(Centennial Fellow) In Russia, Vladimir Putin's government is prosecuting three women for a prayer to toss the president out of office. In the Netherlands and Denmark, officials have been putting people on trial for what they have said about Muslims. In Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, mayors are aiming to stop a restaurant chain from expanding its outlets because the owner does not believe in gay marriage.
Much of the world is still fighting freedom, insisting that either you bow to positions officially deemed right and pure or face sanctions. And yes, there is a significant difference in degree between what's happening in these different places, but it's the same tendency in all of them – something Americans, at least, ought to recognize as a demand for subservient serfdom contrary to all we stand for.
The charge against the Russian women is religiously hostile hooliganism, according to a Reuters account. The Russian Orthodox Church supported Putin's return to the presidency, and the women – all in their 20s – danced on the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral as a protest prayer. The women say they are anti-authoritarian, not anti-Christian, and in fact want Christian support in their fight against Putin. The top penalty: seven years in prison.
Any normal, balanced, halfway decent human being would say that, at the most, it was slap-on-the-wrist time, not destroy-your-life time, even as a threat. Protests have limits, but so does governmental mayhem.
Defenders of laws against "hate speech" would have you believe that prosecutions can be confined to limited circumstances of clear-cut maliciousness obviously endangering others. That's not what happens in the real world. Such laws inevitably lead to the harassment of people like Lars Hedegaard, a Danish historian and journalist who had said Muslim men in some parts of the world engage in incestuous rape. The truth of his remarks wasn't the issue as Hedegaard went through a series of trials in which he was eventually exonerated.
Hedegaard could have gone to prison for two years if found guilty. Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician, faced one year in prison before being found not guilty of hate speech a year ago. He had argued that Islam was taking over his country and worried aloud that the Koran countenanced violence. While he took the anti-libertarian position the Koran should be banned, outlawing his opinions would still be akin to outlawing thought. And while Islam clearly has its peace lovers, a Muslim cleric's call for Wilders' beheading served as illustration of his violence claims.
All of these foreign accounts bring us finally to our own land of the less and less free, a place where some are doing their best to shut up think tanks, public commentators and campaign ads that see issues differently from them. Now this: Three mayors oppose the expansion of Chick-fil-A in their cities because, as a matter of religious conviction shared by millions, the owner does not believe in gay and lesbian marriage.
In Chicago, an alderman said a permit for a new restaurant would be denied – use of government to punish speech – and Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the firm's values are not the city's values although the firm's owner was not arguing against homosexual mates living together. He was not arguing against their putting together an array of legal agreements comparable to what you find in traditional marriages. He was not arguing the couples could never refer to their relationships as marriages.
While I agree that our society has visited unconscionable hurt on homosexuals and think we are veering toward allowing gay marriage nationally, I also think the basic question is whether we should officially redefine a fundamental institution at a time when it is already in tatters. At the very least, there is nothing alarming about the owner's stance, and it's Rahm Emanuel whose values are not those of a new world that has been different from the old in its exceptional devotion to liberty.
(Denver Post, June 3) The Founders wouldn’t believe it. The Colorado Court of Appeals says the governor may not proclaim an official day of prayer because of a clause in the state constitution prohibiting that “any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.
This novel interpretation would come as a surprise not only to the governors who have issued such proclamations dating back many years, but also to the authors of that very constitution, who declared in its preamble their “profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.”
They couldn’t have intended the religious preference clause to become a barrier to state action encouraging Coloradans to seek that Supreme Ruler’s favor. Good to know that Gov. John Hickenlooper has directed Attorney General John Suthers to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which should surely overturn it based on logic and precedent.
But wait; did I say “surely”? When it comes to religion and politics, church and state, nothing is sure any more. Also headed for the state Supreme Court is an ACLU challenge to Douglas County parents using their own tax dollars to educate their own children in (horrors) faith-based schools.
Meanwhile at the legislature we’ve seen both political parties consider divorcing the legal definition of marriage from its time-honored theological definition. The rationale for gay civil unions was put this way by Hickenlooper: “We don’t believe we should legislate what happens inside a church or place of worship, but government should treat all people equally.”
Leaving aside the vexed question of how the law recognizes different kinds of couples, look what the governor is saying in that sentence BEFORE the comma. He implies that government’s power over you and me stops only at the church door. This echoes a theme from President Obama, whose speeches always refer to “freedom of worship,” not “freedom of religion.”
What’s the difference? Freedom of religion includes the individual right of conscience in conduct outside of church – exactly what secular theocrats are trampling on with the HHS mandate for Catholic and evangelical institutions to provide drugs for contraception or abortion, in violation of their allegiance to God.
