Christians will often claim that their faith is under attack. While there are times when the claim is mere hyperbole, there can be no denying that there has been a troubling trend as of late that would effectively remove religious consideration from all of life, except perhaps the sanctuary. The novel argument that was used in defense of the birth control mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is now being used with the vaccine mandates. In both cases, exemptions from government mandates are proving harder to get as the influence of religious belief is considered a private affair and narrow in scope.

Let’s review what the Obama Administration argued in defense of the ACA when it mandated that all employers must provide insurance with birth control and abortifacient coverage. There were narrow exemptions that would allow some religious organizations to avoid the mandate in the healthcare they offered to employees, but in reality, it boiled down mostly to houses of worship and seminaries. Para-church ministries and religious non-profits (like the now famous Little Sisters of the Poor) would eventually win the “right” to a religious exemption, but only after several intense battles at the Supreme Court. Private companies like Hobby Lobby argued for the same right to an exemption claiming that their business, while not a ministry per se, was private and a reflection of their deeply-held Christian values. They won their case 5-4 (a wonderful summary of which can be found here).

In essence, the Obama Administration argued that religious conviction applied to one’s worship practices…and little else. Once a religious person shared public space with unbelievers, they effectively had to put those convictions to the side for the greater good of, well, to be honest, the religion of secularism. After all, the Obama Administration argued that access to birth control and abortifacients was a more pressing need and greater good than protecting religious conscience.

Sadly a huge number of Christians accepted the mandate without protest, as they had already largely withdrawn from the public sphere on their own dime and had reduced Christianity to pious feelings about some obscure good news. They mostly believed their hard-won faith was about being nice and, you know, not killing people or stealing. They agreed with secularists that religion is really just a spiritual, personal matter that is reserved for times of prayer and worship. If you don’t believe me, watch the wretched Hillsong channel and you will see the most vile ode to sentiment one could imagine.

At best, most Christians will agree that their faith can influence how they vote – again, in a private booth with no one looking – but beyond that, hey it’s a free for all. Abortion? Political issue. Marriage? Social issue. Birth Control? Catholic Issue. Vaccine mandates? Jab away for all I care!

Breaking Down Religious Exemptions

So let’s go there. First, I understand and acknowledge that there are those who are pro-shot and anti-shot in the Church at large and in virtually every Christian parish. My guess is that many of those who are pro-shot and who have been vaccinated would say it should be a person’s free choice to deny or receive the shot. I am not arguing against the shot here, per se, but about the current state of the playing field. The Obama Administration’s arguments showed that at least that administration was willing to greatly reduce the legitimate public space for one’s religious convictions. What concerns me is how the narrow range of “acceptable” religious exemptions and our conscientious wiggle-room as Christians is in danger of shrinking again with this administration's attempts at vaccine mandates.

Even if you are pro-vaccine, you should be very concerned about the state of your religious freedom. For to put it bluntly, religious conviction as a disciple of Christ does not apply only to your worship life, but to how you live out your faith in every area of life. Likewise, because the Earth is God’s and all that is in it (Psalm 24), God’s reign and Law apply to every area of life. There is nothing on earth that is not God’s and there is no person or nation of which Christ is not King. So as a Christian, my Christian principles, informed and encouraged in Sunday morning class and during worship: instruct my healthcare decisions, who I marry, where I work, how I treat my customers, how I raise my children, how I coach little league, how I drive, how I vote, my faithfulness to my spouse, how I pray, how well I mow my lawn, what I eat, and on and on and on.

To isolate one’s Christian convictions to the purely spiritual, personal, and devotional is to reduce the claim that Jesus Christ is the way, truth, and life. All belief’s have consequences and if they are sincerely held, they will bear some fruit if lived out. Even the godless secularist has his own beliefs that manifest themselves in a personal code of behavior, one that he argues for the freedom to live out. Nowhere is that commitment more obvious or grotesque than in the argument for the freedom to take the life of one’s own child in the name of the value of “choice.”

Convictions Have Consequences

But a creed without consequence and action is without teeth. Jesus tells us that the supreme law is to love God and love neighbor. Therefore, you cannot separate following Christ and obeying this law. And yet, how would a person know what the law looks like? What is its internal context? Well, obeying these laws involves at least the Ten Commandments and one could easily go beyond that into Old Testament Law.

However, the bottom line is this: Christian faith and the correlating actions that the Law of God demands of us, extend from the inner thoughts of a Christian all the way to their actions at the center of the public square. For the Christian, there is no artificial boundary at the church steps and thus Christians who are writing a letter or filling out some form in hopes of getting a religious exemption are basically left saying, “I have prayed about this and truly and deeply believe this mandate violates my conscience.”

When it comes to the vaccine mandates though, just as it was with the ACA before two Supreme Court losses, the range of applicability when it comes to receiving an exemption from a government mandate (thank you socialist overlords!) has greatly narrowed since the last administration. For example, if the reasons given for requesting a religious exemption mentions anything about “politics”, the Constitution, the Nuremberg Codes, mRNA technology, the lack of long-term studies, citations of the failure rate, potential side effects of the vaccine, or concerns about the long-term efficacy of the vaccine, those exemptions will be thrown out. For, even though many or all of those reasons have tie-ins or direct lines to religious convictions, they are considered “political” or “personal” or “scientific,” not religious, and certainly not “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Do you see the trend yet? All of the other areas of life - say the ethics of injecting a gene editing therapeutic into your body – have been deemed to be utterly disconnected from your religious beliefs, which our betters are trying to define as merely how we pray, which hymns we sing, and where we think we will go when we die. To this I would say “No”, as it is, in and of itself, a violation of our religious beliefs, and it is time to call it out as such. Breaking apart all of the other arguments and narrowing the range of exemptions (let alone acquiescing to them) just ends up pushing religious conviction into a feckless ghetto and religious life further and further into the pious heart of the believer. In a society that purports to honor the conscience of its citizens, that is politically indefensible. And for any Christian to defend that has played the useful idiot in making his faith less and less relevant.

Furthermore, the idea that someone in HR gets to determine whether or not our religious convictions are “sincerely held” should chill you to the bone. If freedom of conscience has to be proven, we have already entered “thought crime” territory. Look, I think Scientology is as fraudulent a religion as anyone has ever invented, and I know their 501(c)(3) status is a tax issue, not necessarily a conscience issue. But for heavens sake, if that obviously fraudulent operation is seen as a legitimate religion because, well, they say so, then no Christian should have to defend not taking a shot that is the first mRNA vaccine ever, has no long-term studies, was described as “gene editing” by the CEO of Pfizer, and seems to have an exceptionally high number of adverse reactions.

Defending Our Conscience Yesterday, Today, and Always

Quoting from the Heritage article linked to above, the author quotes two founding fathers on the necessity of defending one’s conscience. I will end with that quotation, but not before I include one more reminder that it is simply fallacious to assume that one’s conscience can ever be confined to one’s private or innermost life. No! One’s conscience must extend all the way to the public square, or we will surely be reduced to pious souls with no avenue of expression and no outlet for our love.

In his 1792 Essay on Property, James Madison wrote, “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” Several years later, in 1809, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

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