Edouard Convictions Reinstated

On Friday the Iowa Supreme Court re-instated the trial court’s convictions of Patrick Edouard for violating Iowa’s Sexual Exploitation by a Counselor statute.

The Court began with a sad recitation of facts as a jury might have received them. According to witnesses, Rev. Edouard preached sermons that were “‘amazing,’ ‘great,’ and ‘dynamic.’ ‘He definitely could preach the word of God.’” But in private Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Courts, Establishment of Religion

The SCOTUS Defers to Religious Belief

reuters-hobby-lobby-victory-photog-jonathan-ernstAs Presbyterian Blues has followed the Hobby Lobby case and others involving religious rights, special attention has been focused on, first, the core belief involved and second, the relationship of that core belief to the ultimate offense against religious sensibilities.  This is because it is not beliefs as such that are denied – the government does not say you can’t have religious beliefs about abortifacients –  but some resulting activity.  The Hobby Lobby case is not about coercing individuals to take abortifacients, but about the religious offense they undergo when others potentially use them.

This was a central issue in the SCOTUS decision, with the Alito majority opinion and the Ginsburg dissent taking different sides.  Hobby Lobby (and the other businesses) would have lost if the majority agreed with the dissent on that issue.

Simply put, the individuals in charge of the closely held corporations believe it is immoral to provide mandated coverage that enables employees to use abortifacients.  As the majority opinion describes it,

This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.

Rather than attempt to resolve this causation question, the majority opinion takes a deferential position: “it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.” It was enough that such a belief, i.e., a belief on what substantially enables others to act in an immoral way, is sincere.  And, because the belief was received as sincere, the HHS regulations had to meet a demanding test they failed to pass; Hobby Lobby wins.

The Ginsburg dissent acknowledges the sincere beliefs but goes further in exploring the connection of those beliefs to the offending activity:

.  . . the connection between the families’ reli­gious objections and the contraceptive coverage require­ment is too attenuated to rank as substantial. The requirement carries no command that Hobby Lobby or Conestoga purchase or provide the contraceptives they find objectionable. ­…“[n]o individual decision by an employee and her physi­cian—be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced—is in any meaningful sense [her employ­er’s] decision or action.”

As pure reason goes, this is a strong argument. Ginsburg says beliefs themselves are not the proper subject of the court’s approval, but the connection between those beliefs and the ultimate acts that burden them is an objective matter the court may decide.

Whether the majority had the better of it as a matter of philosophical argumentation is less than clear but deference to religious beliefs is better than meddling in them. The result of the Hobby Lobby case – a fairly broad protection of religious rights – is a good result. Only time will tell if the analysis on this point will be a bulwark of religious rights or if Ginsburg’s dissent will re-surface in a majority opinion.

10 Comments

Filed under Courts, Free exercise of religion, Religious rights

A Victory for Solemn Civility, I Guess

Uncle Sam in PrayerSome things don’t change. Two thousand years after Paul’s sermon at Athens, Greece is still free to invoke the gods. Now it’s in Greece, New York, where, in Town of Greece v. Galloway the Supreme Court has held that “government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates.” This is thought to be a good thing because “Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing” lends gravity to civic occasions and that prayer “reflect[s] values long part of the Nation’s heritage.” Perhaps civil religion does help what is civil, thought it’s another question altogether whether it helps religion.

Noting that this was a 5-4 decision does not adequately show the depth of the Court’s division, which was accompanied by two concurring opinions and two dissents. The majority opinion was written by the moderate Justice Kennedy, and I suspect his motivation was moderate as well. The motivation behind this decision to allow prayers prior to board meetings in Greece might be no more than his observation that “A test that would sweep away what has so long been settled would create new controversy.” Since so much of the country is still reeling from same-sex marriage decisions, Kennedy might have a point.

