Politics & Policy

Obama’s Bible Issue

So why isn’t a publisher of Bibles eligible for a religious exemption from HHS?

‘Tyndale was left with no alternative but to go to court,” explains Mark D. Taylor, president and CEO of Tyndale House Publishers. On the day before the first presidential debate, the company, which Taylor’s parents started when he was eleven years old, filed the 31st lawsuit over the Department of Health and Human Services’ abortion-drug, sterilization, and contraception mandate.

Tyndale publishes Bibles. But that doesn’t make it a religious endeavor. Not in the federal government’s book. Not as of August 1, anyway. That was the day that the HHS mandate — a regulation further defining the health-care legislation that then–Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was right to tell us Congress would be passing before anyone knew what it actually contained — went into effect. Family businesses like Tyndale — which happen to be run by religious folk who want to live their lives true to what they believe — don’t qualify for any kind of “accommodation” or exemption.

“The law does not give any religious-freedom exemption to faith-based operations like Tyndale,” Taylor, who is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, points out. “Instead, it imposes crushing fines on employers who are doing nothing more than following their consciences against abortion-inducing pills. The government is supposed to promote conscience protection, not attack it. The best solution is for Congress or the administration to respect the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by eliminating the abortion-pill mandate. But if they refuse to do their duty, we hope the courts will rule that the mandate is unlawful.”

Tyndale, Taylor says, has always existed “for an explicitly religious purpose — to publish the Bible and other Christian publications, and direct the proceeds to ministry and charity.” And this is quite evident from a visit to Tyndale’ s website or to the religion section of most bookstores.

“The government’s policy that publishing the Bible is not a religious activity is disconnected from reality,” he says, echoing conversations I’ve had with other plaintiffs in recent months, including the president of the evangelical Wheaton College, who — like most Americans — wasn’t particularly animated on the issue of religious liberty until he realized how fragile our liberties are if we’re not vigilant. “Never before has the federal government had the nerve to insist that all for-profit businesses are purely secular and cannot have a religious purpose,” Taylor continues. “Americans today clearly agree with America’s founders: The federal government is not qualified to decide what faith is, who the faithful are, and where and how that faith may be lived out.”

The mandate became a practical issue for Tyndale on October 1, the first day of the plan year for the company’s health insurance. (Most companies’ plans start in January, or we’d be seeing right now more injunction requests like the ones filed by Tyndale and by the Hercules HVAC company in Denver, a business run by a Catholic family.) “Out of our religious conscience we have chosen not to comply with aspects of the mandate that promote abortion-inducing pills,” Taylor explains. “But no organization could deal with the crippling, draconian financial and legal penalties on faith that this mandate imposes” — fines of $100 per day per employee. “That is why Tyndale was left with no alternative but to go to court.”

Despite the cogent explanations of people like Taylor, the Department of Justice has been arguing (for example, in pushing back against Hercules in court) that Americans surrender their religious liberty when they choose to participate in “the marketplace of commerce” as employers. And a judge in Missouri has announced in the case of another Catholic business owner, Frank O’Brien, that the HHS mandate is not a religious-liberty violation because O’Brien “is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion.” That’s a pretty restrictive view of religious liberty.

Taylor is not deterred by the Missouri ruling or the administration’s posture. “The Obama administration is simply wrong to argue that one’s faith may be exercised only in private or in churches. We are confident that courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, will uphold and affirm our God-given religious freedom,” Taylor says.

When, in the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney was asked what his idea of the role of government was, he replied: “The role of government: Look behind us. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents. First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people.” These are not new ideas for Romney. He has brought up religious liberty many times over the years — on the campaign trail, in speeches, and in campaign commercials. When he first ran in the 2008 Republican primaries, he addressed the issue of “Faith in America” in depth, remembering that our first president considered religion the “indispensable support” for the health of the republic, and pointing out our obligation to protect religious freedom as the first freedom, provided by God, not the government.

The Tyndale case is a reminder of why this is not just talk. The current administration has taken steps that are eroding Americans’ religious freedom. And that ought to be a concern for all of us, regardless of whether or not we’re Bible readers.

“According to the Declaration of Independence,” Taylor reminds us, echoing the Republican presidential candidate, “the role of government is to secure for the people those freedoms endowed to us by our Creator. The Bill of Rights enumerates many of those freedoms, including religious liberty. I would hope voters would evaluate whether the present administration is defending freedom or trampling on it.” If they do, their electoral choice will be clear. This is about more than party politics. It’s about foundations: Tyndale’s, and ours as citizen stewards of liberty.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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