A question of increasing importance in state after state and at the highest levels of our federal government: Where are the out-of-bound markers, when it comes to government intrusion on personal freedom?
In Minnesota, officials with the Department of Human Rights are interpreting the state’s Human Rights Act to mean that if Christian filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen want to make films for Christian couples celebrating marriage as the holy bond between one man and one woman, they must also make films celebrating same-sex unions – even if that’s a subject they have no creative interest in, and a point-of-view in direct conflict with their faith.
If the Larsens fail to give equal time to same-sex unions, they face penalties that could include triple compensatory damages; punitive damages of up to $25,000; a criminal penalty of up to $1,000; and even up to 90 days in jail.
The Larsens – like so many of our Alliance Defending Freedom clients who deal with weddings in one form or another – are facing a clear double standard. No one believes for a minute that Muslim singers will be forced to perform Christian hymns, that pro-abortion writers will have to write odes to the March for Life, that homosexual activists will be forced to make speeches celebrating biblical morality.
This is one more case of what Paul Harvey used to call “selective indignation,” punishing Christians for refusing to capitulate to the current cultural agenda.
Left with three decidedly unpromising options – don’t make films about Christian marriage; make films about same-sex unions, too; make the former but not the latter and face the legal fallout – the Larsens have opted for a fourth choice. This week, ADF attorneys helped them file a “pre-enforcement challenge” lawsuit that questions the constitutionality of the Minnesota law before state officials can crack down on them.
Meanwhile, ADF attorneys have also submitted a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court encouraging the justices to rule on two cases involving the religious freedom of hospitals. The High Court last week agreed to hear several cases related to this issue, which challenges the constitutional authority of the government to determine whether a given medical facility is “religious enough” to qualify for tax-exempt pension plans under federal law.
“The government shouldn’t attempt to go into the theology business by assuming it has the ability or expertise to decide whether a faith-based ministry is religious enough to be a ministry,” says ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. “Hospitals were developed by people of faith and have long been regarded as the very essence of faith-motivated outreach and service to the community and world. To say that they are not ‘religious enough’ to be recognized for what they clearly are makes no sense.
“We are pleased the Supreme Court now has the opportunity to rule that the government has no authority to second-guess the religious standing of faith-based ministries.”
And then there’s the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is mulling a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a Michigan woman who wants the medical staff of a Catholic health care system to sterilize her.
That conscientious Catholics might not want to violate their most cherished faith beliefs to accommodate a request that the woman could have taken care of in another medical facility doesn’t seem to faze either the woman or the ACLU.
“No one should be forced to perform or participate in a procedure when doing so would violate their conscience,” says ADF Legal Counsel Ken Connelly. “This is especially true of medical workers and health care systems who are in the profession largely because of – and as an extension of – their faith. No law requires religious hospitals and medical personnel to sterilize women, and, in fact, federal law specifically prohibits the government from engaging in any such coercion.”
ADF attorneys have sent a letter to HHS affirming the conscience rights of medical professionals explaining that “It is not an act of discrimination to decline, for conscience reasons, to perform a medical procedure – indeed, if that were the case conscience protections would not exist.”
Earlier this year, a federal court threw out a similar lawsuit that tried to compel another Catholic hospital system and its staff to commit abortions.
The conscience of a doctor or nurse… the authenticity of a Christian ministry’s faith… the soul of an artist – all appear to be fair game for government intrusion these days. More and more, the state is flexing itself into areas only God is privileged to judge, demanding authority it has no right to claim.
As we move into this Christmas season, please be in prayer for our ADF clients and attorneys, as we stand in defense of Americans’ most precious gifts: our God-given, constitutionally protected rights to freedom of worship, speech, and conscience.