Religious freedom is fine as long as it stays in church

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I have written before about Freedom Newspapers, the chain founded by R.C. Hoiles, which operated under a set of moral principles espoused by Hoiles and published frequently in his newspapers in the 1950s and ’60s.

Freedom Newspapers used three “guides” in making decisions about what is “moral or immoral — good or bad — helpful or harmful to the human race.”

Those three guides were the Decalogue, more commonly known as the Ten Commandments; the Sermon on the Mount preached by Jesus (considered by Hoiles to be “an exposition of the Decalogue”; and the Declaration of Independence (called “a political expression of the Commandments” in the Freedom Newspapers’ credo).

Plainly this is an expression of faith and an expression of religious belief — in other words an example of the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed to all Americans under the First Amendment. If you didn’t agree with Hoiles, you didn’t have to read his newspapers — or work for him — but it was plainly understood that Hoiles had a perfect right as an American citizen to use his own means to promote his personal religious beliefs.

But that was then.

Nowadays, Hoiles would very likely have been hauled into court for trying to force his employees to honor religious traditions they might not agree with.

Forget about the First Amendment — or the ancillary rights and responsibilities of free association. Forget about the opportunity everyone has to quit a job they don’t like or to start their own newspaper where they can promote their own belief system. All that matters in the post-modern, post-Christian world we live in today is that if my beliefs offend anyone in the public square, then I have to exercise my religious freedom by shutting up.

Don’t believe me?

Well, listen to what Obama administration attorneys argued in a federal court in Michigan last month. According to them, a private business that isn’t obviously a religious organization has no right to exercise religious freedom.

The case was brought against the Affordable Care Act by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of Legatus, the nation’s largest organization of Catholic business leaders, as well as Weingartz Supply, a family-owned business that sells and services outdoor power equipment. The plaintiffs, who have a moral objection to abortion, objected to being ordered by the federal government to provide abortifacients for their employees as part of the health-care mandate.

Big Brother (er, I mean the Obama administration) didn’t care. They said that Weingartz Supply Co. by definition is a “for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.” They argued that Weingartz as the owner of the corporation has no right to “impose his own personal religious beliefs on the corporate entity’s group heath plan or its employees.”

This is an extreme view of entitlement that may very well be upheld by our topsy-turvy justice system. Employees are entitled to whatever the government says they are entitled to, and employers are entitled to shut up. Or do I repeat myself?

R.C. Hoiles would have had plenty to say about this. Among the principles he espoused was the notion that all people were “born with certain inalienable rights” and that these rights were “the endowment of the Creator and not the gift of a transient state.”

Something similar to this did indeed appear in the Declaration of Independence, the founding document of our nation, but as every schoolchild knows, the Declaration has no force in our modern jurisprudence, and no standing in our government. Elsewise, the government could not grant or take away rights, as it so gleefully does on a regular basis. The Creator has not only gotten short shrift in the recent Democratic convention, but in the very institutions and bulwarks of our society.

Hoiles had a very good argument why the government could not restrict the rights of a group of people such as a corporation or a union if the individual members of that group already enjoyed the same rights.

“|n all of recorded history, men have banded together for certain reasons — to hunt, to play, to trade, to build. In a voluntary association, such as the one that publishes these newspapers,” he wrote, “each man exercises his rights through the group.”

He argued that a group of people still had all the same rights as an individual, and that no group of people — no matter how large — could take away anyone else’s rights.

His argument for “a single standard of conduct” was buttressed by no less an authority than Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, who wrote, “I know of but one code of morality, whether it be for men or for nations.”

In Hoiles’ view, it would be oppression to force someone to work for Weingartz Supply Co. or for any employer whose views were anathema to the employee. But, by the same token, it would be oppression for the government to force Weingartz to surrender its own moral views in favor of those espoused by the government.

Yet that is just what the Obama administration proposes by ordering Catholics and other business owners to provide and pay for services that they find morally abhorrent.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that if the Justice Department prevails in its bid to outlaw religious belief from the private sector, it will only be doing half the job. Good folks like Weingartz will be banned from “imposing” their moral beliefs on their employees, but all of the unkind (pre-conversion) Scrooges in the world will still be free to spread their toxic venom of faithlessness.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? But then again, it isn’t meant to be.

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