse range of non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses in 10 of the 12 federal appellate districts. What is becoming clear is that a nationwide resistance to this mandate is in the making and without legislative, regulatory or judicial relief the prospect of massive civil disobedience is a very real possibility.
One other possible relief is available: electoral—either through a change in the occupant of the Oval Office or through the election of enough members of House of Representatives and Senate with the will to repeal the sinful and tyrannical HHS mandate.
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