Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2022

Liberal intolerance, hypocrisy threatens religious liberty

By ANDREW GUERNSEY | April 24, 2014

The American tradition of religious liberty, which is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, predates the American republic itself. Charles Carroll of Carrolton, a signee of the Declaration of Independence, wrote of his immigrant grandfather that “being a Roman Catholic, he pitched on Maryland, where the free exercise of that religion & equal privileges were granted.” Many Americans today, however, take our precious freedom of religion so for granted that they would forfeit it to save a few dollars on their birth control pills. For faithful Catholics and other Christian employers and institutions, the Obama administration’s HHS contraception mandate does not threaten their money, as much as their right to live out their deeply held convictions in the public square.

The HHS mandate is an unconstitutional violation of religious liberty because it puts a tax on religious expression. Catholic employers and institutions must choose between violating their consciences and paying a devastating tax. The HHS mandate thus coerces religious employers and Catholic institutions to pay for their employees’ contraceptives, sterilizations and potentially abortion-inducing drugs (Plan B can prevent the implantation of human embryos). The Catholic Church and other Christian churches assert that such practices are intrinsically evil, violating the dignity of human life and the beauty of human sexuality. Acting on such beliefs in the public square is highly stigmatized in our culture, such that the Obama administration thought they could get their way without risking significant political backlash. Yet in drafting the First Amendment, the founders of our nation realized that it is not adherents of popular beliefs, but precisely adherents of unpopular ones that need protection against majority tyranny.

If President Obama really believes it is important to make contraceptives, sterilizations and the morning after pill free, he can sign a law for the government to provide such services directly, without using Catholics employers and institutions as intermediaries. He deliberately chose, instead, to force faithful Catholics to bend the knee to the values of the sexual revolution and of liberal orthodoxy. Obama’s HHS mandate serves to subordinate faithful Catholics to the modern dogma that contraception is a civil right and basic form of healthcare, over and above Catholic doctrine that considers contraception a morally objectionable lifestyle choice that destroys healthy fertility and violates the procreative meaning of sex.

This sort of bullying of Christians on social issues has worsened, as silence and private disagreement no longer suffice. Active participation and militant support of social liberalism is necessary to prove that one is not a “bigot,” “a racist” “a fanatic” “homophobe” a ”misogynist,” or any other stigmatic label of hate. Earlier this month, in another instance, gay rights activists orchestrated the firing of Brendan Eich, the chief executive of Mozilla, for the unthinkable “crime” of having the same stance on gay marriage that President Obama had in his 2008 election. Eich’s sin was that he was the wrong type of religious believer, the kind that does not change his beliefs to conform to the prevailing liberal orthodoxy on marriage. As Professor Robert George of Princeton has pointed out, Christians, Mormons, Muslims and Jews who believe in their faith’s traditional values on sex and marriage simply need no longer apply. The days of agreeing to disagree are slipping behind us.

Social liberals frequently argue that religious believers ought to keep their beliefs private and leave their faith at the door when walking into the workplace or political square. President Obama has reflected this sentiment in his frequent references to the “freedom of worship” instead of the much more robust “freedom of religion” that the constitution guarantees. “Stop forcing your morality on us,” argue social liberals “and stop taking away our reproductive freedom.” The irony is palpable. It is hypocritical to complain about the government “interfering” in your sex life only to then turn around and demand that Little Sisters of the Poor pay for your contraception.

If you want contraception, the solution is simple: Either go work for an employer who will provide it, or go buy it yourself. Social conservatives are not preventing access to contraception any more than Michael Bloomberg is preventing me from smoking because he will not pay for my cigarettes.

An April 3 editorial argued: “If men could get pregnant, birth control would be bacon-flavored and dispensed as freely as condoms.” I answer that if the federal government cannot force orthodox Jewish employers to provide their employees with bacon, however delicious, because it violates their deeply held religious convictions, then neither does the federal government have the authority to force Catholics employers to pay for their employees’ birth control bacon-flavored or not.

Religious liberty does not exist in a vacuum. The cultural and religious traditions that support it require constant vigilance and preservation. The Supreme Court ought to relieve religious employers and institutions from the unconstitutional coercions of the HHS mandate. Liberals should become more tolerant of the diversity of practices and unique contributions that religious believers bring to American civic life, instead of continuing to impose the secular dogmas of social liberalism on the whole of American society.

Andrew is a sophomore majoring in political science and classics.

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