“The Supreme Ruler of the Universe,” you see, is no longer acknowledged as a reality under the dominant liberal consensus. He, or it, is now treated as just an outmoded notion which backward folk are allowed to preach about in their sanctuaries – but to whom they must no longer render homage by public word or deed. That homage is now supposed to be Caesar’s alone.
Where is all this leading? For over a millennium and a half, ever since the Emperor Constantine in 312 A.D., Christians in Europe and eventually America have been accustomed to friendly treatment by civil government. But that is over, over there, and may soon be over with here.
The Church of State, as my Colorado Christian University colleague Kevin Miller calls it in his important book “Freedom Nationally, Virtue Locally,” is setting up as the one and only religious establishment. I won’t say get used to it, because we never should. It must be fought.
But we who honor the God of the Bible had better gird ourselves, for this will get worse before it gets better. We’d better study the persecuted church, thriving in China and Africa; our own time may be coming. We must realize, as the Founders knew, that America is not in the Bible. Americans are, however. It holds vast wisdom and warning for us.
As the Constantinian settlement – itself quite unscriptural – passes away, a good place to start would be Jesus’ own rule: “Render to Caesar, render to God.” That balance, the only safe harbor for faith and freedom, was lost in Christendom centuries ago. It is now ours to rebuild.
('76 Editor) Is there any limit to the power of Congress? That's really the question we heard argued before the Supreme Court in last week's Obamacare debate, and which the nine justices are now sorting out as the nation waits. I know, I know, the case turns specifically on how far the Constitution's commerce clause or necessary and proper clause can be stretched to justify the individual mandate for everyone to buy health insurance (or burial insurance, or cell phones, or broccoli). But in the broadest sense, this is a struggle over whether the time-honored constitutional limitations on federal power over you and me as Americans can now be waved off with the arrogant impatience of Nancy Pelosi saying, "Are you kidding? Are you kidding?"I believe, and you probably do too, that the state exists for individuals. But many people, whether they admit it or not, seem to believe individuals exist for the state. The contest between these two views, in America and around the world, has intensified in the past hundred years. But it has been going on for centuries. In Britain 500 years ago, it played out in the attempt of King and Parliament to overrule the religious conscience of Englishmen and redefine the historic Christian church in accord with the marital whims and economic ambitions of Henry VIII. A giant of personal integrity and political statesmanship from this period is Sir Thomas More, who left his post as the king's chief minister to become the chief obstacle (not by anything he said, but merely by his silence) to consolidation of absolute spiritual as well as temporal power under the crown, ultimately paying with his life. A Man for All Seasons, the 1956 play by Robert Bolt, dramatizes More's rise and fall, with key passages in the dialogue following the documentary record verbatim. At the climax of his trial for treason, More is undone by perjured testimony quoting a belief which he was correctly suspected of holding but had not, contrary to the witness Richard Rich, ever voiced: "Parliament has not the competence" to make Henry the head of the church. That line rang in my ears as Paul Clement pressed his case for constitutional limited government at the Supreme Court. "Congress can't do it," would be the equivalent in today's American vernacular. Under the Framers' explicit intent, few are the things Congress can forbid us as free citizens, and fewer still the things it can compel. Buying something against our will is not one of them. Just because we consent for you to govern us, we say in effect to the legislative and executive and judicial branches through our founding charter, does not mean you own us. Each of us owns ourselves, and you work for us, not we for you. Is that understood? We mean to see that it is!This is not Tudor England, of course. No one's neck is on the block, no matter what the outcome of this PPACA case; but in a very real sense the stakes involve not only freedom of commerce but freedom of conscience. A year ago that might have sounded far-fetched. Not now, not after the HHS mandate for abortion drugs has revealed Obama's naked assertion of preeminence for the things of Caesar over the things of God. To the question of how far the authorities can invade individual liberty and personal responsibility, this president has answered: All the way. To which, if we don't want to be placed under absolute submission, our rejoinder must be in the spirit of Thomas More: "No, never. Parliament has not the competence. Congress can't do it. Not while we have breath."
Friday, 10 February 2012 09:03 by Admin
(Editor: Here is today's press release from the attorneys for Colorado Christian University in its suit against Obamacare's infringement of religious freedom.)
Washington, Feb. 10 - Facing a political firestorm, the administration today announced its intent to make partial changes to a controversial rule that would require religious institutions, in violation of their conscience, to pay for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs. But the changes still leave out hundreds, if not thousands of religious organizations, businesses, and individuals that would still be forced to violate their religious beliefs.
The rule is currently subject to three lawsuits filed by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty—one on behalf of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, one on behalf of Colorado Christian University, and one on behalf of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic media organization that self insures.
“This is a false ‘compromise’ designed to protect the President’s re-election chances, not to protect the right of conscience,” says Hannah Smith, Senior Legal Counsel for The Becket Fund. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of religious institutions are still left out in the cold and will be forced to violate their religious convictions.”
