Mother Teresa, Jesus aren't 'sufficiently religious?'

Nov. 1, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.

Mary Ann Wenske

Mary Ann Wenske

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.." Our First Amendment freedom of religion clause stands worldwide as a touchstone for religious liberty. While the First Amendment in theory provides the framework for religious freedom, Americans have to remain ever vigilant in an increasingly secular society so that our religious freedoms are not trampled upon.

The present administration is particularly hostile to the freedoms of religious institutions. In January 2012, the Obama administration argued in the Supreme Court case, Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that a Lutheran church in Michigan which fired a teacher at a church school should be subject to federal anti-discrimination laws protecting disabled employees. The church presented the constitutional doctrine of the "ministerial exception," which protects religious institutions from any intrusion from the courts in the appointment of a church minister. The Lutherans won the case handily, with a 9-0 decision. Even Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, found it "amazing" to suggest that the First Amendment religion clause has no bearing on a church's relationship with its employees.

One of the most egregious attacks on religious freedom lately has come in the form of the HHS mandate included in Obamacare. The mandate forces almost all employers, including religious employers, to sponsor and subsidize coverage of sterilization and abortion inducing drugs, including RU-486 and "Ella." Any exemptions offered by the administration did not change the fact that church organizations would still be financing drugs and practices they considered immoral. A host of these institutions are self-insured, such as EWTN, the global religious television network, and would be forced to directly support actions deemed intrinsically evil by the Catholic Church. Religious charities, universities, schools and hospitals are not exempt from this bill.

Certainly, religious liberty isn't only about our ability to worship on Sunday or pray the rosary at home. It's about whether individuals and institutions can make our contribution to the common good of society in our workplaces, schools, etc. without having to compromise our faith. Religious exemptions were changed and narrowed so much for this mandate as to make them nonsensical. Any religious group that offers food, shelter or an education to those of a different faith is now deemed not sufficiently "religious" enough. Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity do not qualify because they lend life-giving aid to Muslims, Hindus, and nonbelievers. Even Jesus Christ would not qualify as he also healed and helped those outside the Jewish faith.

Above all, our government should not be in the business of defining which groups are sufficiently "religious" enough. The HHS mandate's definition of a religious group would now mean religious groups have to only cater to their own and hire their own people. That counters a core definition of a religious mission: helping anyone in need, not just those of the same belief system.

More than 45 religious groups have sued the federal government over this mandate. A government that protects its citizens from encroachment on religious freedom is generally not brought to court so often. Many of the organizations are affiliated with the Catholic Church, but a myriad of our Christian brothers see the danger on the horizon for their own churches as well. Among those filing suit are East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University. The Christian Post states that while the Baptist General Convention of Texas does not have a position on contraception, that this suit goes beyond this issue. Provost Dr. John Mark Reynolds relates, "Baptists know that when another brother of sister Christian's religious freedom is transgressed by the state, no citizens are free. It isn't a 'Catholic' issue when religious freedom is transgressed. It's an American issue."

Similarly, more than 150 Protestant leaders of churches and universities have announced their opposition to the HHS mandate, including the leaders of the Salvation Army, National Association of Evangelicals and World Vision. Also, businesses such as Hobby Lobby are joining suit, along with Catholic and Evangelical family-owned business owners who object to the government overreach.

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees religious freedom. However, the document which in theory provides freedoms at times needs to be vigorously defended. This is one of those times. It is my wish that all people of good will recognize that religious freedom hangs in the balance Nov. 6 and that they vote accordingly to ensure our country's leading role as a beacon of freedom in the world.

Mary Ann Wenske is a resident of Moulton and a longtime Victoria Advocate reader.



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