Word from the Center: Friday, November 30, 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 topic/issue….

Why Government Intrusion into Our Lives Is the Issue.

One of the reasons the LCRL is in Washington D.C. is to protect the Church’s public voice from the intrusion and coercion of the government. In many ways, it is unfortunate that such a work must be done today. But when you read about the persecution of groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, the question isn’t, “Why is the State doing this to them?” The question is, “When will the State’s coercive intrusions ever end?” It seems that when the government gets involved in your life, even if it is wrong, it tends to take forever to make things right. Unfortunately, that is the case here.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is a group of women dedicated to serving the elderly poor in the name of Christ. As they say on their website, “Our lives are made up of many humble, hidden tasks. We serve the elderly day and night, striving to meet their physical needs, to make them happy and to minister to them spiritually. We accomplish our mission together as a community, each one bringing her gifts and talents to the work of hospitality.” It is a group dedicated to bring joy in the midst of the challenges of this life. Yet the government sought to impose an abortion ideology on them through their health insurance plans.

First, the good news. The religious liberties of the Little Sisters of the Poor and others were restored and protected at the federal level. Recently, a 2017 regulation was enacted that gives religious nonprofits, including this order of Catholic nuns, legal protection from the Health and Human Services health insurance mandate. (That regulation was the result of the 2016 Supreme Court decision in Zubik v. Burwell, which told the Health and Human Services Department of the U.S. government to revise its rules). That’s right, the Supreme Court made its ruling, and religious liberty was upheld.

Now, the bad news. That ruling didn’t stop the encroaching government from coming after the Little Sisters of the Poor in another way. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Little Sisters are in Federal Court again. Why? They are fighting the State of California’s refusal to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling. The State is suing to end their religious exemption. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed suit to take away the Little Sisters’ religious exemption, forcing the nuns to legally defend themselves and their ministry once again.

Here’s the point: When a dedicated, faithful, caring group like the Little Sisters of the Poor becomes a legal target of the government, it’s the government that’s out of control. It’s outrageous that such a group, dedicated to service and life, should be forced to acknowledge and support the practice of abortion which violates their conscience and their dedicated service. It is even more disgraceful that such a group might be put out of business if they don’t.

Pushing back on such intrusion is a Christian’s proper use of their 1st Amendment rights in the United States, putting one’s temporal liberties to work to rightfully protect our public work for others in the name of Jesus. It’s not the intrusion of the Church into politics that’s the issue here. It’s the government’s growing intrusion into the work of the Church that should concern us all. It’s time to reflect on  why the Constitution enshrined religious liberty as the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, one that is fundamental for a free, caring, serving people. It’s also time to more clearly defend such liberties, not just for ourselves, but for all, and, in this case, in behalf of the Little Sisters and the elderly poor whom they serve.

(PS – At the time of this writing, this litigation was ongoing. In the last week before this article posts, the President signed an executive order of  “Religious Exemption” for groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, protecting their right of conscience in this regard. The tragedy is that it had to come to this. But, thankfully their religious liberty and ours has been upheld (For now?).)