Those concerned with the preservation of religious liberty in America are keeping a keen eye on the Supreme Court in 2014. The august body of jurists that comprise America's highest court will be reviewing some cases that speak to the very heart of our nation's political and civil heritage. Namely, are a person's religious beliefs a fundamental liberty protected under the First Amendment, or does government have the authority to abridge religious conscience in order to advance an ideologically-motivated policy agenda?
According to the judgment of some, religious liberty has no standing in the realm of public conduct. You can believe what you want, but you must not allow these beliefs to influence your behavior as a citizen. Apparently this is part of America's social contract: "As a New Mexico Supreme Court justice wrote this past summer, for religious believers, compromising 'the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives' and '[channeling] their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different' is the 'price of citizenship.'"
It is true that there are legitimate reasons why the obligations of citizenship might trump a person's religious conscience. America's constitutional commitment to equal protection under the law, for example, does not allow discrimination based on factors like race or gender. A business owner might have a "religious conviction" that whites are superior to blacks, but they cannot allow those beliefs to influence their hiring and firing practices because to do so fundamentally undermines the basic constitutional rights of African Americans. Everyone should have a right to compete in the workforce.
The Obama administration – with the HHS Mandate – is treating birth control and abortion as if they are fundamental components of "basic health care." This is a radical assertion. Despite the impassioned claims of feminists and ivory tower intellectuals everywhere, pregnancy is not a disease. It is, on the contrary, the natural result of human biology working the way it is designed to work. Everyone knows how conception occurs and the steps necessary to prevent it. Doing so is an individual responsibility. It is not your employer's responsibility to pay for your contraception. If you choose to forgo the free method of contraception – that is, abstinence – then it is YOUR responsibility and YOURS ALONE to finance an alternate form of birth control.
The idea that an employer must finance birth control and abortion for their employees as part of his "civic duty" is outrageous. That our courts are even taking such a spurious claim seriously illustrates how far government has veered from its roots and how far we have moved from the notion that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, including the right to life. The HHS Mandate would turn the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence upside down. Instead of upholding our commitment to the sacred value of life, it tramples upon the rights of those who view life as sacred in favor of those who believe it's their right to play God with the lives of unborn children.
In the year ahead, will the court recognize and protect the religious beliefs of its citizens and protect this unwarranted intrusion on religious liberty? Hopefully, yes, but if not then men and women of conscience (Christians and others of similar moral conviction) are going to have to consider civil disobedience. No American should be made to engage in that which God forbids or forbidden from doing that which God compels. In the face of such compulsion, we have a duty to resist peaceably and to be prepared to live with the consequences.
This is only the start of an ever-growing tension between a secularized government and its religious constituents. The outcome of these cases will have significant impact how on faithful Americans order our lives vis a vis government in the future.