Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Federal Assault on Religious Liberty

Column for Daily Sun
February 15, 2012
Glenn Layne
Interim Pastor, First Baptist Church of Sunnyside

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… (first line of the First Amendment to the US Constitution)

Rick Warren, the pastor of mega-church Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, California, is hardly known as a hothead.  He had earned the legitimacy that enabled him to pose the same set of questions to the presidential candidates in 2008, and was invited to do the prayer for President Obama’s inauguration the following year.  His reserve on matters of public policy gives him extra clout as he weighs in on the controversy surrounding the administration’s policy that would compel faith-based employers to provide for medical services which they find morally repugnant. 

Warren addressed the matter via his Twitter account: 

I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do. Would you? Acts 5:29 (February 7)

I'm not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against gov’t pressure.  (February 7)

America's FIRST Freedom is Religious Freedom! It's the FIRST LINE of the Bill of Rights! Nothing mattered more to Founders.  (February 9)

On February 10, the President began to “walk back” the policy, but the parties most immediately affected were unimpressed.  John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, signed a letter later that day stating,

It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying “five day after pill” pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer.  It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer.  What matters is what services the policy covers.

The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.  This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.  It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept as assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.

Finally, it bears noting that by sustaining the original narrow exemptions for churches, auxiliaries, and religious orders, the administration has effectively admitted that the new policy (like the old one) amounts to a grave infringement on religious liberty.  The administration still fails to understand that institutions that employ and serve others of different or no faith are still engaged in a religious mission and, as such, enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.

Obviously, I’m not Catholic.  I’m a Baptist, and Baptists started their existence in Britain and in America as a rather despised minority.  As such, I am appalled at the attempt of the US government to intrude into the affairs, doctrines, practices and conscience of religious bodies.

Let me be clear: this is the gravest attempt to subvert the first amendment of the constitution of the United States in American history.  It must be resisted by all persons of who love freedom: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or atheist.

The passage cited by Rick Warren in his Tweet on February 7 is so relevant:
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men…”  Frankly, I never thought I’d live to see the day that our own government is engaged in an assault on religious liberty, but that day has come.  It must be resisted by all moral means.       

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