TIME politics

Hobby Lobby Ruling Is a Win for Separation of Church and State

Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Hobby Lobby In ACA Contraception Case
Sister Caroline attends a rally with other supporters of religious freedom to praise the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby, contraception coverage requirement case on June 30, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

The Supreme Court decision will be good for all Americans, including those who disagree strongly with it now.

The Hobby Lobby victory in the United States Supreme Court Monday has broad implications for religious liberty, many of them I’ve discussed elsewhere. But one aspect some might miss is that in this case the Court upheld the principle of separation of church and state.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito addressed the question of whether the Green family (owners of Hobby Lobby) and the Hahn family (owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties) have a reasonable case to believe that paying for the drugs and devices at issue would be immoral. He noted that the families believe that paying for these things would mean potentially empowering the destruction of a fertilized embryo and would thus be immoral. He then noted that the question here is one the courts, in his words, “have no business addressing.

“This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another,” he writes. “Arrogating the authority to a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.”

In the case syllabus, the majority points to the moral and theological questions involved and writes: “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable.”

I say “Amen” to that. There are many reasons why this decision will be good for all Americans, including those who disagree strongly with it now, but one reason is found in the court’s refusal to play theological referee.

“Separation of church and state” is a fairly partisan phrase these days, since it has come to be equated with the “naked public square” of secularization. Many, quite wrongly, use the phrase to suggest that believers ought to place their religious convictions in a blind trust when they leave their churches or synagogues or mosques to go out into the marketplace or the voting booth.

But the phrase didn’t start with the secularizers. It’s a principle held by very orthodox believers, especially in the Baptist tradition, who wanted the government out of dictating doctrine. The early Baptists and their allies understood that a government in the business of running the church, or claiming the church as a mascot of the state, invariably persecutes and drives out genuine religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union didn’t invent the separation of church and state. Jesus did, when he said that we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s (Matt. 22:21). And many who use the phrase “church/state separation” actually believe in just the opposite—a church dominated by the state and a state empowered to tell believers what they ought to believe and why.

The Left often demonizes those with strongly held religious convictions as, by definition, theocrats who want to take over the government. This is hardly the case. Hobby Lobby didn’t start this skirmish with the government. The families involved have no interest in what sorts of contraceptive plans are in other companies’ benefits packages.

They want simply the freedom not to be compelled to submit to the government’s morality lesson. Moreover, they want the freedom for the government not to tell them, theologically, what they ought to care about when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

As they did earlier in the Greece v. Galloway prayer case, the Court has declared its competence to decide constitutional law but its incompetence to try to, as we Christians would put it, rightly divide the Word of Truth. That’s good news, and good news for everybody.

In the meantime, it ought to prompt those of us on the more conservative and religious side of the spectrum to reclaim the name for what we’ve always believed: the separation of church and state. It’s a good old phrase that’s been highjacked by the Left for long enough.

Dr. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

TIME faith

On Prayer, Supreme Court Upholds Freedom

Michael S. Williamson—The Washington Post/Getty Images

The Supreme Court ruled today that a town council has the right to allow persons to open council meetings with prayer. On this one, the Supreme Court not only made the right call but also safeguarded an American principle of the right kind of pluralism in the public square.

Some would argue that this decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway, represents an establishment of religion, that it tears down the separation between the church and the state. They are wrong. The decision does just the opposite. Notice what the town was not doing. They were not writing prayers, or censoring prayers, or even requesting certain wording in prayers. They were simply allowing sessions to open with persons praying according to their own consciences.

Some would object that this is the problem, that these prayers were “sectarian” in nature (many of them, for instance, were offered in Jesus’ name). But that’s exactly the point.

First of all, what would be a non-sectarian prayer? Would it be a prayer that is directed to God but doesn’t mention Jesus? How is that prayer not exclusionary of polytheists? More to the point, how does the government decide what is an appropriate level of “sectarian” content? Does the government allow one to say “God” or “heaven” or “Ground of Being,” but rule you out of bounds for mentioning “Jesus” or “Allah” or the Bible or the Torah or the Bhagavad Gita?

If so, then we would in fact have an establishment of a religion. The establishment of a state-enforced generic civil religion. As an evangelical Christian, I believe that I can approach God only through the mediation of Jesus Christ, who stands before God with his own blood and righteousness interceding for those who are found in him. That’s why evangelicals close their prayers “in Jesus’ name.” I don’t expect those who don’t believe in Christ to pretend that they do. In fact, to ask them to pray as though they were Christians would be an act of hypocrisy. I have serious theological differences with other religions, and those differences show up in the ways we pray. But those differences should be the subject for debate among ourselves, not for the government to referee them by pretending they don’t exist.

Some would say, further, that we could eliminate this tension altogether by simply disallowing any sort of prayer. In her dissent, Justice Kagan said that we come to our government simply as Americans, not as representatives of various religious traditions. But, again, this is itself a religious claim, that faith is simply a private personal preference with no influence on our public lives. That’s a claim that millions of us, whatever our religious beliefs, reject.

Prayer at the beginning of a meeting is a signal that we aren’t ultimately just Americans. We are citizens of the State, yes, but the State isn’t ultimate. There is some higher allegiance than simply political process. We often disagree on what this more ultimate Reality is, but the very fact that the State isn’t the ultimate ground of reality serves to make all of us better citizens, striving to seek for justice in ways that aren’t simply whatever the majority can vote through. And it reminds us that there is a limit to the power of politics and of government.

