Word from the Center: Friday, July 27, 2018

Welcome to “Word from The Center” FRIDAY, a Two-Kingdom, practical reflection on the issues of the day from the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s issue…

We can still civilly agree to disagree

By now you may have read about the NIFLA case in California having been settled. It was a Supreme Court level “win” for the Pro-Life clinics in California, who were being coerced by the State to include information on abortion services to those who came into their clinic for help. This coercion was contrary to their stated reason for existence, the fact that they were a pro-life alternative to the state-funded abortion clinics of Planned Parenthood. Ironically, no such edict was to be enforced on abortion clinics in return to advertise the services of Pro-Life clinics. (Read this article for a balanced summation of the implications of the ruling).

So, here’s the question, “Is this a “pro-life” victory or a “religious liberty” victory?” Of course, in some ways it is both. But fundamentally, it is a liberty issue and a liberty victory. Yet the reactions to the ruling demonstrate a confusion of this central principle and an increased misunderstanding of the uniqueness of an American citizen’s constitutional freedoms and responsibilities. While issues like abortion on demand, or homosexual-marriage are highly debated topics today, one viewpoint increasingly looks to weaponize politics and to utilize the courts to shut down any and all dissent to the contrary, no matter how reasoned, empathetic, or thorough. This case was about alternatives – legal, rightful, and moral alternatives.

So, in that sense, this really wasn’t a “pro-life” victory at its core. It was a victory for liberty, a victory for continued, robust debate about a fundamental issue, namely the sanctity of all human life. The court’s decision didn’t enforce the pro-life position; it merely forbade others from dictating what that position should be. People still are free to express their opinions about these matters. The ruling prevents the misuse of government to coerce speech against the consciences, not only of these clinics and their people, but of every America who holds deeply moral and religious views that may be contrary to the cultural ideology of the moment. People need to be reminded that deeply religious views that were also out-of-step with the times helped foster ideas like “education for all”(a by-product of the Reformation), opposition to the evils of slavery (see William Wilberforce and the West abolishing of slavery contrary to the worldviews of the time), and the civil rights movements of the 1960’s which had deeply religious roots along with  themes of equality and justice for all. This ruling protects the rights of all those who desire to publicly engage these issues, whether it’s the culturally accepted view of the moment or not.

To that degree, while I laud the decision as a victory for liberty, especially religious liberty, I am deeply disappointed that it was a 5-4 decision. It should have been 9-0 decision, for no matter what your views of abortion or the pro-life movement, governmental coercion to stifle the speech of one side alone should send a chill down the spine of every American. The best place to persuade people about culturally contentious issues like these is not in the courts, it is not through the power of government fiat, it’s in the loving service of our neighbors, even those with whom we may disagree. Thanks to the NIFLA case, these conversations and opportunities are still legal and still possible, even if we eventually, civilly agree to disagree.