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A Historic Clash for Religious Liberty

  • Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2011 Oct 12

Posted by Jim_Daly Oct 11, 2011




As a contributor to Newsweek’s On Faith blog I was recently asked the following question:

Q: John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America wrote on the op-ed page of the Washington Post Sunday about the new health insurance regulations which, he writes, “will require Catholic University to offer its students sterilization procedures and prescription contraceptives, including pills that act after fertilization to induce abortions. If we comply, as the law requires, we will be helping our students do things that we teach them, in our classes and in our sacraments, are sinful — sometimes gravely so.”

Is this just?

My Answer:

Mr. Garvey’s objection is firmly and rightly rooted in not only the central tenets of his faith but also the founding principles of America.

This latest development concerning the Affordable Care Act highlights a glaring reality: we are witnessing an accelerating clash of two distinctly different worldviews regarding religious liberty.

On one side are those who believe government is the ultimate arbiter and authority in all spheres of life. According to this philosophy, accommodation of faith and the faithful might be granted, but only at the independent inclination of government when such accommodation is seen as furthering the state’s ends.

Others of us believe quite the opposite, that government’s authority is intended to be limited and, in fact, the state is operating outside its God-designed scope when impinging on such fundamental liberties. And in this instance, mandating that the school cover the cost of abortifacients, is constitutionally wrong and morally deficient.

The Scriptures reveal that God has ordained and created three main institutions or social spheres – the Church, the family and the government. Each has its own boundaries and distinct degree of authority. For the government to infringe upon one, or both - which the Affordable Care Act legislation does – often contradicts Christian conscience, not to mention the Founders’ intent.

In the coming days, we will be hearing more about the necessity of conscientious objection, and how can we not? The impact of improper governmental intrusion is being felt by more and more citizens. Indeed, Mr. Garvey’s concern is not just well stated but also well placed. When Catholic Charities in Boston and Illinois must abandon their care and adoptive services of orphans because they refuse, on faith grounds, to place children with same-sex couples, it is another example of the potential dangers of expansive government.

None other than then-Senator Barack Obama acknowledged as much in 2006 when discussing the intersection of faith and public policy.

“Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square,” he said. “Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their ‘personal morality’ into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Such sentiment was right then – and remains right today.

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