Hobby Lobby, Dunn Construction & the Quest for Religious Liberty

More than a few jokes have begun with “Have you heard the one about the Pope and Billy Graham . . ., ” but when it comes to religious liberty, the need for Roman Catholics and Evangelicals—and all people of faith—to stand together is no laughing matter.

That is why I was so pleased to see Kansas City’s J.E. Dunn Construction recently file an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court supporting Hobby Lobby’s objection to the HHS Mandate. Of particular concern to the Dunn family, and Hobby Lobby’s Green family, is that the HHS Mandate requires employers to provide contraception and abortifacient drugs to employees—a violation of Christian conscience and an abridgement of their religious liberty.

As practicing Roman Catholics, it is unsurprising that the Dunn family entered the fray in the Hobby Lobby case. Roman Catholic dogma proscribes contraception and finds abortifacient drugs particularly lamentable. They are abortive by definition. They do not merely prevent pregnancy; they terminate it.

While I own significant theological differences with the Roman Catholic Church, I, as an Evangelical, share their concerns over the HHS Mandate. I have substantial reservations about certain forms of contraception and urgent concerns about abortifacient drugs. This case, however, is about more than contraception; it is about conscience—and the HHS Mandate’s abridgement of one’s religious liberties.

To be sure, the First Amendment is not a universal trump card, guaranteeing citizens the right to practice any and all beliefs one can cram into a religious classification. Yet, the burden of proof seems to be shifting from those who would curtail expressions of religious liberty to those who merely seek to practice it.

The fundamental question is, Can the government coerce citizens to violate their most deeply held religious convictions? The answer, save red-herring examples, must be “no.” And in this deliberation, society must proceed with care and caution, with the ever-present awareness that a government powerful enough to regulate one’s religious liberty is powerful enough to eradicate it.

Indeed, now is the time for all persons—religious and irreligious—who care about religious liberty, freedom of speech, and conscience to speak out. In this sense, we are all potential victims now.

Whether matters of contraception and abortifacient drugs, or the ability to hold to a biblical sexual ethic and traditional, conjugal marriage, the common denominator in all of these issues is quickly becoming religious liberty. Even if one is personally ambivalent over the HHS Mandate, all citizens should care deeply about the First Amendment—the right to practice any religion or no religion at all.

As a Christian minister, I celebrate the First Amendment and engage in a happy co-belligerence with other religious groups, not because I believe all religions are equally valid, but because I believe they are not. We, within acknowledged societal pluralism, desire to live, worship, advocate, and yes, evangelize in accordance with our own faith and practice, without fear of political reprisal or recrimination. For tens of millions of Americans, our consciences are bound; we fear God more than man.

Yet, for the gospel minister the issue runs even deeper still. The issue is not merely religious self-preservation or the protection of one’s conscience. We believe the truths we confess and practice are also worth advocating—giving the world a chance to hear and embrace them. Though it sounds audacious to some, these are truths we must speak, and, we believe, others need to hear. This message includes the dignity of every human life and the insistence that conjugal, heterosexual marriage leads to greater human flourishing and happiness, and, most especially, a gospel message of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Winston Churchill famously observed, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Whether by appeasement or apathy, not to rally together to defend religious liberty will prove a costly mistake. Crocodiles are not prowling our streets, but when it comes to religious liberty, Leviathan appears to be. These days his appetite seems insatiable.

Beware of ignoring your neighbor’s religious liberty concern; assuming your own religious liberty is well protected. A government strong enough to limit your neighbor’s religious liberty is strong enough to eliminate yours.


Comments are closed.