It seems one man's religious freedom is another man's "ridiculous prejudice."
One government official fumed that Catholic doctors were refusing to perform abortions-abortions that were perfectly legal. He wrote in a memo: "After all, these scruples are in most cases nothing but ridiculous prejudices . . . One is tempted to ask: where does state authority come in these cases, or else, is the state, perhaps, not anxious to assert its authority in this particular instance?"
Well, Nazi Germany was seldom hesitant to assert its authority, even over religion and individual conscience. As described in the June/July issue of First Things, the government official I just quoted was a Nazi bureaucrat who was none-too-happy that doctors in Italy's Lake District-a heavily Catholic region-wouldn't perform abortions. The Nazis, you see, had legalized abortions "in countries occupied by the Germany army." Refusal to participate in government-sanctioned procedures drew his ire.
Fast forward to today, where there is heavy debate over whether medical professionals can be exempted from performing services that violate their religious beliefs.
The comparison is fair. And disturbing. But the problem isn't restricted to medical practice.
Just last month, the New Hampshire legislature voted down a gay "marriage" bill because the governor had the audacity to insert language that would protect clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in gay "marriage" ceremonies or from providing marriage-related services.
As reported in the Concord Monitor, one New Hampshire legislator opposed what he called the "totally unnecessary and harmful amendment" because it "entrenches homophobia in statute."
So, one man's religious freedom, it seems, is another man's homophobia-or silly prejudice, as the Nazi official called it.
Another legislator was quoted as saying, "It is puzzling to me, why we would allow some to discriminate and others not."
Maybe he is wondering, as the Nazi official did, "where state authority comes in this case."
As I write in the upcoming June issue of Christianity Today-which I urge you to read-totalitarianism thrives when the state succeeds in what Hannah Arendt called the "atomization of society." Arendt, a political theorist who fled Nazi Germany, described how totalitarian states seek to create a mass of individuals isolated from the very structures that have held civilized societies together for eons. Once individuals are alienated from families or from their faith communities or civic groups, they stand alone before the power of the state.
Is the United States teetering on the edge of totalitarianism? No.
But, should we Christians be concerned when the government seeks to strip health care workers of their right of conscience? Should we sniff out danger when a state fails to protect the religious rights of clergy, or wedding planners, or photographers who choose not to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies? Or when a new administration considers whether or not to force faith-based groups to cease what it considers "discriminatory" hiring practices?
Should we be concerned? Yes, we should.