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Freedom of Religion

Early in his administration, President Obama did not mind reminding us that the election was over – and he had won. That is right. Elections have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are eternal.

I just received a link to a You-Tube production by the Catholic Church. It is a fabulous call for basing your ballot on values that will stand the test, not only of time but also of eternity.

You can view that production here.

Although I follow political news avidly, I seldom mention politics (as such) here on this blog. That is because I do not believe the Kingdom of God is “of this world.” Jesus said this to Pilate. He also said to His disciples, “You are not of this world, even as I am not of this world.”

Yet, we are called to be lights in the world. We are called to march to a different drummer than the popular fads of the day. We have a higher law that we are to obey.

Traditionally, American political reality recognized that there are areas where government cannot go with compulsive force. The Founding Fathers of our country knew that government should have no power over men’s souls, that their power is temporal, not eternal.

The first amendment to the US Constitution states unequivocally and plainly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The way this has been interpreted today is that religions must keep hands off of government. The actual amendment says that government must keep hands off of religious practice. Not only must Congress pass no law that would establish a religion – in the way that Constantine “established” Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, with consequences that reach even into today’s world – but it must not “prohibit the free exercise thereof.”

It is with a sense of impending doom for the true sense of this amendment that I read of so many areas in which our current president seeks to use government powers to run rough-shod over matters of conscience. This is unprecedented in our history as a nation.

Even in times of war, when our nation was fighting through dark days that threatened our very existence, times when young men were being drafted to serve in the armed forces to defend the nation – even in those dark days, the right of Conscientious Objectors to decline to serve in the military forces was honored. Yes, they were given alternate ways of serving, but their conscience was respected.

Today, medical personnel who are opposed to abortion are denied that right of conscience. Hospitals are required to offer abortions, and neither doctors nor nurses can refuse to participate because of conscience. Pharmacists cannot refuse to fill prescriptions that will induce abortions, even if they believe that one of the most fundamental rights of all is the right to life – and they also believe that life begins in the womb at the moment of conception.

Now, government is reaching even further. Churches and their para-church organizations (such as schools, hospitals, and social service organizations that serve the poor and broken members of society) who employ people must provide them with insurance coverage that covers the costs of abortion and contraception – or pay hefty fines for each person employed but not covered.

I do not personally agree with the Catholic Church’s position on contraception. I do believe strongly that our government has no legal power to compel them to pay for insurance to provide services that, in their view, are immoral.

In Romans 14:23 the Apostle Paul wrote:

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

In this context, faith is virtually equivalent to conscience. If we violate our conscience, we sin. It is as simple as that. No man has power over another man’s conscience.

The issue is not whether the act that a man is called upon to do is forbidden by God or not. The point is that when government can demand that people do things that they believe are sinful and evil, that government is claiming powers it does not have.

In fact, such a government has gone a long way down the road that gave us Hitler about 80 years ago. At Nuremberg, the Allies decided that doing immoral things because the governing authorities commanded you to do them was no excuse. “I was just following orders” is not an acceptable defense for doing things you believe to be wrong – or that you should know to be wrong.

Do we believe we can endorse a government that claims its edicts have greater force than our own conscience and not be held accountable by the Righteous Judge and Creator of all?

This November we are in the position of judging between two men who are seeking to govern our nation for the next four years.

Will the values we use to make that judgment stand the test of fire? If not, how will we respond to our Lord in the end?


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