Saturday, July 5, 2014

High Court Defines & Defends Free Expression

The Supreme Court ruled this week that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, two for-profit corporations, do not have to provide certain contraceptives to their employees pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if such provision is deemed in violation of the employer’s faith convictions.  Less widely reported by the media was the fact that the two “closely held corporations” had already included sixteen other contraceptives in their employee health coverage.  In addition, the wages provided by these corporations are so generous (Hobby Lobby employees start at $14/hr and $9.50/hr, respectively, for full-time and part-time employees) that even a part-time employee could purchase a month’s supply of contraceptives (estimated, $9.00) on their own for approximately one hour’s work.
Supreme Court case was about more than "women's rights."
Nevertheless, the respective corporate owners, the Green Family and the Hahn family, were taken to court for refusing to include four additional contraceptives as mandated under the ACA.  Why?  These four products are known to destroy the human embryo.  Thus, including them along with the 16 products they had approved would compromise their faith position which holds that each human life begins at conception.

In the 5-4 opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court held that the ACA contraceptive mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  Alito was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy.   Monday’s close decision is now highly contested in the court of public opinion.  Opponents of the decision argue along the lines of Justice Ginsburg’s opposing decision.  Ginsburg claimed that the Court was wrong in denying free access to contraceptives to thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ...who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith.  Thus, the case is being targeted by opponents as a “women’s rights” violation. 

Defenders of the Court’s decision do not see their victory as imposing unnecessarily on the rights of women. First, the two corporations had already been providing insurance coverage for all approved non-abortificient products.  Second, as noted above, both corporations are very generous with their hourly wage schedule.  Therefore, defenders of the court decision have honest reason for celebration which defends their deeply held conviction about the rights of the unborn.  More broadly, the decision affirms the right of people of faith to act upon their belief system outside church doors and in their workplaces.

Along with the Supreme Court Ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a concurring opinion which is a valuable reminder of the constitutional nature and intent of the founding fathers regarding religious expression under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Justice Kennedy wrote (emphasis mine):
Justice Anthony Kennedy
In our constitutional tradition, freedom means that all persons have the right to believe or strive to believe in a divine creator and a divine law. For those who choose this course, free exercise is essential in preserving their own dignity and in striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts. Free exercise in this sense implicates more than just freedom of belief. It means, too, the right to express those beliefs and to establish one’s religious (or nonreligious) self-definition in the political, civic, and economic life of our larger community.

Secularists applaud “tolerance” of differing views as a virtue.  However, the rules of tolerance do not apply to folks with “religious views” because they "force their views on others.”  This week the Supreme Court affirmed
the right of all Americans, whether “religious” or “non-religious,” to hold to a world-and-life view, or worldview.  Furthermore, the Court held that regardless of their worldview, free exercise is essential in preserving their own dignity and in striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts as relates to their daily participation in our larger community.

When I read Justice Kennedy’s concurring decision affirming my right to express and practice my Christian faith in public, I said, “YES!”  But then it struck me.  The Constitution also guarantees free expression to those who hold very different beliefs from mine or who are enemies of America.  Then, I realized that “free expression” in this great “land of the free” will only be possible if we are willing to take individual responsibility to be respectful of differing views.  As the Apostle James writes, we must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1: 19-20).   

In a world that is increasingly divided over issues and resentful of Christians attempting to apply the salt and light of the Gospel to these issues, we will need to exercise gentleness and mercy.  As Os Guinness wrote in A Free People’s Suicide (emphasis mine),

It is possible to be free at the constitutional level in terms of the structures of liberty, but to lose freedom and become servile or anarchic at the citizens’ level in terms of the spirit of liberty.

When asked by Marvin Olasky (WORLD Magazine, June 29, 2013) if this is already happening in America, Guinness responded (emphasis mine):

It is happening.  Freedom is the greatest enemy of freedom.  We’ve got a permissiveness in almost every area, and Americans have lost the capacity to say “no” to things that are wrong.  A general ungluing, unraveling, permissive license leads to chaos.  Freedom requires and assumes you know who you are and who you’re to be.  It’s not just a formlessness; it’s the power to do what you ought, as Lord Acton used to put it.

How should God’s people function in a culture where the moral compass is being abandoned and where self-definition is lacking?  Guinness is critical of the Christian right for, in his words,
trusting politics to do more than politics can do.  He elaborates in the same interview:

To put it in the language of William Wilberforce, they did the Lord’s work, but in the world’s way.  Wilberforce had an incredible love for the people who hated him, mugged him, and attacked him physically twice—but he prevailed through love, and he wasn’t gushy in any sentimental way.  The Christian right often shamelessly demonized and stereotyped, and we’re paying for the bad ways they fought it.  But on the issues, I’m with them.

In response to Justice Kennedy’s decision, Jennifer Raught Brock, a Cedarville University graduate, expressed to me some of the hard challenges of true servants of Christ who exercise the right of free expression of their Christian faith in their public life for the glory of God and for the service to their neighbor.  Jennifer wrote:

For Christians, kingdom work includes redeeming culture. Loving one's neighbor involves promoting justice and freedom. It's not an earthly, political kingdom we seek; God never promised us religious freedom. Nor did God promise freedom from pain. Yet that shouldn't stop us from trying to alleviate suffering.  He never said we should expect financial stability, but that doesn't mean we don't work hard or give to those who are poor.  He informed us that we're all going to die someday, but that doesn't mean that we refuse medicine when we're sick or that we fail to care about the overall quality of medical care in our society.

Supporting free expression of faith in the "larger community."
Our “free expression” comes at a great price through the sacrifice of Christ Who laid the foundation for our spiritual freedom; and later, the sacrifices of American men and women who have fought and died to give birth and then defend this nation during more than two centuries.  Many did so because they believed
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  May God help us to exercise our freedom in a Christ-like manner with firmness and boldness, yet with gentleness and reverence.

If we are in Christ, the Apostle Paul states, we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5: 17), no longer conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12: 2).  Of all people, being set free from sin and self, now free in Christ and free under the Constitution, we ought to know who we are, who we’re to be, and have the power to do what we ought.  We ought to be “about” self-definition, but more basically, “all about” Christ-definition as we give witness to the fruit of His Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control as we participate in the broken and divided political, civic, and economic life of our larger community.

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