What are you willing to sacrifice to follow your conscience?


January 15, 2014 by Alex Johannigman

dcr-sisters-poorThe infamous HHS Mandate just hit closer to home for me than ever before. The Little Sisters of the Poor are the latest to enter into the national spotlight for their fight for religious freedom and conscience rights against the Obama administration. The Little Sisters run the Mullen Home, a home for the elderly just a few miles from the house I live in, and it is one of the sites that I visit on a daily basis to drop up and pick up another missionary in our program so I’ve seen and heard about the great work that they do there. One of the Regis University students that I work with, a nursing major who volunteers there every week, told me that it is the best-run nursing home she has ever been to, both due to the low cost to live there and the high quality of care that the residents receive. Hearing about a group of humble nuns having to battle the government for their First Amendment rights feels so unreal that it seems like something straight out of a storybook.

Although I’m having more and more reasons to be optimistic about the rulings on the many lawsuits being filed across the country, since the courts so far are overwhelmingly ruling in favor of religious freedom and conscience rights, and even USA Today thinks that the Obama administration is stepping too far, it’s still scary that this is even a battle that needs to be fought. It’s scary that our president is threatening to fine Catholic schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other businesses into oblivion in the first place. It’s scary that there’s a chance that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the Obama administration, forcing the elderly poor that the Sisters serve to find new homes.

It’s scary because this is only a part of a larger trend saying that following what your conscience and your religion teach rather than the morals of the government is not just wrong, but it’s criminal. It’s part of a trend that states that freedom of religion means freedom to worship, and not freedom to live out your faith outside of the walls of your church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of prayer. It has gotten so ridiculous that, for example, the government is even forcing a man to bake a cake against his conscience or face jail time. Fortunately, we are still nowhere near the level of persecution that Christians experience in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, where every day people die because of their faith in Christ, but I still believe that freedom of religion is a right worth fighting for, whether the consequence of practicing one’s faith is death, imprisonment, or losing one’s business as is the case in the US right now.

Last week, one of my fellow missionaries asked a group of us if we thought any of us would ever be put into jail because of our faith sometime in our lifetime. Not so surprisingly, those in the group thought that they probably would. So the question is, if you are given the choice between denying your faith and going to jail (as is already happening), or possibly martyrdom, (as Cardinal George is famously quoted as predicting) what will your choice be? Do you have the self-sacrificial faith of the ancient Israelite (see Maccabees) and Christian martyrs (see Acts of the Apostles, and Christian history through the 21st century for that matter), or a faith grounded on comfort and ease?

It’s something that’s been on my mind recently. Do I have the faith to allow myself to be thrown into the fiery furnace like Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, who were commanded by King Nebuchadnezzar II to bow down to a golden idol or die? (Check out Daniel 3 for the story if you aren’t familiar with it) I wonder if I found myself in the position of Jack Phillips, the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the other Christian business owners who are fighting the HHS Mandate, would I have the same courage to face fines and jail time because of my faith, or would I cave, bow down to the modern golden idols, and go along with what the government wants me to do, as immoral as it is. I hope and pray I’d choose the former.

sisters-of-the-poorI encourage you to join the Facebook community for those who stand with the Little Sisters of the Poor against the HHS Mandate to keep updated on what’s going on in their particular court case. The Supreme Court has set the date to hear arguments against the HHS Mandate for March 25th, which is perhaps not-so-coincidentally also the Solemnity of the Annunciation.


8 thoughts on “What are you willing to sacrifice to follow your conscience?

  1. I do think it’s right for the sisters to have advocated for their faith position, but it’s still possible that it is an empty gesture since the law as written exempted them anyway. That’s not what I would call moral courage, since nothing was actually at risk.

    I do take some offense at the implication that people who have ethical disagreements with the religious positions on social justice problems are acting less out of conscience or compassion than believers. Perhaps that was unintentional on your part.


    • The law as written actually only exempts places of worship like churches, mosques, etc. Religiously affiliated non-profit and for-profit institutions and those owned by individuals with deep moral convictions do not qualify for an exemption. That’s why there have been so many Christian hospitals, universities, and charities that have filed all of these lawsuits.

      I apologize if I made that implication. You absolutely do not have to follow a particular religious code of ethics in order to act according to your conscience. I also admire those of different faiths or of no particular faith who are willing to make sacrifices to act according to what they believe to be right, even if their consciences lead to different conclusions than my own.


  2. Jeff J says:

    While I agree with the majority of your points, Alex, I think there is more nuance about the Colorado Baker not wanting to bake a cake for a gay wedding. This falls into the gray area between moral choice and civil rights. Would you allow a restaurant owner to deny service to blacks or to Jews because he did not like something about them or their lifestyles? Where do you draw the line between that issue and that of the bakery owner?

    In general, it appears that the government is treating gay rights in exactly the same way it treats civil rights. While they are not perfectly analogous, they are the best precedents for the courts to follow.

    Agreed that there are more shades of nuance, but I can see both sides of the argument and leave that decision to the courts to ponder.


    • For me there is a difference between refusing to serve a person because of who they are, and refusing to endorse a particular activity. The baker in this situation said “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.” which to me seems very different than someone saying “I won’t serve you anything because you’ve got black skin.”

      I think it would be similar to someone asking me, as an adamantly pro-life person, to take part in a celebration of the end to the ban on partial-birth abortion (if it ever happened), or the celebration of a criminal who was on death row being executed. I may be willing to provide other services to those same people even though I disagree with their political ideals, but it would be hard for me to write on a cake “Hurray partial birth abortion is legal again!” or “Thank God *insert name here* finally got the punishment he deserved.”

      I also have a hard time figuring out why this couple wouldn’t just take their business elsewhere. There are plenty of other bakeries, especially in Colorado, who would be willing to have their business, and I’m sure they would rather their money go to those businesses than this Christian man who disagrees with how they are living their lives.


      • Jeff J says:

        Let me blur the lines a little more. Let’s assume the Palestinian owner of a restaurant with a party room is asked to rent out that party room for a Jewish Bar Mitzvah, Can he refuse that on grounds of his beliefs / opinions about Jews?


      • Replying to your second comment, no they can’t. This would still fall under discriminating against a person because of who they are, not what they are trying to do. If their religion commands them to hate and treat a certain group of people as lesser than others, they still shouldn’t have the right to do that under civil law.

        Check this out for more details about why religious law shouldn’t always be able to trump civil law, particularly when they go against universal moral law. http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/do-all-religions-deserve-respect


  3. Jeff J says:

    As an interesting follow-on to this discussion, I am curious about your thoughts on Arizona’s bill here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/20/arizona-religious-freedom-discrimination_n_4823334.html

    Religious freedom, or a new Jim Crow law?


    • In this case, I’d say a new Jim Crow law. I still maintain that there is a difference between not wanting to support a particular cause or activity, and refusing service simply because of a characteristic of the customer such as their skin color, age, or who they are attracted to.


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