As for the law, the establishment clause is not offended if there is no coercion involved. That is, it is not enough that someone is offended by the prayer, as long as there is no govermental coercion. On this pont, the SCOTUS explains:

Nothing in the record suggests that members of the publicare dissuaded from leaving the meeting room during the prayer, arriving late, or even, as happened here, making a later protest. …board members and constituents are “free to enter and leave with little comment and for any number of reasons.”… Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy. And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed. Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably”are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure.”

I suppose I should be excited about this. Let me work on that.

1 Comment

Filed under Church and State, Courts, Establishment of Religion

Patriarchy Indicted

Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard

Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard

Doug Phillips, Vision Forum, and Vision Forum Ministries are being sued by a woman who was a nanny for the Phillips family.  All counts of the petition arise out Mr. Phillips allegedly using the young woman for his sexual gratification.  The allegations include abuse of power and gross hypocrisy of Phillips himself, but they also depict a larger context: the culture of patriarchy itself.

Patriarchalism, associated with Quiverfull and sometimes “family integrated churches,” may visit or even dominate a conservative Presbyterian church. It’s easy enough to see its errors in supposing there is a detailed regulative principle of the family, that we are called to replicate Old Testament culture, and to see that their detailed project to take back our culture tends to leave the gospel in the shadows.  This lawsuit raises the additional concern of whether patriarchalism expressed in such movements tends to produce a culture that is dangerous to women. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Courts

Reformed in America Conference Now on Youtube

You can now see the Reformed in America conference.  Thanks to Imagineering Studios, Inc. for filming.

10 Comments

Filed under Church, Presbyterianism, Spirituality of the Church, Two Kingdom

The Broader Significance of Notre Dame v. Sebelius

Richard Posner

Richard Posner

Current litigation pitting the religious conscience against Obamacare is obviously of interest to those who follow such things from a purely legal perspective. But it can be more than that - it can provide the opportunity for people of faith to ponder how they are to live among others who do not share that faith.  The latest decision (released yesterday) invites us to consider how much separation we should or must have from those things we find objectionable.

Consider the latest scenario in the United States Court of Appeals: Notre Dame is exempt from having to provide contraceptives.  But in order to claim that exemption the institution must complete a form that substantially says

I certify that, on account of religious objections, the organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services that would otherwise be required to be covered; the organization is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity; and the organization holds itself out as a religious organization.

Notre Dame is required to give copies of the signed form to its health insurance company and the plan’s administrator. EBSA 700Notre Dame objects to this on religious grounds by asserting that, by supplying copies of this form, they are “the cause” of the provision of contraceptives. But in Notre Dame v. Sebelius Judge Richard Posner replies “not so.”

Another way to describe the central issue is whether Notre Dame serves as a “trigger” to the procurement of contraceptives by filling out the form and mailing it. Posner sets forth several reasons why they do not.  To Posner, a more substantial cause is the legal obligation:

The delivery of a copy of the form to [the administrator] reminds it of an obligation that the law, not the university, imposes on it—the obligation to pick up the ball if Notre Dame decides, as is its right, to drop it.

If there’s any joke intended by next using the Quakers to determine if Notre Dame is a “trigger” to contraceptive use, Posner never lets on.  In any case, he asks us to consider the hypothetical of a Quaker who is given exemption from military service, only to raise a religious objection that, because someone else must be drafted in his place, his religion is burdened by the mere existence of a draft.  Posner’s illustration is not entirely analogous to Notre Dame because of the paperwork, but presumably Posner would counter this objection by suggesting that even if the required paperwork is a burden, it is not a substantial burden.

Moreover, Posner points out that, even if Notre Dame were to refuse to sign the form and mail it, its employees and students would still have the right under the law to procure contraceptives through its insurer and administrator.

Generally addressing litigation like that of Notre Dame and Little Sisters , Posner sounds a bit flummoxed:

What makes this case and others like it involving the contraception exemption paradoxical and virtually unprecedented is that the beneficiaries of the religious exemption are claiming that the exemption process itself imposes a substantial burden on their religious faiths.

