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Waging the Battle for Religious Freedom in the Court of Public Opinion

If there’s one thing Chuck Colson was adamant about, it was that politics is downstream from culture. While he was careful to remind us that this doesn’t mean politics is pointless (far from it, in fact) he took exception when Christians looked to Congress, the president or the Supreme Court to do the work that only can be done in other spheres: work that leads to the transforming of hearts and minds, building personal and cultural ethics, reforming education and business, among other spheres of human existence.

He thought and taught this approach because he knew the ultimate source of our government’s policies is the will of the people.

As our second president, John Adams, once wrote in a letter to a relative, “Statesmen … may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”

One of these principles — the most important, in fact — is our freedom to be moral and religious. That means permission not only to privately believe as we choose, but to live out our beliefs in every area of life.

Well, here’s some bad news: New data from LifeWay Research shows a majority of Americans favor requiring religious employers to provide contraceptives to their employees — which is the primary component of the HHS mandate we’ve kept you up to speed on this year.

According to the poll, which LifeWay released earlier this month, six out of 10 Americans favor the mandate. Perhaps more surprisingly, over half said they thought Catholic employers, specifically, should have to comply — despite the church’s well-known teaching against artificial contraceptives.

Though many of these respondents may not have thought their answers through completely, this means that most of the country currently agrees with the administration that Christians ought to be required to relinquish their religious freedom when they go into business, and that anyone who disagrees should have to shut their doors.

This news comes on the heels of a spate of mixed messages from the courts. Late last month, a federal appeals court granted an injunction on behalf of O’Brien Industrial Holdings, a small, for-profit, Catholic-owned business. This reinforced the precedent of an earlier decision out of Chicago to grant an injunction to Tyndale House Publishers.

But the real story here is that the O’Brien ruling helps counter Federal Judge Joe Heaton’s reason for denying Hobby Lobby’s request for an injunction just a few weeks earlier on the grounds that they could not cite “any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations … have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”

Well, thanks to O’Brien, we now have a very strong indication that such a precedent might be set. Tyndale House is not a “secular, for-profit corporation.” O’Brien Industrial Holdings is.

The decision on the HHS mandate, ultimately, could be up to the Supreme Court. But until then, the HHS’s reasoning that private companies have no religious freedom doesn’t seem to be holding up.

Here’s where we come in: as I mentioned just a moment ago, courts aren’t enough to protect our liberties long-term. Even if the Supreme Court decides in favor of our right of conscience, the battle will not be over — not when a majority of Americans see no problem with forcing Christians to violate their most basic beliefs as a condition for going into business. As my colleague Eric Metaxas said last month, “we must wage the battle for religious freedom on the airwaves, in the court of public opinion, and in the halls of Congress.”

So what can you do?

First, learn the talking points we’ve prepared at ColsonCenter.org on the HHS mandate.

Second, make sure you add your name to one of Chuck Colson’s most significant projects — the Manhattan Declaration. The website at ManhattanDeclaration.org, has just been updated and offers next steps for people interested in defending life, marriage and religious liberty.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: December 14, 2012

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