The ERLC’s blog “Canon and Culture” carried an article today by Bart Barber, whose articles appear here (when Dr. Moore doesn’t steal his affections and efforts!). I hope my angst doesn’t come across as bitterness or anything.
Seriously, Bart wrote an excellent article, entitled “A Postlude to Hobby Lobby” which you are strongly encouraged to read. If the SBC had a Supreme Court, Bart would likely be a candidate for the next opening! He seems to have a grasp on religious liberty issues that rivals his theological grasp displayed here. He gives both an academic analysis of the case and a pastoral response. Again, it is well worth your time to read the entire article, if you have not to this point.
In this article, I am only going to highlight a few major points that Bart made as discussion starters for our little blogging community. Please note that the highlighted points will be as close as I can get to Bart’s statements. The rest will be commentary by me on the topic. I’ve also included several quotes from the Canon and Culture article. I just want to make sure Bart is not blamed for my ideas and interpretations!
I have been disappointed but not surprised by the efforts of some “post-evangelicals” (who tend to see everything conservative Christians do as bad) to skewer Hobby Lobby as a company and to present the restriction of the Green family to practice their faith according to their conscience as a good thing. Some have argued that Hobby Lobby’s victory is actually a threat to religious liberty. Bart wrote a post called “On Christian Businesses: A Friendly Rebuttal to Jonathan Merritt” after Merritt launched an attack on the conservative infatuation with Hobby Lobby. His article was called, “Stop Calling Hobby Lobby a Christian Business,” and his main point (other than his disdain for conservative Christianity throughout the article) is the fact that the store sells products made in China. This nullifies their right to call the business Christian in his view. In the aftermath of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision I’ve seen articles and posts by several left-leaning Christians who are arguing that Hobby Lobby’s victory is actually a defeat for religious liberty in America.
Bart’s arguments in this articles are much stronger and more coherent than those anti-Hobby Lobby posts. Again, the reader is encouraged to read Bart’s article before reading my observations.
I’ve been arguing for the last couple of years that our primary engagement in the public square ought to be to seek to establish, protect and promote religious liberty. There was a time when we styled ourselves the “Moral Majority” and used our majority to seek to instill biblical values on America. I’m not saying that was wrong, though I do think that sometimes we made tactical errors and blunders in execution.
Now, our culture has rejected our convictions and the national media, academia and many politicians view us as dangerous extremists. Our fight now is to be allowed to continue to practice our convictions without sanctions. Conservative Christians should have always been advocates of religious freedom, but now it needs to be a driving passion of our public engagement. As a “prophetic minority” we need to be focused not so much on outlawing that which we see as sin but on preserving our right to speak and live our convictions not only at church but also in the public square.
Now, back to Bart’s ideas!
On the Academic Side
Bart makes four points on the academic side of the discussion.
1) He notes that this decision gives a rebuke to the Obama administration which is the most hostile to religious liberty in America’s history.
The president did an amazing thing last week; he united the left and the right on a couple of unanimous decisions which said that he had overstepped his authority as president. Frustrated with a House that does not agree with his views, he has resorted to recess appointments and presidential decrees. The court has begun to reign in his unprecedented imperialism. While this decision was anything but unanimous (a typical 5-4 decision) it was another rebuke to President Obama’s policies.
The decorum appropriate to the highest level of our federal judiciary precludes name-calling, but the Court’s judgment of the administration was pretty transparent when it said, “HHS’s view that RFRA can never require the Government to spend even a small amount [to pursue its interests in ways less restrictive upon religious free exercise] reflects a [low] judgment about the importance of religious liberty that was not shared by the Congress that enacted that law.” It is encouraging to see the Supreme Court’s willingness to castigate the cavalier manner in which this administration has handled questions of religious liberty.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court still, at this point, has a higher view of the importance of religious liberty than the administration does.
2) He applauds this decision’s “full throated support of religious liberty.”