On the one hand, individual conscience is not to be slighted. On the other hand, there are numerous religious faiths, and to accommodate them all according to their necessarily subjective consciences makes it difficult to have laws of general application. Such is the predicament of courts in this latest wave of litigation.

For case-specific reasons, it is not of great significance that Notre Dame lost this battle. More significant is whether subsequent judicial decisions will view these cases by assuming that religious objectors are burdened just because they say they are, or whether courts will analyze the relationship of legal obligations to the alleged religious burden to determine if the religious burdens are objectively substantial.

Roman coinGetting back to how we are to live in a pluralistic society, there are historic models to consider.  If we go back to New Testament times, there is the model of the Pharisees, with barriers constructed between them and the loathsome Gentiles.  Clearly that was not the model of the New Testament Christians.  Christians are not “of the world” but are called to live “in the world.”  There is a presumption that Christians are to even obey “Caesar” unless that obedience is entails disobedience to God. Does a person sin or cause sin if he sells a wedding cake for a gay marriage? For that question as well as the questions raised by Obamacare requirements, the form of Posner’s analysis is likely more helpful than jumping on any bandwagon.

30 Comments

Filed under Church and State, Courts, Culture Wars, Ethics, Free exercise of religion

Presbyterian Proverbs

aesops

Greek Fables (close enough)

An advantage of being in the same church for a long time is that you have an opportunity to see things play out.  You can observe parenting and then watch the “parented” children grow up.  You can see folks go from young parents to empty nesters.  You can see all sorts of people just passing through. In short, you’re around long enough for time to tell its story.  And if it told proverbs about Presbyterian church life, they might sound like this.

  1. One who speaketh in his first Sunday School class will evaporate like the morning dew.   It’s uncanny – visitors who enter by sharing their brilliance in their first Sunday School class won’t be around for long.  And, really, you don’t want them around for very long.
  2. Better an early grave than the sneer of an alpha church lady.  Thinking of confronting her? Just find something else to do.
  3.  Like an idol under a hammer is family legalism under actual parenting.  No kind of schooling or parental style is guaranteed to produce the child of your imagination.  A man is arrogant indeed if he is not humbled by parenting. A man is a moralist indeed if he rigidly insists upon all his preconceived family dogmas.
  4.  The fatted calf buys no loyalty.  You can go all out for a visitor or new member, but your sacrifice will be forgotten if his whim leads him elsewhere.
  5.  Sin happens.  Your church is not immune from the sin virus.  There will be ugly things to deal with.
  6.  Your gut speaketh truly but it matters not.  Yeah, you might have good hunches about people and situations but that doesn’t make you lord of them; usually all you can do is watch things play out. At least you have a front row seat.
  7.  Does a kangaroo stop hopping?  If your new members have been church hoppers, your church is a temporary landing spot. Use pencil when you write their names on the roll.
  8.  The heart knoweth not why it leaves a church.  Or at least it isn’t telling. Either they don’t really know or they don’t feel like telling, because departing members say some pretty weak things.

    brueprov

    “Proverbs”

  9.  More welcome is a leper than a former elder.  Members who depart (when circumstances don’t demand it) draw devil horns on their former pastor and session.  Don’t say “see you later,” just say “goodbye.”
  10.  Better a morsel of faithfulness than a feast of victories.  Because you don’t really know what a victory is. Not yet.
  11.  Grace walks softly.  Loud and flashy don’t awaken it and they seldom describe it. Mix simple worship, solid preaching and the sacraments – let grace appear in its own time and its own way.
  12.  Catholic converts cleaveth unto the church but Evangelicals are a church unto themselves.  Former Catholics respect the church and its government while broad Evangelicals take years to “get it,” if they ever get it at all.
  13.  When a wife ruleth, the family shall go the broad way.   More often than not, the passive husband / dominant wife combo lists toward broad evangelicalism.
  14.  A Presbybaptist wedding cake is sweet but a sour stomach followeth. It may not seem like a big deal for a Presbyterian to marry a Baptist but eventually there will be serious conflict that centers on baptism or child rearing.
  15.  There is a man who taketh a vow like he downloads programs.  “A vow? Yadda yadda yadda, I do what I want.”
  16.  Whoever speaks of leaving has already left.  If a member wants to talk to you about leaving the church it’s not a conversation but an announcement.

