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Be Careful What You Pray For

June 30, 2014

It is quite possible that today the Supreme Court will issue a judgment on the Hobby Lobby case, where the owners of the private corporation have claimed that because the Affordable Care Act mandates that their insurance provide contraceptive care it violates their religious freedom.  Outrage, real or self-generated, has dominated both sides of this argument.

In an environment of outrage hyperbole and amazing over-reaction sets in.  For example, if you actually read the Hobby Lobby case you will see that they don’t object to all forms of birth control, only that which, as they see it, would destroy a fertilized embryo. On the other hand, Hobby Lobby defenders are quick with slippery slope arguments that lead, in their abundant imagination, to wild oppression.

Religious freedom was clearly important to our country’s founders.  It is the first freedom mentioned in the first paragraph of the first amendment.  It was not an afterthought.  We have reason to be proud of our tradition here which stands in stark contrast to many countries, Sudan comes to mind, that oppress religious minorities.  It is clear too that the founders saw government establishment of an official religion was the primary threat, not the prohibiting of religious expression.

So, in the Hobby Lobby case much is at stake.  My guess is that the Supremes will try to craft a narrow decision that is hard to apply to other cases than the one before it.  This strikes me as a wise timidity.  The boundary between my freedom of religious expression and your civil rights is always murky.  They don’t want to either make any religious viewpoint trump all civil legislation; or make civil legislation for the common good always superior to religious expression.

Christian conservatives are rallying for, and praying for, Hobby Lobby to win the day.  This, of course, is because they share the same religious view.  But be careful what you pray for.  One person’s religious freedom is another’s license to promote heresy.

In a recent Supreme Court decision the right of local government to open with prayers, even prayers that favor one religion, were approved.  So Greece NY can have someone pray and close his prayer with “in Jesus’ name.”  OK, fine, my conservative friends hailed this as a great victory.  But, the Supremes had one caveat.  A sectarian prayer is OK, but it can’t only be sectarian toward one faith, you need to open it up to all religions.  Uh-oh.

Enter Huntsville, Alabama.  In an effort to comply with the court decision the City Council invited a Wiccan Priest to open the meeting last week.  Nope, didn’t happen.  Once the agenda went public the overwhelming opposition from the good citizens of Huntsville forced them to withdraw the invitation.  It seems the idea that religious freedom extended to the point of allowing Wiccans to pray at the meeting gave some people, in the charming words of the Wiccan himself, “a case of the collywobbles.”

What is also gave is conservative Christians a black eye.  To champion and shout for our religious freedom and then turn around and scream that somebody else’s freedom must be silenced is horrifying.  So be careful what you pray for.  If the religious freedom cause takes the day with Hobby Lobby it will not be long before some case comes up that is repugnant to Christians.

I think that what I will pray for is that, whatever happens, Christians don’t end up sounding stupid.


From → Christianity

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