A Reader Responds to My Post on Russell Moore’s "Wall Street Journal" Piece on Religious Liberty

John Haas is one of the many thoughtful readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but unless you also follow me on Facebook you often don’t get to read his insightful commentary. (John seldom, if ever, posts in the comments section of the blog.  In fact, some of the best commentary on our blog posts appears on my Facebook feed.  Feel free to follow me over there, but if you do be prepared to see pictures of my daughters playing volleyball and basketball).

Haas teaches history at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana.  Earlier today he had an insightful response on Facebook to the post I published this morning on Russell Moore’s Wall Street Journal op-ed on religious liberty.  So in an attempt to publish more commentary from readers of this blog, here is Haas’s response:
The article–at least the excerpt–is half fantastic, half balderdash.

He’s quite right about Jefferson’s legitimate appeal to those concerned about religious liberty, and how more thinking is required on our part, especially with regard to the hucksters that try (and succeed) to hoodwink the gullible.

But the Baptists actually faced religious establishments that jailed, beat, fined and oppressed them.

That the Hobby Lobby and Hosanna-Tabor cases would even be mentioned as in the same ball park is absurd.

Hobby Lobby: These drugs are not abortifacients (indeed, Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College provided plans that offered them right up to the time that became politically inconvenient). And an insurance plan is the employee’s compensation–it is most decidedly not an employer paying for anything.

As for the H-T case, it’s a very ambiguous one. Cheryl Perich does not fit any common-sense definition of a “minister,” though she was defined as one by the denominational school where she taught. The court decided to do as it has long done (rightly), and refuse to second-guess a church’s definitions of its officers, even in an obviously hard case such as this. But the fact is, nevertheless, she’s a teacher and an employee too, and it was perfectly right for the EEOC to push for employee-protections in her case–that’s their job. Had the case gone the other way, the effect on religious liberty would have been nil (though it arguably would have set a precedent that might have had some deleterious effects down the road).

Have at it.

4 thoughts on “A Reader Responds to My Post on Russell Moore’s "Wall Street Journal" Piece on Religious Liberty

  1. I repeat:

    Whatever the drug or device does, call it what you will–regardless, the Hobby Lobby folks find it morally objectionable.

    As for picking apart Hobby Lobby's possible inconsistencies, that doesn't address the underlying principles on trial: The Little Sisters of the Poor oppose all contraception, and are under the same Obamacare gun.


  2. I thought that this was going to leave my name on this, that it was linked to my “John Smolenski” gmail account. It wasn't meant to be anonymous.


  3. Saying that the “abortifacient argument depends on semantics” make sense only in as much as everything depends on semantics. “Abortifacient” is an actual word that means an actual thing–causing an abortion. “Abortion” is an actual word that means an actual thing–the termination of a pregnancy. There are common, accepted medical and scientific definitions of pregnancy (that it begins at implantation).

    The Hobby Lobby position, which conflates implantation and fertilization as part of when “life begins at conception,” is an alternate definition. To be sure, this *is* a semantic distinction. But we have on the one hand a scientific definition laid out and accepted by all of the medical and scientific licensing boards in the country, against a definition embraced by the leaders a closely-held corporation. There is absolutely no reason to privilege Hobby Lobby's definition of “pregnancy” over the AMA's definition of “pregnancy” any more than there is a reason to privilege Hobby Lobby's definition of “cholesterol” over the AMA's definition of “cholesterol” (if they were to have an alternate definition–I am using this as a hypothetical).

    So yes, there are semantics involved, because we're talking about words. But words mean things. And yes, I do think that we owe deference when it comes to defining medical terms to medical licensing boards.

    As to Hobby Lobby finding the IUD (or the other “abortifacients” they took issue with) morally objectionable: I would argue that they already demonstrated the falsity of this claim through their own actions in the past. The fact is, the insurance they offered their employees provided for IUDs (and other “abortifacients”) before these “objectionable” were mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

    Thus: when given the choice about what insurance to provide their employees, they *chose* to purchase insurance for their employees that provided for “abortifacients.” They now claim that the act of purchasing insurance for employees that can provide for “abortifacients” is morally objectionable. Does this mean that for years they had been engaged in behavior that was morally objectionable?

    Now, I could have missed this, but I have heard no one from Hobby Lobby admit that they had engaged in behavior that they now see as morally objectionable for years. Is this an instance where they did not see purchasing this type of insurance as morally objectionable before, but now have come to the conclusion that it purchasing such insurance is morally objectionable? Such a change would seem to require an explanation, i.e., “We engaged in behavior A for years, now realize it is wrong, and believe that the morally correct path is to engage in behavior B.”

    Or: is this a case where they found it acceptable to *choose* to purchase this type of insurance for employees, but morally objectionable to be *forced* to purchase such insurance for employees? This position, too, might seem to require some discussion. Why was it ok for them to choose to engage in such behavior for years, yet now object to being forced to engage in the same behavior? “We engaged in behavior A for years of our own free choice, but now oppose engaging in behavior A because it is mandated from the government.”

    Again: Hobby Lobby's founders chose, for years, to do the exact thing that they now say contradicts their 2014 principles. Given that Hobby Lobby's sought, through legal means, the opportunity to change employees' insurance benefits to bring them in line with their 2014 principles, I think it is worth asking why Hobby Lobby's 2014 principles appear to differ from their past actions before we simply accept their claim that their opposition to purchasing insurance for employees that does not cover IUDs comes from a principled stand.


  4. Come in, said the spider. Very well. Spiders eat spiders. 😛

    First of all, the “abortifacient” argument depends on semantics. Whatever the drug or device does, call it what you will–regardless, the Hobby Lobby folks find it morally objectionable.

    So, does an IUD kill the would-be fetus or simply prevent the egg and sperm from becoming a fetus? It depends on your definition of pregnancy. Most doctors agree that a pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterus, but many people, including Hobby Lobby executives, think it happens when the egg becomes fertilized by the sperm. To them, if something interferes with a fertilized egg’s assemblé to the uterus, it’s an abortion.


    As for Hosanna-Tabor [decided unanimous, thank God], it's obtuse to narrow the First Amendment's explicit protection of the free exercise of religion only to churches and their clergy.

    The First Amendment does not mention “churches,” and certainly not the clergy. That a religious–or even para-religious organization such as a Christian college–should be forced by the state to continue the employment of anyone who brings discredit to their beliefs abolishes the very practical possibility of a “Christian college.”


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