Our First Guarantee

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There are some essential core values every American should embrace. Chief among these is religious liberty for all, the first right guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Whether we are conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, religious or irreligious, we should cherish this fundamental right. To deny religious liberty is to endorse tyranny -- either Fascist or radical leftist.

The Obama administration's policy requiring religious institutions to provide insurance for free birth control meds (and abortifacients) assaults this guarantee. Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims quickly recognized this as an unconstitutional intrusion by federal government into the internal affairs of faith-based organizations.

The issue was not birth control; that's another debate. The issue was religious liberty -- freedom of conscience, a fundamental on which all good citizens must agree.

Our earliest citizens -- Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Catholics, Dutch Reformed, Baptists, Mennonites, and others -- came to the New World precisely to escape religious persecution. Eventually all figured out how to practice toleration and freedom among themselves. They realized that God freely grants freedom of conscience to each individual. He does not empower governments to force us to violate our beliefs. In general, mutual toleration has worked reasonably well.

Our Founders and Framers devised superb protections from intrusive government dictatorship. The very first guarantee in the Constitution protects religious persons and religious institutions from government invasion. This primary, fundamental right undergirds all the other rights enumerated therein.

In a recent editorial, the director of a local Planned Parenthood failed to recognize this ironclad constitutional principle. She's not alone. The authors and social engineers of the draconian, unconstitutional "health care" act ignored the First Amendment, and, peremptorily launched a culture war on all religious entities. The president and his secretary of Health and Human Services felt inspired to tell religious schools, hospitals, charities, and social services organizations that they were not religious institutions at all but appendages of secular government.

Catholics were, in effect, commanded to obey a new "pope" in the White House. All religious enterprises except "houses of worship" were treated as channels of a new, secular welfare system. The superficial maneuver of routing the new welfare through "insurance companies" was mere camouflage. Free, required "insurance" is no longer insurance and still implicates and compromises the sacred beliefs of the ministries involved.

The focus on "houses of worship" deserves closer analysis. This term has recently been subtly insinuated into the debated policy and the debate itself. Its insidious implications can easily go unnoticed.

Religion involves far more than private worship within the walls of a church on Sunday (or a synagogue or mosque on Sabbath). Religion encompasses a total life lived seven days a week. It permeates both private and public life. Christian teachers in a Christian school teach all students -- believers and non-believers -- as a ministry for God to the world. Christian nurses and doctors serve the sick for the same reason and motivation. The same sense of calling motivates many Jewish and Islamic enterprises.

Speaking as a Christian nurse and a Christian teacher, we embrace the vision expressed in Scripture: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord." Jesus didn't separate life into compartments. He taught that the simplest acts of kindness -- giving "a cup of cold water" to a thirsty traveler -- can be done "in the name of the Lord." Religious organizations transplant that spiritual dynamic from occasional randomness into intentional, sustained ministry well beyond a "house of worship." Confining religion to weekly ritual attacks the heart and nature of religious life.

We believe in rendering unto America the things that rightfully belong to America. We refuse to render to an unlawful mandate the things that belong to God.

Lynn Hardaway, a member of the Lynden Board of Human Life, is a nurse with over forty years of experience. Her husband Gary teaches part-time at a Christian school and is an adjunct professor at a Christian university in Seattle.

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