By Adriane Heins
“There is no defeat in Christ,” Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, told members of the LCMS Jan. 23. “We follow the Lord, and what comes is in His hands.”
Bowman spoke to a select group of concerned LCMS members on the increasing challenges to Americans’ religious freedoms — both culturally and in the government — during the Synod’s first “Free to Be Faithful” webinar, titled “Religious Freedom and the Affordable Care Act: Why the HHS Mandate Cases Matter to the LCMS and What You Need to Know.”
Free to Be Faithful is the Synod’s campaign to “educate and move LCMS rostered members and laity to take informed action to protect religious freedom and all the cultural issues that pertain to it: the definition of marriage, the work of social service organizations, confessing the faith in the public square, aspects of the Health and Human Services mandate and the like.” (Read more at lcms.org/freetobefaithful). It is the first major effort in recent years to re-establish a uniquely LCMS voice in Washington, D.C.
Tim Goeglein, an LCMS congregation member and vice-president for External Relations at Focus on the Family, moderated the webinar, explaining that “Alliance Defending Freedom is first among equals on all issues of religious liberties and right of conscience,” and also noted, “they are the best friends of the LCMS on these issues.”
Bowman brought viewers up to date on two key upcoming Supreme Court cases — one dealing with Hobby Lobby (an arts-and-crafts retailer) and one with Conestoga Wood Specialties (a wood-cabinet manufacturer) — that resulted from the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act and its accompanying Health and Human Services’ mandate. The mandate — which both Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s owners assert violates their religious beliefs — requires nonprofit organizations to include contraception and abortifacients in the “preventative services” section of their companies’ health-care plans.
Both organizations are fighting the government’s attempt to “decide what violates your conscience,” Bowman explained. Ultimately, the cases will determine “whether Christians will be allowed by the government to practice their faith in their daily life, whether the church and her ministries will be allowed to be who they are without the government coming and telling them what they must do … [and] whether God’s plan for creation, God’s image in life, can be cherished even just by a community of believers living in the United States of America or whether they must conform [to the government].”
“The significance of both of these cases is that people of faith practice their faith in their daily life in a variety of contexts,” Bowman noted. “Some of them do so in a national chain store. Some of them do so as a Mennonite family making wood cabinets. The government is attempting to take religion out of the sphere of daily life and declare that religion has no place in business or health care or is not a priority in education.”
Ironically, Bowman noted, the cases that fight the HHS’ implication that “pregnancy is a disease that needs to be prevented” will be heard on March 25 when the church traditionally celebrates the Annunciation, the day on which the angel Gabriel announced the birth of Christ to His mother, Mary.
Bowman explained that more than “40 cases have been brought against the federal government, claiming that religious freedom is trampled when the government tells people of faith that they must participate” in government-mandated actions that conflict with their religious beliefs, but that “35 out of the 40 cases have led to an injunction, a court order against this mandate.” Additionally, in 20 court cases “representing organizations such as Christian schools, colleges, universities, and education and outreach ministries, 19 of the 20 cases have led to a court order against the HHS mandate.”
Urging LCMS members to pray both for the Supreme Court justices and for outcomes that support Americans’ rights to act according to their consciences, Bowman asked the LCMS to take heart. “We win almost 80 percent of our cases litigated to conclusion,” he said. “These battles for marriage, life and religious freedom can be won. We can have short- and long-term cultural change in this country, and I really believe we have a vast future ahead.”
To hear all of Bowman’s conversation, go to lcms.org/freetobefaithful or to http://video.lcms.org/archives/2618. More information will be available in the future on how to participate in the Synod’s Washington, D.C., efforts and the next webinar on March 13, which will delve more deeply into religious-freedom issues.
Adriane Heins is executive editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Updated Jan. 28, 2014