    NP-5

    “Proverbs”

  17.  A clearly preached gospel gives more hope than anything else you can say or do.
  18.  There is more growth when roots go deep into the church.  Those who have a high view of the institutional church are more prone to listen and learn.
  19. Those who major in the minors will not be silent. Call them hobby horses, obsessions, or whatever you wish, but people thus imbalanced will leave if they aren’t put in office, allowed to teach, or given some outlet to spread their virus. In this regard the Session is an anti-virus program.  (To provide balance to gender statements above, we’re looking at you, patriarchalists.)
  20.  Peace in the sanctuary is peace indeed. If you’re doing preaching, worship, and the sacraments right you should have a healthy measure of contentment and be able to put other problems in perspective.
  21.  Spareth the deacon, sidetrack the preacher. Good deacons are good for everyone, and make it unnecessary to have a Pastor Jack of All Trades.
  22.  An ounce of Presbytery is worth a pound of discipline. This one could be hotly disputed in places, but if you are connected to your Presbytery you can receive some assurances that you and your pastor are not off track. If your Presbytery is not doing well, you need to know that and do your part to improve it.  A bunker mentality is just congregationalism.

Of course, some of these could be regional proverbs, or based on a small sample size, but there’s twenty-two. That’s roughly one per year; I’ll have enough to update this list by 2034.

12 Comments

Filed under Church, Presbyterianism

Edouard Convictions Reversed

The Iowa Court of Appeals has reversed the Patrick Edouard convictions. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Church and State, Courts

Reformed in America Conference – November 1 & 2

darryl-hartjpg-4a1aeb8048da888f

D.G. Hart

Is there an American form of Christianity? Many believers who live in the United States would be content simply to identify themselves as Christians, others as American Christians, and still others would be inclined to say they are Christians in America. But are believers in any of these groups able to identify distinctive traits of American Christianity? Do you know enough of the history of Christianity in this country to recognize how your own expression of Christian faith and practice has been shaped by America in the modern age, for good or ill?

astrange

Alan Strange

None of us are simply “biblical Christians” but have a history that has shaped us in one way or another. Reformed Christians have a rich heritage going back to the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe, but they also have a peculiar history in the United States. Join us for this free two day conference which will explore some of the major outlines of the history of Reformed & Presbyterian Christianity in the United States.

Friday, November 1

Session 1 at 7:00pm

Alan Strange: “The Tumultuous Beginnings of American Presbyterianism.”  The beginnings of American Presbyterianism, with a focus on the First Great Awakening and the Old Side/New Side controversy. We’ll also briefly reflect on the Reformed in America and the phenomenon of “becoming American.”

Session 2 at 8:15pm

Darryl Hart: “The Challenge of Americanism.”  The talk will cover the problems posed by new ways of recruiting and sustaining Christians (through the Second Great Awakening).  It will cover Reformed responses to the predicament from German Reformed, Dutch Reformed, and Presbyterians.

J_Gresham_Machen_2-300x382

J. Gresham Machen

Session 3 at 9:30am

Alan Strange: “Politics and the Pulpit.”  Charles Hodge developed his doctrine of the spirituality of the church in a subtle and nuanced fashion that permitted him to distinguish the church from the state and its political concerns while allowing the church to retain a prophetic voice to society. We’ll examine Old School Presbyterianism with respect to the spirituality of the church and the place of the doctrine among the Reformed.