A government empowered to mandate generic civil religion prayers or to ask citizens to pretend that their government has no higher accountability would be a government too intrusive. It wouldn’t create unity, but would simply silence proper pluralism and replace prayer with bureaucracy.

In this decision, the Supreme Court didn’t violate the separation between the church and the state, rightly understood. The Court instead upheld it, and did the right thing.

Maybe this is a sign of a better way forward, toward a right kind of free marketplace of faith expression in American life. Let’s pray that it is.

Dr. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

TIME Religion

Mozilla’s Culture War Is a Bad Model for Business

The decision to remove Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich is not good for anyone on any side of the culture war

Last week’s forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich should have sent a shudder through gatherings all over the country. This shudder was felt, it’s true, in gatherings of evangelical churches, Roman Catholic parishes, Orthodox Jewish synagogues. But this shudder should also have gone through corporate boardrooms, because it signals a dangerous trend of forced political uniformity, rather than tolerance, in corporate America. That’s not good for anyone, on any side of the culture war.

At issue, of course, is Brendan Eich’s 2008 donation of $1,000 to a campaign in support of Proposition 8, a California ballot measure to retain the definition of marriage in that state to the union of one man and one woman. Eich was hounded out of his job by activists who didn’t simply disagree with Eich’s view but who wouldn’t tolerate any dissenting view in the company at all. The goal, it seems, wasn’t dignity or justice, but enforced equality of thought.

As social conservatives, we, of course, were shocked by this development. Columnist Rod Dreher spoke of it as Portlandia’s form of Sharia Law. But those on the traditional marriage side of the cultural divide weren’t alone. Some pro-same-sex marriage thinkers, such as Jonathan Rauch and Andrew Sullivan, also dissented from this sort of Inquisition. “The whole episode disgusts me,” Sullivan wrote. “If this is the gay rights movement today—hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else, then count me out.”

Make no mistake, we support the rights of corporations to live up to their corporate values, even when we disagree with those values. We don’t want the government interfering with Mozilla’s right to make this decision. But we think the decision was a poor one, one that seeks to wield a nuclear option of silencing all dissent through endless campaigns of forced silence. We believe it’s important for all of us to ask, how did Mozilla get to this point? And is this really where we want to go?

Mozilla executive chair Mitchell Baker wrote, in explaining the board’s decision, “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right.” Baker uses “people” here in an abstract and almost universalizing way. Who are these “people”? It’s obviously not LGBT people in general because many of them, like Sullivan and Rauch, don’t agree with these tactics.

And “people” here cannot refer to the overwhelming consensus of the American population because every poll indicates that, whatever cultural changes have happened, the population is still divided on the question of whether the definition of marriage should be revised to include same-sex couples.

The “people,” it appears, who sparked this controversy, are critics on Twitter and a dating site, OKCupid, which recommended its users find another browser than Mozilla’s Firefox. And Mozilla has received more backlash for removing Eich than for hiring him. The company tracks positive and negative comments, and the negative reaction to this is unprecedented.

We’ve seen this before in recent days, in the kerfuffle over A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty reality show star Phil Robertson for quoting a Bible passage about sexual morality. The backlash to the suspension was so overwhelming that A&E rescinded it within days.

So how does this happen? How does a company get to the point where its first reaction to an unpopular opinion is to punish diversity of thought? We think it happens because the company becomes so culturally isolated that they no longer know that there, in fact, is diversity of thought on a given issue. The Twitter and Facebook outrage against Eich can seem to be the uniform “voice of the people,” rather than one more debate in an ongoing controversy.

As evangelical Christians, we’ve heard, all our lives, our churches and ministries warn against a “Christian bubble,” where we can be around fellow believers all the time to the point that we lose touch with what our unbelieving neighbors think, to the point that we lose any point of connection with them. That’s easy to do, and not just in church circles.

There can be a “boardroom bubble,” where belonging to a particular cultural group can give the blindness of thinking that “everyone” believes the way that you do. This can happen in Hollywood studios or in New York media empires or in Washington DC think tanks—and it can also happen in Silicon Valley tech companies.

Have American boardrooms become so insulated in their secularity, that they cannot even imagine why, for instance, Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Jews and Muslims and Latter-day Saints might hold sincere differences from the accepted wisdom of the corporate cocktail parties about what marriage is? If so, these companies will be out of touch with a significant segment of the population. But, more importantly, these companies can find themselves, as Mozilla did, turning their corporate mission into a scorched-earth culture war battlefield that will be good neither for business nor for civil society.

The answer, we believe, is to break out of the bubble. Don’t silence disagreement, but see more conversation, not less, as a means of engagement. The Bible tells us that “in the multitude of counselors,” there is wisdom (Prov. 11:14). We would think that successful business leaders—even those who wouldn’t know how to find that passage in the Bible—would know that intuitively. But that multitude of counselors means engagement, not silencing. And it means real diversity, not just whatever makes sense to the diversity officer. If companies were to seek this sort of engagement, we might see fewer embarrassing episodes like Mozilla’s in the years to come.

Dr. Russell Moore is President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Penny Nance is CEO and President of Concerned Women for America.

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