There has been a great deal of attention given to the controversy over the Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive insurance mandate for religious groups. Millions of Americans, including many Democrats and many Protestants and other non-Catholics recognize this as an assault on religious freedom.
But the HHS mandate is only one of a growing number of attacks on America's First Freedom. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. This was a case in which a dismissed teacher in a Lutheran school sued, claiming discrimination. The parent church body—The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS)—has always commissioned its teachers as ministers.
The courts have for decades recognized a "ministerial exception." That means if you dismiss your priest, pastor, or rabbi, the government is not going to get involved in the internal matters of a church or synagogue. It's a vitally important principle to keep the state from becoming "excessively entangled" in church governance.
That didn't sway the Obama administration, which went into court pressing the argument that a ministerial exception should only apply to those who perform exclusively religious functions.
Carl Anderson, the Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus, spoke out against the administration's argument this week in an address to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, noting that "Chief Justice John Roberts wondered aloud during oral arguments whether even the pope could meet the administration's definition."
Anderson then pointed out how even Jesus could not meet the Obama test of "exclusively religious" functions. After all, when He was feeding the 5,000, was that exclusively religious or was that a secular function the government would recognize as food service? And do we want Obama administration bureaucrats sitting on a mountainside judging what's secular, what's religious? Give 'em a fish!
The faith communities breathed a sigh of relief in January when the court ruled 9-0 that the LCMS had acted within its rights. Consider that majority. How often do we see a 9-0 decision in this day of sharply polarized philosophies and ideologies?
What does this mean? It means the Obama administration is governed by an ideology of church and state so far outside the mainstream that even the most liberal members of the Supreme Court—even two of Obama's own appointees to that court—cannot endorse this view.
This should be a matter of the gravest concern to all of us. James Madison recognized the passage of Virginia's Statute of Religious Freedom as adding to the "the lustre of our country." Madison believed that securing religious freedom was the necessary condition for the maintenance of civil liberty. It was that inspired idea that he carried from Richmond in 1786 to Philadelphia in 1787.
Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 pledging a new foundation for the American republic. It sounded like high-toned political rhetoric then. But now, it should alarm us. Moving America away from its foundation on religious freedom endangers all our liberties. Allowing this administration to set up constitutional tests that not even Jesus could pass shows how extreme it is in its lust for power.
We should not be breathing a collective sigh of relief that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of religious freedom in January. Instead, faithful Americans and those who hold no religious beliefs but who cherish liberty should not be complacent. Under our system, it is the president who names federal judges, including Supreme Court justices.
If President Obama can find lawyers radical enough to argue such a meritless case before the high court, he can in time find judges radical enough to give their consent. When religious liberty is endangered, all our liberties are threatened. Madison said it well: "The people are right to take alarm at the first advance on their liberties."