Session 4 at 10:45

Abraham%20Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper

Darryl Hart: “Kuyper & Machen–Models of Reformed Witness.” This talk will examine the differences between Machen and Kuyper’s attempts to recover a consistent Reformed witness, especially those that stem from the differences between church life in the United States and Netherlands.

Lunch 12:00pm ($5.00 Fee for all participating)

Session 5 at 1:00pm

Alan Strange: “Unity without Union — Beyond Acronyms.”  The CRC recognized and congratulated the OPC on its formation and the OPC did the same with the URC on its formation. We’ll look at OPC/CRC union talks, the formation of the URC and OPC/URC relations.

Session 6 at 2:15pm

Darryl Hart: “Anti-Modernism.” This presentation will examine the efforts of conservative Presbyterians in the United States and Reformed Protestants in the Netherlands to combat theological liberalism and indifference in the dominant churches.  It will also discuss the need for secession or separation when those efforts were no longer viable.

Session 7 at 3:30

Q&A with speakers

Reformed in America” will take place at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church (3615 University Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa).  This conference is hosted by Providence Reformed Church and Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church, which are both congregations in Des Moines.

Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church (OPC): http://www.GraceReformed.org

Providence Reformed Church (URCNA): http://www.ProvidenceRC.org

Please RSVP to: ReformedInAmericaDM2013@gmail.com

6 Comments

Filed under Church and State, Culture Wars, Presbyterianism, Spirituality of the Church

How a Jehovah’s Witness Helped Hobby Lobby

P1011375.JPGIn its attempt to avoid having to choose between their religious scruples and either (1) paying about $475 million more taxes annually, or (2) paying about $26 million more in taxes and dropping employee health insurance benefits, Hobby Lobby got some help from an unlikely source.

The help came from a Jehovah’s Witness whose employer ran both a foundry and a factory. He was untroubled working for the foundry that produced sheet metal, but had religious scruples about working in the factory that produced turrets for military tanks. Accordingly he quit his factory job. The SCOTUS then had to weigh whether the denial of his unemployment benefits flowed from an improper burden on his religious rights. The JW wasn’t articulate about why there was such a difference between producing steel that might be used for military purposes and working on what was obviously a turret. It might have been tempting for the SCOTUS to decide on its own reasoning that there wasn’t a substantial difference between the two kinds of jobs. But that’s not what it did because “it is not within the judicial function and judicial competence to inquire whether the petitioner . . . correctly perceived the commands of [his] faith. Courts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretation.” Such was the Court’s reasoning in Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division .

But now let’s come back to the most recent Hobby Lobby case. The government questioned the soundness of Hobby Lobby’s religious objection to providing health benefits for abortifacients, arguing “[a]n employee’s decision to use her health coverage to pay for a particular item or service cannot properly be attributed to her employer,” and “the insurance coverage at issue is just another form of non-wage compensation—supposedly the equivalent of money—and therefore should not present problems. . .” A dissent agreed with this line of reasoning, opining that “neither an employer, nor its officers and directors, by choosing to comply with the contraceptive-coverage regulation, become a party to, or otherwise encourage, an individual employee’s decision to use a particular drug or device.”

But The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit took a deferential approach:

Such reasoning cannot be squared with the Supreme Court’s holding in [the JW case]. The Supreme Court emphasized that when the plaintiff drew a moral line between foundry and factory work, it was not the Court’s prerogative to determine whether the line he drew “was an unreasonable one.” [citing the JW case] Just so here: Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable.

This case reminds us that protection for one kind of religious belief is often protection for another. If other circuits follow this analysis, this is very good news for employers with religious objections to the HHS Mandate. Moreover, the Tenth Circuit held that Hobby Lobby can be protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act notwithstanding that it is a for-profit corporation.

But there will be more litigation for Hobby Lobby, as this court concluded:

We hold that Hobby Lobby and Mardel are entitled to bring claims under RFRA, have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm. But we remand the case to the district court for further proceedings on two of the remaining factors governing the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction.

2 Comments

Filed under Courts, Religious rights