HOME > NEWSROOM > ARTICLES > The Long Road to Religious Freedom

The Long Road to Religious Freedom

This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will be considering a religious liberty case so historic that the central issue winds like a distant road all the way back to a question raised 369 years ago: is government above God? NRB has begun preparations to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in an appeal that pits the U.S. Government against Hobby Lobby, owned by the Green family, as well as Conestoga Wood Specialties, another family-owned, faith-based company that has religious objections against being forced to provide abortion-inducing drug coverage in their health insurance plans. The insurance issue has arisen because, in implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama Administration has expressly refused to afford for-profit companies, even religiously-founded ones, an exemption from the abortion mandate provisions of the Act.

The tension between government and religious liberty was addressed by 17th Century Scottish pastor and divinity professor Samuel Rutherford in his treatise Lex Rex, published in 1644. Rutherford wrote that law should be above government, not the other way around, and that God, who is the only rightful force that “can lay a band of subjection on the conscience,” resides squarely above law. But the lawyers for the Obama Administration have it backwards. In court filings, they have argued that family-owned businesses, founded on spiritual principles, have no right to place God above government regulations, and cannot complain that their religious consciences have been coerced by ACA regulations -  coerced, in fact, to the tune of millions of dollars in penalties if the government’s view prevails (in the case of Hobby Lobby, a minimum of at least $26 million per year).

The government lawyers have argued that the ultimate issue is not about, at most, some “slight” burden on religious freedom; rather, they say, this appeal is really about “the interests of women who would bear the burden of accommodating the Greens’ personal religious beliefs.”

Which is the real issue here? Is it the fundamental rights of religious freedom of all Americans embedded in our history and recognized in our Bill of Rights? Or is it the rights of some women to have the government bully religious employers into facilitating their decision to prevent or end a pregnancy through mandated insurance coverage? When the Supreme Court affirmed “Obamacare” in 2012, even the justices who voted in the majority noted that the ACA could be in constitutional trouble if it “impermissibly ... interfered with the free exercise of religion.”

About 132 years after Rutherford’s Lex Rex, the Rev. John Witherspoon, a Scottish preacher and the mentor of James Madison, delivered a message just two months before he would join his Founding colleagues in signing the Declaration of Independence. He stated, “God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.”

Perhaps we could add this postscript: God grant that these attempts of the government in our day to unjustly coerce the decisions of the people of faith might support and establish both the diligence of faith and the exercise of liberty in America.

By Craig Parshall
Senior Vice President & General Counsel, National Religious Broadcasters
Director, John Milton Project for Free Speech

Click here to read more articles written by Craig Parshall.

Published: December 12, 2013

Latest News

National Religious Broadcasters Marks 70th Anniversary

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the National Religious Broadcasters, which was established with the focus of defending and expanding access to electronic media platforms for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

FCC Chairman Engages on Future of Broadcasting

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler offered his thoughts this week on what the future of broadcasting could...

Supreme Court Turns Down First Amendment Case

The U.S. Supreme Court this week decided not to take up Elane Photography v. Willock, a case in which a professional photographer...

Nearly Half of House Publicly Oppose Performance Tax

Nearly half of all Members of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives now publicly support the Local Radio Freedom Act...

NRB Chairman Bill Blount Meets, Greets NAB Leaders

Newly elected NRB Chairman Bill Blount had the opportunity this week to meet and speak briefly with the President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters as well as its Chairman.

Cornerstone Network Celebrates 35 Years of Broadcasting

Cornerstone Network will mark its 35th anniversary on Tuesday, April 15, and plans to celebrate its history and future with an array of activities, including an on-air celebration, the release of a new book, and the launch of new television programs.

Irreplaceable: Focus on the Family's First-Ever Movie Event on May 6

Irreplaceable, one of the largest initiatives that Focus on the Family has ever undertaken, will be presented one night only in more than 700 select movie theaters around the country.

In Memoriam: Norma Pederson, Wife of Reach Beyond President Wayne Pederson

Norma Pederson, the wife of Reach Beyond President Wayne Pederson, passed away Thursday, April 3, after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Walking with the Enemy: Mark Schmidt Adapts True Decades-Old Story from Nazi-Occupied Hungary

Last week, the Rev. Mark Jenkins, NRB President's Council Member and Minister of Media at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA, invited several NRB staff to attend a screening of Director Mark Schmidt's Walking with the Enemy, produced by Liberty Studios.

CIN Study Highlighted at Senate Hearing

Following up on a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, members of the Senate Commerce Committee began their review of the...

More News