According to a White House statement, some religious employers will no longer be required to provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs; coverage for those services will instead be provided for free directly by insurance companies. However, at least three problems remain.
** First, hundreds if not thousands of religious organizations self insure, meaning that they will still be forced to pay for these services in violation of their religious beliefs.
** Second, it is unclear which religious organizations are permitted to claim the new exemption, and whether it will extend to for-profit organizations, individuals, or non-denominational organizations.
** Third, money is fungible, and many religious organizations may still object to being forced to pay money to an insurance company which will turn around and provide contraception to its employees for free.
“It is especially telling that the details of this supposed ‘compromise’ will likely not be announced until after the election,” said Smith. “Religious freedom is not a political football to be kicked around in an election-year. Rather than providing full protection for the right of conscience, the administration has made a cynical political play that is the antithesis of ‘hope and change.’”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty<http://www.becketfund.org/> is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. The Becket Fund has a 17-year history of defending religious liberty for people of all faiths. Its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202.349.7224.
As the Obama administration clumsily attempts damage control on the HHS mandate for religious institutions to pay for abortifacient drugs, abortion counseling, sterilization, and contraception, Americans must not lose sight of the full scope and menace of this First Amendment outrage.
Catholics are up in arms, and rightly so, at the insult of being "allowed" one year to accept Caesar's negation of their 2000-year commitment to the sanctity of life.
But evangelical Christians and other Protestants who regard abortion as murder, as well as Jews who jealously guard their religious heritage and human rights here in the land of the free (?), oppose the HHS mandate with equal intensity.
Colorado Christian University's lawsuit to overturn the mandate, filed on Dec. 21, shows the seriousness of that opposition.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, evangelical elder statesman Chuck Colson, and Jewish scholar Meir Soloveichik, signing a joint manifesto of resistance in the Wall Street Journal today, exemplify the solidarity of America's three historic faith traditions in vehemently condemning President Obama's strike against religious freedom.
(Centennial Fellow) The latest embarrassment from President Barack Obama is more than an embarrassment. It's an assault on faith that begins with a 2,500-page health care bill enacted with no one expected to read it except the bureaucrats paid to translate its obscurities into thousands more pages of regulations.
After a prolonged look at a phrase that could have been interpreted multiple ways, the president and the masters of your life in the Department of Health and Human Services bypassed the sensible and decreed we are now in the age of mandated contraception coverage, one step closer to Utopian bliss.
Depending on what kind, contraceptives are easy to get for free or very cheaply. A federal study showed that virtually everyone who needs them and desires them has them. The chief reason for unwanted pregnancies is carelessness. The administration nevertheless decided to raise insurance premiums so that even the rich could get birth control benefits without co-payments or deductibles. Then came the real doozy.
Religious organizations are part of the ironclad formula. No matter the dictates of their faith, they must purchase birth control coverage for their employees in all their organizations except some churches. Must they even go along with morning-after pills that abort the workings of nature? Yes sirree, sir. The whole kit and caboodle.
Some Catholic bishops and priests have reacted furiously, even threatening civil disobedience. I myself am associated with an intåpeople who know a lot more about how you should live your life than you do and should therefore give you unbending instructions you are forced to obey. Mention of limited government leaves those of dictatorial bent shaking in fury, because that would interfere with their own power of interference.
Though some of us keep writing about it, I do not think most Americans understand the extent to which everyday liberties are being shredded. Government controls in your home extend to your light bulbs, water in your toilet, your ceiling fans, dishwashers, refrigerators and much more. Wrongheaded welfare measures have mangled our culture, contributing to intergenerational poverty, while wrongheaded industry rules not only make us poorer, but even threaten our safety. (See "The Really Inconvenient Truths" by Ian Murray.)
The Obama health care measure is a giant leap into this thicket, and one thing this particular requirement jumps over to get there is the First Amendment. The left has looked on the First Amendment religion clause chiefly as a means of telling Christians their moral judgments should not count in democratic discourse. In intellectual journals, academics with doctorate degrees amazingly warn that non-secular ethics lead to theocracy. But they do not seem to mind the government forcing people to behave contrary to conscience.
Maybe it does not get much emphasis in schools anymore, but many of the early settlers of this country were people seeking religious freedom. In my own genealogical searches, I have discovered Quaker ancestors who fled England to escape persecution. That doesn't mean the colonies allowed perfect religious freedom, but we worked on it, we had a revolution against Britain, we put together a Constitution, we adopted a Bill of Rights, we established our ideals, we got better.
We're now getting worse, and have been for quite a while, although it is all done in the name of a better world. That is always the case with anti-libertarian enthusiasms -- they are for the benefit of all us dummies, we are informed by those who see themselves as our betters, so much more enlightened, so morally superior. They are wrong, and something needs to change this election year.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado and a Centennial Institute Fellow.