A well-known lawyer, Clarence Darrow said, “As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.”
The question of wrongs and objection exist today — now surrounding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources’ (HHS) Interim final rule, which amends a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The rule requires employers to provide health insurance that covers certain preventative services for women, including contraception, sterilization and abortifacients, in accordance with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) guidelines. It also allows HRSA the discretion to exempt religious organizations from these guidelines.
However, the exemption is moot because the law’s definition of “religious” is flawed. It defines a religious employer as having as its purpose to 1) cultivate religious values, 2) primarily employ people who share the organization’s religious tenets and 3) primarily serve people who share its religious tenets.
The problem with this is obvious: churches may be exempt from the requirements, but religious universities, hospitals and organizations are not. This poses a serious crisis of conscious for religious employers. If they follow the law and provide “preventative services” for free to their students, employees, or clients, they go against the very beliefs they and their organizations espouse.
If religious employers refuse to provide these services, they will be required to pay a hefty fine to the government, which could ultimately put their organizations out of business, thereby eliminating the services they offer.
Religious employers could invoke the “conscience clause,” which permits medical and healthcare providers to not offer certain medical services due to a particular religious belief, and exempt themselves from the rule, but this would require them to turn away patients, students or clients of other faiths, and force them to go against their beliefs in so doing. For Christians, employing their employees, serving their patients or clients, and or offering education to their students is a form of worship and obedience to God.
All three options violate the viability of a religious organization’s purpose. There is no way they can follow both the law and their faith, and if they disobey the law they face potentially life-altering consequences for themselves and others.
In response, two schools have sued — Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic School in North Carolina, and Colorado Christian University — and the U.S. Conference of Bishops has announced that they will fight the law.
Christians have biblical precedent to non-violently object and rebel against a wrong they perceive goes against what the Bible teaches. For example, in the New Testament, examples exist in which the laws of the day prohibited early Christians from following what their faith commanded them to do. In A.D. 44 the apostles were brought before the Council of the Sanhedrin, an assembly of judges, for performing miracles (Acts 3:1-4:22) and for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, against their orders. The apostle Peter responded to their accusations by saying, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Instead of killing them, the Sanhedrin beat the apostles and then released them.
Likewise, in the Old Testament, examples exist in which the laws mandated that believers commit an act that went against what their faith commanded them to do. Circa 539 B.C., during the reign of Darius the Mede, that is the reign of Cyrus the Persian, Daniel, a Hebrew exile who had been chosen to serve in the court of the king, found himself in a crisis of conscience. The king whom he served decreed that everyone in the land could not pray to a god other than himself. Daniel could not follow this law because of his belief in God and continued to pray to God. The punishment for breaking the law was death by being thrown into a lion’s den. God preserved Daniel’s life by closing the mouths of the lions, Daniel was restored to his role with the king, and the king changed the law and acknowledged Daniel’s God “as the living God” (Daniel 6).
In more modern times within a democratic context, Christians have looked to the examples of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.and other religious people who joined him in the fight against segregation.
In all of these examples, those committed to their beliefs were willing to die for them. Their motivation was not to change the law but to follow their conscience and accept the consequences of not following the law, which often led to persecution, jail and, for numerous martyrs, death. Religious organizations, hospitals and universities are justified in not following the new HHS rule as their conscience dictates and their faith demands.
February 6, 2012