By Julia Polese
The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) recently released a statement on religious freedom expressing solidarity with the Roman Catholic Church in their fight against the HHS mandate requiring religious institutions to provide contraception to employees. In a video statement on the Synod’s website, President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison emphasizes the first amendment guarantee that religious people not only have freedom of assembly, but mentions that “Congress cannot make laws that prevent the free exercise of religion in this country,” which not only means freedom to assemble but freedom to “practice our religion in the public sphere in institutions that we have and run as Christians or other religious people.” The statement was signed by an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people, from Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan to Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and Imam Faizul R. Khan, the founder and leader of the Islamic Society of Washington Area.
The statement comes at the beginning of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” events. Centered around local dioceses, the events intend to rally Catholic laypeople to the cause of religious liberty with special prayers and marches. The left has shown typical paranoia about these events, questioning their funding (because, as we all know, you scratch a Catholic and find a Koch brother) and motives (Sammie Moshenberg: “It’s a marketing ploy.”). The LCMS’s statement, however, shows that the HHS mandate is not only a Catholic problem, but one for all religious people in the United States.
Rev. Dr. Harrison identifies the crucial difference in the invocation of the First Amendment in this debate. For many supporters of the HHS mandate, freedom to assemble is reinterpreted to mean freedom from public engagement from a religious worldview. Professor Peter Singer, the notorious utilitarian who has argued for infanticide in the past, articulates this angle in his latest piece. He asserts “the Obama administration’s requirement to provide health insurance that covers contraception does not prevent Catholics from practicing their religion. Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities.”
This limitation is not true freedom of expression, but instead an implicit command for bifurcation of the religious person’s life. Freedom of conscience is great until it butts heads with the conscience shaped by thinkers like Rousseau and Bacon. At its root, it is moving any religious mindset to a private sphere. Leave your beliefs in church where they belong. In a blog on the Washington Post website this morning, Bishop Lori articulated what is wrong with this conception of religious liberty. He wrote: “As we often say, we serve people because we are Catholic, not because they are. It is why so many Catholic schools enroll so many non-Catholics; Catholic hospitals don’t ask for baptismal certificates upon admission; and Catholic soup kitchens don’t quiz the hungry on the Catechism.” As a Reformed Southern Baptist whose alma mater stands both on the Potomac and the opposite side of the Tiber, I am thankful for this impulse to service and I must say that my education was best when unapologetically Catholic. A shared worldview can form partnerships in the public square between the sons of Martin Luther and those loyal to the Pope.
The HHS mandate is only a symptom of a grander impulse to demand religious people to abandon their views that do not overlap with modern liberalism in the public square. It is not just about contraception, but a clash of worldviews. For this reason, the ecumenical statement from the LCMS in support of the Catholic Church is encouraging in its explicit recognition of this problem and the Mainline Left’s response (or lack thereof) reveals where its true intellectual heritage lies.