This is the heart and soul of religious liberty issues in America right now. We still have freedom of worship and no one has started trying to monitor our sermons (unless Marty Duren has information I don’t have) and impose sanctions for preaching against sin. The issue is not what we do in church on Sunday but on the right of Americans, primarily (in this culture) conservative Christians, to live out their faith in the public square. Can Hobby Lobby live out its owners convictions in its insurance practices? Can the City of New York tell churches they are non grata in schools? Can schools restrict the rights of student groups to assemble and live out their Christian faith when that violates the tolerance/inclusion principles the university trumpets?
The battlefield is not inside the church – not now at least. It is in schools and businesses and other public square places. Are those who do not give assent to the prevailing mindset going to be ostracized or given their freedom?
The Court has rightly observed that “HHS would effectively exclude [devoutly pro-life] people from full participation in the economic life of the Nation” and has acknowledged that even in its economic form, religious persecution is still wrong. Religious liberty must protect a person’s right to be a Christian (or whatever else) not only on Sunday in the pew but on Monday in the office as well.
3) He reminds us that religious liberty is still fragile in America.
Bart laments that the ruling was based primarily on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, not on the First Amendment itself. That means that this decision we all applaud is rooted in congressional action rather in the constitution itself. The Congress could change its mind in the future and religious liberty would be affected. It would have been much better had the decision been rooted in the constitution.
Since this ruling and every other Supreme Court ruling based upon the RFRA exist only upon the sometimes-capricious whim of our elected legislators, in its next term, Congress could vote to overturn RFRA and Christians would be back on the same hook. Thankfully, we have reason to believe that today’s Congress would not do so, but religious liberty will not be secure in this nation until the Supreme Court’s decision in Oregon v Smith is set aside.
4) He notes that liberal groups seem less willing to unite for religious freedom issues.
It is my observation that left-leaning and secular groups have very little tolerance for free speech that disagrees with their views. The Phil Robertson saga, Mozilla’s firing of a Christian CEO (for giving $1000 toward a cause that WON in CA), the firing of the Benham brothers by HGTV – the list could go on and on – all demonstrate that when the left has little love for religious liberty or free speech that supports traditional or Christian positions.
Bart observes that conservative groups are more likely to join a consensus on religious liberty issues than are liberal groups. Groups that normally support religious liberty refused to help a conservative group.
When the shoe is on the other foot—when liberal political objectives like acceptance of same-sex marriage and universal access to free abortion come into conflict with the tenets of religious liberty—liberal groups tend not to cross the aisle in our direction. The Baptist Joint Committee declined to say anything about the Hobby Lobby case, and Americans United has predictably rubber-stamped the Obama administration’s objectives, with Barry Lynn personally articulating a new mission statement advocating Separation of Church and Life. The greater sincere commitment to religious liberty is demonstrated when one is willing to part company with one’s usual cohort to take an unpopular stand.
As we advocate for religious liberty in America, we must be willing to seek that liberty for Muslims, Mormons or any other group, but we cannot expect that leftist groups like the BJC or AU will join with us to protect liberty if the issue at stake does not advance their liberal causes.
On the Pastoral Side
Bart rejoices that, though the Obama administration seems unsupportive to Christians living out their faith in the public square, this decision makes that easier. Christians have some measure of freedom to carry their beliefs and convictions into the world with them, because of this decision. He exhorts us to make use of this privilege.
What would happen if we pastors used this decision not only as an opportunity to talk about religious liberty but as a way to kindle in our congregations a vision for the workplace as a venue in which to live out one’s faith?
The United States Supreme Court understood its role: “Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written.” As believers living and working in this society, our responsibility goes far beyond theirs. Let’s not drop the subject with a favorable judicial ruling; let’s show the world what wonderful things can happen when Christian individuals, proprietorships, partnerships, and yes, even corporations, dare to conduct their business dealings to the glory and delight of their Lord.
I am grateful that the Court ruled as it did, but the issue of religious liberty is far from over. We Christians would be wise to continue to make this issue a priority.