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  • Why Religious Liberty Is Important for Institutions

    Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate has raised many questions about freedom. One of them is whether religious liberty is only for individuals or also for institutions.

    America’s founders thought that the Constitution’s “first freedom” is for both, a view backed up by the U.S. Supreme Court as well as numerous federal and state statutes.

    Why is religious liberty important for institutions? Because of our relational nature as humans.

    We are relational beings at our core. Everyone exists in some form of relationship to others. In fact, we become who we are—we develop our own unique habits and views—in the context of these relationships. We need to think of ourselves and others not merely as self-standing individuals but as persons in community.

    There is something deep within human nature that prompts us to seek out membership in communities of purpose—to desire to be on the inside of a meaningful group and to participate in something larger than oneself. This “quest for community,” as Robert Nisbet calls it, plays out largely through social institutions.

    In their essence, institutions are structured relationships. They are habits of activity that bind people together in a common purpose through time.

    Schools bring people together to engage in teaching and learning. Hospitals bring people together around the purposes of healing and health. Businesses coordinate work activity toward a common productive goal. Churches bind members together to worship and follow God.

    All of these institutions facilitate joint, fundamental activities and relationships of human life. We live and move and accomplish basic needs in institutions. Through institutions, we gain a sense of connection with the larger social realities of life. We form and express our identity through institutions. As relational beings, that’s how we’re wired.

    True liberty must take account of the relational aspect of human nature. And true religious liberty, in particular, must entail the freedom to exercise one’s faith in the various relationships and joint activities of day-to-day life. In other words, religious freedom applies to participation in institutions.

    Each one of those institutions—our particular school, church, workplace, etc.—takes on a certain culture or identity. And that identity is shaped in large part by the values, beliefs, and habits of its members. A school might follow a particular dress code; a church follows certain standards of behavior or worship; a place of work sets certain working conditions and provides certain employee benefits. All of these particular value-laden marks of an institution help to form its identity and accomplish the tasks for which it was formed. And since participation in institutions is basic to human life, true freedom includes the ability to form and shape, enter and leave institutions that reflect our deepest values and convictions.

    Historically, the Judeo-Christian tradition has understood this relational aspect of being human and emphasized the communal nature of faith. In fact, the Latin root of religion is religio, meaning “to bind.” Religious communities and institutions bind people vertically to God and horizontally to one another. And they play a significant role in human life and society—in terms of not only spiritual fulfillment or self-realization but also addressing social challenges and sustaining democratic order.

    For example, faith-based institutions like religious schools, hospitals, and charities often provide loving forms of assistance and care that government programs simply cannot offer. Furthermore, America’s founders asserted that religious institutions are important for fostering the virtues necessary for self-government.

    As Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, argues, religious freedom must protect “the work of faith-based non-profits and other institutions,” for it is often through them that “people of faith put their convictions into action in the world.”

    Sadly, Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate threatens the freedom of not only individuals but also institutions. The mandate strips from employers the freedom to structure their institutions in line with their convictions about health care. That can strip such institutions of their very identity and thwart their effective role in society.

    The anti-conscience mandate needs to be revoked, and Obamacare as a whole needs to be repealed and replaced with true health care reform that protects robust religious liberty—for individuals as well as institutions.

    Posted in Featured, Obamacare [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to Why Religious Liberty Is Important for Institutions

    1. Thank you for a great article, Ryan.

      Yes, the individual mandate needs to be struck down for a plethora of reason, its blow against individual freedom being one of the most crucial.
      I have my doubts that the Court will do the right thing here, but I can promise you that J. Thomas will strike it down and write a great dissent.

    2. Michael Dixon says:

      The argument is anthropomorphic and the premise is simply not true. The Founding Fathers understood liberty to be rooted in the individual, and the epitome of his "rights" were the rights to choose to associate or not to associate to pursue his individually selected goals and ends. One association, say an association for worship of the creator, could never function to limit the individual rights of another. Institutions aquired "rights" as a consequence of their being accorded status as individuals. A notion that would have been noxious to the founding fathers.

      • O2BMe says:

        Your wrong. You do not have to join a religion that doesn't believe as you do. That is why there are so many different churches with different theology. Freedom of conscience belongs to every person and institution. That is why our founding fathers said the state should support no one religion. People were to worship and believe as they chose. If you don't like the rules of your employer, then look for another job. If you don't like the state of the union you live in you are free to move. If you don't like the rules of the Presbyterian church change to the Methodist. It is dangerous to lose any of your freedoms.

    3. Mike, Wichita Falls says:

      While I understand their motive, politicians voting to repeal particularly appalling provisions of Obamacare are only undermining overall repeal efforts.

    4. sam says:

      Well said, Thank you for this service. To make an Idea clear…. is experience and talent.

    5. Bill, Alexandria, VA says:

      Our Constitution protects the rights of minority groups, even when the minority is out of step with the majority of our citizens. Such is the nature of our freedom to practice our chosen religion. Out of respect for minority rights and loyalty to the guaranties of the constitution, we have statutory laws that provide certain "carve outs" for the beliefs of some specific minorities. The strongest example I've ever seen of the government respecting religious freedom was featured on the front page of The Washington Post. For most Americans it's illegal to possess any portion of a dead bald eagle. But the government is tolerant of certain Native American groups using eagle parts in religious ceremonies. Not only are they tolerant, but the government established a special program in the U.S. Eagle Repository to manage the only legal supply line of eagle parts. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is breaking with our tradition of religious tolerance by requiring Roman Catholic organizations to provide health care insurance plans that will facilitate artificial contraception. Draft deferments have been granted to conscientious objectors on a case-by-case basis on religious or moral grounds. I don't claim exemption from military service, exemption from Social Security taxes, the right to use marijuana, or the right to own eagle part and use peyote. Neither do I resent the "carve outs," that exist for the Quakers, the Amish, The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church and The Native American Church, respectively. I don't object to contraception or sterilization. I would like the Obama administration to respect Roman Catholics as much as the other groups.

    6. David says:

      You may have the right to practice your religion, but the practice of a religion and the practice of employing indivituals are two completely separate issues. I have heard many arguements since the mandate about how people are being "forced to go against their morals" by providing abortion causing medicines. What if it were against my morals to see a black person marry a white one? Does that mean i can choose not to provide care for my white employee's black spouse? The courts would laugh this one out the front door.

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