I’m having a hard time putting my finger on just what about this panel-hearing made me so uneasy, besides the fact that it was three-and-a-quarter hours long (yes, I watched the whole thing). Here we had five men of the the cloth speaking cogently against the HHS mandate, which would require religious organizations and their subsidiaries to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients for their employees, either by paying for the drugs themselves, or by paying the insurance premiums to the company which provides the drugs. In many ways, it was wonderful to behold. The Rev. Matthew Harrison, president and bishop of my own church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, was among those testifying, and I have to say, I was right proud! Yet he along with the others kept invoking the American aura of religious freedom as the reason for their objection to this mandate. Freedom of conscience, they all insisted, is sacrosanct, and not to be violated by the government. The freedom to believe in and follow a set of religious tenets, they claimed, is enshrined by the Constitution, specifically Amendment I, which I will not bore you with by reproducing here. Google it.
I’m definitely sympathetic to this position. I mean, let me be clear: it’s my position, too, and no one can convince me that it’s wrong.
But another part of me doesn’t really care what the government has to say about the free exercise of religion. Because on this particular point from among many, true and undefiled religion before God — which I love, because I love Jesus — bids me not to care. We are to cling to Christ our Heavenly Bridegroom for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, because even death won’t part us, it will simply unite us fully with Him.
It is true of course, that when the U.S. Constitution stipulates that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, it means what it says.
It means what it says. Just how helpful is that?
Well, golly. I guess we should go and get someone to tell us what it says. I’m no devotee of Derrida, but we delude ourselves here if we think that interpretation of the “free exercise clause” throughout U.S. jurisprudential history has been consistent.
Congress can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. Except when the free exercise of religion constitutes a violation of civil law. For example, if your free exercise of religion entails crashing jets into skyscrapers, it’s prohibited. By Congress, no less. Crashing jets into skyscrapers kills people, and we, as a society, are against this.
Congress can also prohibit your free exercise of religion if the same entails you, as a man, marrying several women. (But fear not, men: you can sleep with as many women as you want, you just can’t marry them all.) This particular exercise of religion is verboten, as the history of the Mormons proves.
Congress can also prohibit your free exercise of religion if your religion requires human sacrifice. And wouldn’t we support this? I mean, maybe the U.S. Congress wouldn’t be the ones to do it, but I’m sure that the local constabulary wouldn’t waste time quoting chapter and verse, or your Miranda rights, to you if they catch you with the knife upraised and your victim lying prone on the altar. No, they’ll taser your human-sacrificing ass. And wouldn’t we support this?
Now comes the HHS mandate. It appears that Congress can also prohibit your free exercise of religion if the same would have you refuse to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients.
Know how I know this? They just did. They passed Obamacare. Because they, in their collective wisdom and by means of their legislative prerogative, concluded that Obamacare was reasonable and prudent for carrying into execution all of their foregoing powers, etc., or something like that. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the first huge entitlement package that was pushed through the hallowed halls. I’m not defending it. Just sayin’.
Anyway, the brass tacks of the HHS mandate mean several things for the devoutly religious here in America. If you’re a Roman Catholic hospital, or a Lutheran restauranteur, or a Jewish chiropractor, or a Baptist liquor-store owner, you can’t refuse to comply with this mandate for religious reasons. You can’t say, “the free exercise of my religion binds me to disregard this law,” with impunity.
But you can say that, and you can do that, with…um…punity.
You can civilly disobey. Obey God rather than men. Ignore the government. Say your piece, and move on undeterred. I wish that more would have been made by each clergyman present of the fact of our future noncompliance. Why are we seeking to parley? Cause a major fuss. Clear the temple, so to speak. Let zeal for His house consume us, etc.
We do not have an unalienable right to religious liberty, my friends. It makes so little sense to frame this discussion in the context of rights. Freedom is the ability to do as you ought, and that freedom will never be taken away. Why? Because it is literally a freedom that you can die exercising. Indeed, to die is gain, the fullest fruition of such freedom. To face fines, imprisonment, persecution, and even death rather than forsake Our Lord is ultimately the fate of the faithful in this world. Paradoxically, it is the highest joy and the greatest blessing, as well. Remember that St. Paul, after mentioning his Roman citizenship to the tribune and gaining some leniency from it, ultimately went before Festus and Agrippa, and then before Caesar himself — Nero, to be precise. In the end, all that his Roman citizenship did for him was allow him to be executed by beheading rather than crucifixion.
With all that said, just why is it, then, that we as Christians are walking around like we own the place? We don’t! America isn’t God’s country. Indeed, this whole world is still in thrall to its prince, unless it become the Church, and be sanctified. But then it is no longer the world, for the Holy Spirit calls the Church out of the world, to be separate from it, perpetually other, even while in the midst of it.
But I digress.
I’m not saying that this hearing was a bad thing. No, it was wonderful to see these men speaking of His testimonies before Kings unashamedly, as it were. But we, the Church, need to be already thinking about how we will take “no” for an answer. Because that’s what the answer is going to be, in one way or another, at some point or another.
Related post: Liberty, Martyrdom, and the HHS mandate