First amendment hangs in the balance.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Those are first words of the first amendment to the United States Constitution. They provide protection for the first right to receive a special guarantee under the Constitution. At least they are supposed to.
The new health care law, dubbed Obamacare, opened the way for the Department of Health and Human Services to require businesses to provide medical coverage for drugs that cause early pregnancy loss as a “contraceptive” benefit. But the “morning-after pill” and “week-after pill” destroy the lives of unborn human beings. They can prevent the implantation of an embryo or destroy an embryo soon after implantation. Being required to provide this “service” to their employees violates the Christian principles of many American business owners, hospitals, educational institutions, and religious organizations.
While churches are exempt from the “Mandate,” these other institutions are not.
While churches are exempt from the “Mandate,” these other institutions are not. And a growing number are opting to fight against this intrusion on their religious freedom. As we reported last week, for instance, the Green family that owns the art and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby says, “We can’t in good conscience pay for those things because they could cause an abortion at the very early stages of a pregnancy.”1
Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University have added their voices to other Baptist and Catholic colleges and universities as well as businesses such as the Eternal Word Television Network, Tyndale house publishers, and Hobby Lobby to petition the courts for constitutional protection.2 This brings the rising total to 33 lawsuits, variously represented by the Becket Fund, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the Alliance Defense Fund.3
The lawsuit filed on behalf of these two Baptist universities states,
The Universities’ religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion. . . . The government’s Mandate unconstitutionally coerces the Universities to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties.
Having to pay a fine to the taxing authorities for the privilege of practicing one’s religion or controlling one’s own speech is un-American, unprecedented and flagrantly unconstitutional.4
What sort of fine? Any amount is too much, but $10 million per year per institution is the actual figure.5 The suit goes on to say,
The Mandate can be interpreted as nothing other than a deliberate attack by the government on the religious beliefs of the Universities and millions of other Americans.
The first amendment guarantee of religious freedom was added to the United States Constitution for a very good reason. While the reprehensible death penalties imposed under both Catholic and Protestant regimes in Europe and elsewhere were not common here, early America was the scene of much religious persecution in the forms of imprisonments and fines. “America’s first Baptist leader, Roger Williams, had to flee Massachusetts and found a colony in Providence, Rhode Island, because his religious beliefs were not tolerated by the laws of Massachusetts,” recalls Becket Fund counsel Eric Rassbach. “Baptists in America, by virtue of their history, are particularly sensitive to coercive government actions that infringe on religious liberty.”6
Baptists have always advocated religious liberty, and religious liberty is what is at stake in this situation.
The ongoing plight of Baptists persecuted in Anglican Virginia ultimately pushed James Madison (an Anglican and author of the Bill of Rights) to pursue guarantees of religious freedom in Virginia and eventually for the new nation.7 Samuel Oliver, president of East Texas Baptist University, recalls, “Baptists have always advocated religious liberty, and religious liberty is what is at stake in this situation. As the famous Baptist preacher George W. Truett once remarked, ‘A Baptist would rise at midnight to plead for absolute religious liberty for his Catholic neighbor, and for his Jewish neighbor, and for everybody else.’ We are rising today to ensure that religious liberty, the first freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, is protected and preserved.”
These institutions, by opposing violation of religious freedom by mandates and fines, are following in the footsteps of the Virginia Association of Baptists. On December 25, 1776, they drafted a resolution protesting the government’s assessment of a religious tax. They declared such practices to be “pregnant with various Evils destructive to the Rights and Privileges of religious society.”8 Demanding the rights of all to “free exercise of religion,” they wrote,
Sorry should we be to see the Seeds of oppression sown by the Hand of Power among us, and as we think it our Duty, to our utmost in a legal Way, to retard, or if possible prevent the luxuriant growth of a Plant that has always brought forth the most bitter and baneful Fruit.9
Indeed, the thought of paying a fine to practice your religion should chill every American, even those who don’t oppose the use of abortifacients. Religious freedom for all is just too precious and too hard-won to surrender.
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