Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Assault on Religious Liberty

We are not the only ones to notice that our 1st Amendment rights to freedom of religion are being yanked away from us. LifeSiteNews.com reported that:

• The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has unveiled a committee with the aim of safeguarding religious liberty. The formation of the committee comes two months after the Obama administration announced that private insurers will soon be forced to cover birth control - including abortifacient drugs like Ella - and sterilization without co-pay.

Timothy M. Dolan. Archbishop of New York and President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops outlined six recent and specific threats to religious liberty:

1. The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued regulations that would mandate the coverage of contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization in all private health insurance plans. There is an exception for certain religious employers, but…the exception does nothing to protect insurers or individuals with religious or moral objections to the mandate.

2. HHS is also requiring that MRS provide the “full range of reproductive services” to trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors in its cooperative agreements and government contracts —and we all know what that means. This is exactly the position urged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the ongoing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of MRS’s contracts as, ironically, a violation of religious liberty.

3. Catholic Relief Services is also concerned that USAID, under the Department of State, is increasingly requiring comprehensive HIV prevention activities (for example, condom distribution), as well as full integration of reproductive health activities including provision of artificial contraception, within a range of international relief and development programs. Under the direction of the board, CRS is following up on these concerns.

4. The federal Department of Justice has ratcheted up its attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an act of bigotry. As you know, in March, the Department stopped defending DOMA against constitutional challenges, and the Conference spoke out against that decision. But in July, the Department started filing briefs actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality, claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice. If the label of “bigot” sticks to us—especially in court—because of our teaching on marriage, we’ll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result.

5. The Justice Department has also disappointed us in the critically important “ministerial exception” case now pending before the Supreme Court. The Department could have taken the position that the ―ministerial exception, though generally providing a strong protection of the right of religious groups to choose their ministers without government interference, just didn’t apply in the case before the court. Instead, the Department attacked the very existence of the exception as well.

6. The New York legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a law redefining marriage, with only a very narrow religious exemption. Already, county clerks face legal action for refusing to participate in same-sex unions, and gay rights advocates are publicly emphasizing how little religious freedom protection people and groups will enjoy under the new law.

There are many other infractions that this document does not cover. I am surprised that it didn’t mention the new Federal Hate Crimes Bill that criminalizes any speech that could be construed to possibly lead to a hate crime. Also, many have already lost jobs and have seen their businesses threatened because they have wanted to live faithfully before their Savior. In the face of this, we cannot simply maintain a do-nothing cavalier attitude, claiming that our God is sovereign. Although He truly is sovereign, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t endeavor to speak out for those facing discrimination:

• Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

• Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

Do we have any less a responsibility because the oppressed are our Christian brethren? In addition to loosing jobs and facing intimidation, others have capitulated and comprised their faith. To excuse our lack of involvement, we mustn’t dismissively claim, “The blood of the martyrs provides the seed for church growth.” Although this might be true, this does not relieve us of our responsibility to stand alongside of the victims:

• "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”... Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:6, 9-10)

There is no reason to believe that the incursions against religious liberty will stop here. If the UK gives us any indication of where we are going, we will soon not be able to display in public – even in our own businesses – anything (a Bible or a verse) that someone might consider “offensive.” Just recently, an owner of a Christian café in the UK was threatened with arrest if he refused to remove his Bible presentation on his flat-screen. Even now, there are political initiatives to require that churches conform to Federal hiring standards. Such initiatives will threaten our right to reject for hire, even for the pastorate, those whose lifestyles are opposed to our faith.

At some point, we will have to stand up for our rights. If some had their way, it would become illegal to print or own a Bible. There has already been one lawsuit against a Bible publisher in this country because of the Bible’s alleged “homophobic” verses. Should we capitulate and become Bible-less? Of course not! However, whatever action we might take must be preceded by prayer that the God would lead us. Ultimately, it is His battle.

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