- - Sunday, May 27, 2012

Culture Challenge of the Week: Conscience Coerced

The liberal machine known as the Obama administration continues to accuse the Republican Party — and conservatives in general — of waging a war on women. It’s a nonsense claim, and women aren’t buying it.

It is, however, a convenient smoke screen blurring the largest assault on religious freedom in decades.

The controversy swirling around the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services, which forces religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs for their employees, escalated this past week.

This time, it’s the good guys on the offensive.

In 12 courts, 43 Catholic institutions have filed suit against the Obama administration and its agencies, asserting that the contraceptive mandate violates the religious freedom of faith-based institutions.

In a statement explaining why the University of Notre Dame has joined the lawsuits, the university’s president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, put the issue simply: The case is “about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives.”

Don’t miss this point: The free-exercise clause is about living our religious beliefs, not just about how we worship. It protects our ability to integrate our faith into what we say and what we do in the public square, not just within our churches, synagogues or mosques.

The Obama administration long has attempted to recast religious freedom as mere freedom to worship. Why? Because to the left, religion (and Judeo-Christian morality) is sort of like secondhand smoke — some people like it, but on the whole, it harms society — so it must be banned from public spaces and limited to restricted areas (churches, temples and mosques).

The troublesome First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, then, becomes mere freedom of worship. And so, outside of their houses of worship, religious believers would have no right to free exercise and therefore no right of conscientious objection.

When Christians or other believers engage in humanitarian work (at hospitals, soup kitchens, shelters for the homeless) their consciences are not welcome. Moral views and conscientious objection must be bound, gagged and shut in the closet. (In fact, liberal supporters of the contraceptive mandate don’t even acknowledge that conscience exists and demands respect — for them, any exercise of conscience is obstructive “religious refusal.”)

It’s vital that all of us, no matter what we think about contraception, stay focused on what’s at stake here: the free exercise of religion.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, at a recent religious-freedom conference in the District, called on believers of all faiths to stand with the Catholic Church against the Obama administration’s affront to religious freedom. The issue, he said, is “not contraception, but coercion, not Catholicism, but conscience.” Other religious leaders agree.

How to Save Your Family: Support Conscience Protections for All

Learn. Educate yourself and your children about our most precious “first freedom,” the freedom of religion. The First Freedom Foundation provides resources about religious freedom and conscience rights; the Heritage Foundation offers up-to-date bulletins on related religious-freedom issues; and the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview provides helpful commentary on the issues.

Sign. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed the first suits defending conscience rights and challenging the Obama contraceptive mandate, has gathered thousands of signatures against the HHS mandate. Join your voice with others and sign the “I Believe” petition asking President Obama to respect the religious freedom of all believers and reverse course on the HHS mandate.

Pray. One way or another, the HHS contraceptive mandate will be decided within a finite period of time. The issue, however, is not going away — in fact, it’s bound to get worse as secularism grips our younger generation ever more firmly. As Mr. Land stated at the National Religious Freedom Conference, what bothers the secularists most is that “the ultimate authority over us is not the state. Our ultimate allegiance belongs to God, as understood by our conscience.”

Let’s plead with our God to guide our country and give us all the courage to stand firm in our convictions — and hold to the integrity of our consciences.

• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.

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