A severe crisis of religious freedom was averted last summer in California, when bill SB1146, which would have effectively eliminated sexual morality codes at Christian colleges, was amended to turn it into a mere requirement of reporting disciplinary action based on such codes. Now a new threat to religious freedom in the same state threatens the life of Christian institutions, including churches. California bill AB 569 would prohibit religious organizations from firing employees who have an abortion.
Catholic League President Bill Donahue has called AB 569 a “blatant assault on religious freedom,” with the intention of undermining the Church’s pro-life stance by requiring it and other religious and pro-life organizations to retain staff persons opposed to their teaching. A related Christian Post article points out that AB 569 even prohibits these organizations from requiring employees to sign morality codes promising abstinence from abortion as a condition of employment. California’s social conservative legal service organization, the Pacific Justice Institute, indicated that the measure applies to churches as well as religious schools and other religious ministries, and really mandates “hypocrisy,” since as a result of AB 569, religious and pro-life organizations may include people who do not live as the organization teaches.
St. Louis already has enacted an ordinance like AB 569 with similar provisions. St. Louis Ordinance 70459 prohibits religious organizations, including churches and pro-life organizations, from refusing to hire, or disciplining, or firing people who advocate for or have had an abortion. The law would also require religious organizations to provide abortion coverage in their health plans, and prohibit individuals and religious organizations from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or organizations that promote abortion. Indeed, St. Louis Ordinance 70459 establishes a protected class “based on social opinion,” according to a lawyer for the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), which opposes the local law. The ordnance is as drastic a measure as is imaginable, effectively prohibiting truly pro-life organizations and requiring complicity in abortion of all citizens of St. Louis. St. Louis Catholic Archbishop Robert Carlson has strongly and vocally opposed the ordnance, stating shortly before it was passed that the archdiocese “cannot and will not comply” with the it.
Two legal responses to the ordinance have been to endeavor to have the Missouri legislature nullify the local ordnance with a state law, the other is a lawsuit by a pro-life maternity home, Our Lady’s Inn, the Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of St. Louis, and the Catholic owned O’Brien Industrial Holdings, which was involved in the Hobby Lobby case, with the TMLC as counsel. TMLC lists five ways the ordnance is unconstitutional, violating freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the “expressive association” doctrine held by the Supreme Court to be based on the First Amendment (and which was decisive in the Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale case), due process, and equal protection. TMLC also listed three ways the St. Louis ordnance violates Missouri law, including a law prohibiting a mandate of employer-provided abortion coverage and the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In a not-uncommon development with this type of law aimed at forcing the sexual revolution upon moral traditionalists, Our Lady’s Inn said it received suspicious calls that appeared to be aimed at catching it in violating the St. Louis law. This would indicate that part of this type of legal assault is to impede the mission, and thus the exercise of religion, of religious groups adhering to Christian morality.
The obvious point of this legal persecution is to effectively prohibit socially conservative organizations. There is no line beyond which the social revolutionaries will not go, because traditional Christianity is a force in society hostile to their aspirations, and thus, by their light (which indeed is darkness), it is evil. While churches have greater protection than other Christian organizations, even churches are subject to St. Louis Ordnance 70459 and the proposed California law (AB 569). Similarly, the British government tried (unsuccessfully) to make churches subject to antidiscrimination law regarding their paid staff, except for clergy. But antidiscrimination law does apply to other Christian organizations in Britain, as the Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool discovered (2007) when it was unable to fire the openly homosexual headmaster of a Catholic school, and an Anglican bishop (2008) discovered when fined for declining to hire a homosexual youth worker.
The great danger in these situations is that Christian institutions will continue in a compromised state, and thus in sin. Truly Christian dating websites seem to be effectively prohibited, due to lawsuits ending in judgments against Biblical criteria that restrict sexual activity to that of man and woman, and thus existing websites in fact accommodate homosexual dating (even if only by allowing for self-definition).
While faithful Christians now understand the nature of the threat of the antidiscrimination regime to the conduct of Christian life in obedience to God, the familiar routine of ordinary life, unchanged from before the advent of the threat, may make us unwary of new legal requirements to sin in the ordinary course of our lives. Sin cannot be accommodated either in the life of the individual Christian, or in Christian organizations. It is part of the logic of conscientious objection in obedience to God that we do not comply with sinful requirements in consideration of some benefit to ourselves or others, but take the penalty.
For individuals, this may mean severe fines or even imprisonment, as well as the closure of certain (perhaps many) professions to faithful Christians in the future. For Christian organizations, it may mean that they cease to function. They cannot carry forward their Christian mission in compromise with sin. This will be especially hard to take with organizations, perhaps even churches, having a large capital investment, in which much love and work have been invested, and where there is a fervent desire to carry forward the mission.
And so what is most needed from Christians at the present time is resilience – resilience under sustained pressure, resilience for the indefinite future. Resilience until religious freedom somehow returns, or until Christ returns. Obedience to God demands no less.