Aug. 22, 2012
Law professor John Inazu writes in USA Today that when it comes to the Obama contraception mandate, “The legal challenges implicate an interest that all of us Catholics and evangelicals, religious and non-religious should value and safeguard: the right of private groups to dissent from the prevailing state orthodoxy.”
His wonderfully descriptive phrase - “prevailing state orthodoxy” - is saddening. In a republic where personal virtue is the foundation of our political order, and which rests, in Michael Novak’s wonderful phrase, “on two wings” - biblical revelation and natural law, law that is self-evident and accessible to everyone - the idea of there being a “state orthodoxy” is jarring. Yet such orthodoxy exists, which is why the Obama Administration is insisting that Evangelicals and Catholics cast away their consciences (we won’t, by the way).
When the federal government steps in to mandate that persons with reasonable, historic, and deeply held moral convictions must violate them in order to comply with a state dictate, Christians must echo the words of Peter in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.”
Prof. Inazu concludes, “the right to differ protects moral choices that lack government approval.” Amen. But, as he would agree, that right is not just one that exists within the mind. For it to be a fully realized right, it must be allowed to affect the choices we make in civic and political life. In other words, adherence to a belief while complying with a legal limitation on the capacity to act on it is the moral equivalent of junk food: It brings us temporary respite from hunger, but no enduring benefit.
It is not enough that, in its great wisdom and compassion, the federal state does not interfere with the function of our minds as long as this function remains limited to the space between our ears. True conviction - what one believes is of value in time and eternity - means concrete and visible action in the public square. It’s government’s job to protect this right, not diminish or squelch it. As Prof. Inazu notes, “Evangelicals and Catholics need not shudder at the prospect of being politically marginalized. After all, Jesus did not. But political marginalization does not require political passivity. And one means of resistance is asking courts to protect the ability of private groups to dissent from state orthodoxy.”
So, we will ask, fight, and stand. But, by God’s grace, we will not give in.