Religious Liberty | The HHS mandate that goes before the Supreme Court Wednesday targets religious...
by Alveda King
Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at 11:41 am
What if the government told you that you had to commit a sin?
I’m not talking about the government making you pay for activities with your taxes that you regard as sinful—that’s bad enough—but actually forcing you to commit an act that your faith tells you God hates and forbids you to do.
Furthermore, what if the government not only told you that you had to commit the sin, but that your faith is teaching you incorrectly—that, henceforth, your moral compass will be guided not by your religious beliefs but by a political appointee sitting in the corner office of a Washington, D.C., bureaucracy?
That’s what’s happening to me and dozens of other petitioners whose lawsuits will be argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday in the consolidated case of Zubik v. Burwell. We are fighting a mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that says we must assist in making abortion-causing drugs and devices available to the women with whom we work—in violation of the religious beliefs that are the very foundations of our missions.
Plainly stated, the government is engaging in religious discrimination. It is picking and choosing the groups to which this mandate applies. Religiously based organizations are being told to compromise their beliefs while the same mandate is not being applied to some secular organizations. In fact, there are a number of alternate ways the government could make the offending drugs and devices available without involving church-based groups. The government appears to be targeting religious belief.
I’ve seen this kind of discrimination before.
When I was a girl growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in Alabama, I witnessed attacks on churches. Segregationists were upset that men of God like my daddy A.D. King and my uncle Martin Luther King Jr. were preaching God’s Word of agape love for all, so they sought to silence them. They attacked predominantly African-American churches where man’s equal standing before God was proclaimed. They knew God’s Word didn’t fit their agenda of separatism.
These racists had their own version of religion, one that employed crosses, but it was not biblical. And they tried to enforce their beliefs on others through force and violence. One of my playmates died in a church bombing instigated by these men. My father, my uncle, and many, many others lost their lives in opposition to them.
And state and local governments, by not bringing many of these criminals to justice, gave tacit approval to their discriminatory acts.
Today, physical violence against churches and believers is not the issue before the Supreme Court. Discrimination, though, is still involved. This time, it’s not the government’s tacit approval of bias that’s threatening our rights—it’s the government’s direct enforcement of it.
HHS has issued a regulation that requires religiously based groups such as Priests for Life, for which I work as director of the Civil Rights for the Unborn project, to participate in the distribution of drugs and devices that can cause abortions. HHS says my participation in providing these abortifacients does not violate my religious beliefs.
The Word of God, however, tells me that abortion is sinful, the taking of innocent life. Whether I perform the sin directly or just facilitate it, I am still grieving God. For HHS to tell me I have to be complicit in the sin of abortion is as wrong today as the government enforced sin of racism was in my childhood.
What’s more, since when does the government determine the legitimacy of anyone’s religious beliefs?
Federal Judge Janice Rogers Brown addressed this question when she wrote in her dissent supporting my and Priests for Life’s position that “federal courts have no business addressing … inherently theological questions which objective legal analysis cannot resolve.”
Those who support abortion on demand like to cite the separation of church and state when they say laws protecting unborn babies are religiously based. They pointedly ignore the facts that one does not have to be religious to oppose killing innocent children and that the existence of human beings in the womb is not a religious belief but a physical reality.
But they also ignore the intended purpose our Founders had in ensuring that the government not establish a church, namely, to protect churches from government intrusion. They had seen and fled the sectarian strife created by state churches in Europe and sought to avoid that kind of division here.
Only the government now seems intent on establishing a kind of national church of its own, one where the belief in abortion overrules any possible religious objection. Those who will not acquiesce to the government’s belief system will be made to submit or else fined out of existence. This is the moment we face.
Government enforced discrimination, whether based on one’s skin color or one’s religious belief, is repugnant. Just as I saw Jim Crow laws consigned to the dustbin of American history, I pray that the same fate awaits the HHS mandate.
Alveda is director of Civil Rights for the Unborn, the African-American outreach of Priests for Life.