On the second anniversary of passage of the president’s landmark health-care legislation, citizens are gathered at statehouses around the country and outside the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., to protest the coercive HHS mandate.
This is a debate about religious freedom in America. But with people arguing over what exactly the mandate is and whether an actual compromise has been reached, the question arises: Is the HHS mandate debate really about religious liberty, and if so, how can religious liberty be saved? This is not the first threat to religious freedom we’ve faced. But is it unprecedented? How can this moment be one of both education and action?
We asked our experts to weigh in.
GERARD V. BRADLEY
On any account of the facts about the Department of Health and Human Services mandate and its effects upon religious institutions, the Obama administration is threatening religious freedom in a very big way. Whether the threat is “unprecedented” is a different question — and a hard one to answer. The federal government’s unforgiving campaigns against polygamy and racism have been very big deals, too, at least if you were a member of the LDS Church in the late 19th century or a student at Bob Jones University in the late 20th. Whether they rank higher on the Richter scale of religious-liberty threats depends mostly on whether one thinks they were justified. And that depends mostly on what one thinks of monogamy and racial equality, and of the government’s proper authority to promote them.
Gauging the present threat depends upon what one thinks of contraception and of the government’s role in promoting it. More specifically, it depends on what one thinks of the Obama administration’s goal. Its goal is obviously not what it claims its goal to be: to promote universal access to contraception. Access to contraceptives is already nearly universal, and it could be made universal in many ways that do not tread upon religious freedom. The administration’s goal is chiefly to stigmatize as irrational the view that contraception is immoral, and to isolate that view as strictly the creature of sectarian doctrine, without any claim of traction upon respectable — that is, “reasonable” — public debate.
Some people might say that the mandate’s goal is gender equity or something of that sort. These people are right — so long as they agree that the relevant meaning of “gender equity” is precisely the opportunity for women to live in a society where contraception is the furniture of everyday life, no more morally significant or remarkable than the papaya-juice vending machine that stands right next to the condom and Plan B dispenser in the junior-high hallway. The only difference is that you will have to pay for the papaya.
— Gerard V. Bradley is a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame.
This is a huge religious-liberty question. It isn’t about contraceptives or even abortifacients. It’s about whether the United States government can limit the free exercise of religion by telling us which of our beliefs are entitled to conscience exemptions. It would be one thing if this came through the courts; still another thing if it were passed by Congress. But this edict is handed down by unelected government bureaucrats.
We cannot for one moment allow government bureaucrats to dictate the parameters of church doctrine. As a Christian, I believe our doctrine comes from the very clear and authoritative word of Scripture. It has been tested and practiced over the years; it has withstood the challenges. This, in our opinion, is God’s truth.
As one of the three co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, I helped write those words at the end of the document: that we will render ungrudgingly to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we will never under any circumstances render to Caesar what is God’s.
We wrote the Manhattan Declaration, now signed by 525,000 people, not as a petition but as a covenant. We have covenanted with one another to engage in civil disobedience if the government attempts to compromise what our founders believed was the most essential liberty to be protected: freedom of religion, freedom of conscience. That’s why it is often called “the first freedom.” If this edict stands, all freedoms will be in peril.
This is a momentous issue. There have been other threats to religious liberty by legislation and sometimes by court order — but never at the whim of an unelected government official.
God help us if we start giving government officials the right to dictate our conscience.