Is the government obligated to disfavor Christians?

In my last post, I highlighted an open letter sent to President Obama last month requesting a religious exemption in a forthcoming executive order. Yesterday, a group of legal scholars sent a letter to the President requesting the exact opposite. If you want to understand the logic of those who care little for religious freedom, you need to read this letter. I will highlight one salient section. It reads,

The federal government is free to require that government contractors adhere to government standards. Religious contractors do not have a right to government contracts, and there is no burden on their religious exercise if they are unable or unwilling to comply with those requirements. When spending taxpayer dollars the government should be permitted to favor – and indeed, should favor – employers who do not discriminate on invidious grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity. As with race, gender, or any other protected class, the fact that some religious employers who do not share a commitment to equal treatment will be disfavored by such a rule does not create a constitutional problem. [underline mine]

Did you get that? There is no “constitutional problem” when the federal government disfavors Christian employers. On the contrary—according to these scholars—the federal government has a moral and legal obligation to disfavor such Christians, Jews, and any other religious employer that limits sexual activity to the covenant of marriage.

Are you a Catholic charity making use of federal funds in you charitable work? This argument says that the government must “disfavor” you for your “invidious” views. Are you a Christian university benefitting from federal loan programs or grants? This argument says that the government must “disfavor” you for your “invidious” views. That’s what these legal scholars argue anyway, and that is how they are trying to persuade the President as well.

It is a sobering thing to see fellow countrymen treat religious freedom and pluralism with such indifference and contempt. The culture war has taken a poisonous turn, and the zero-sum nastiness is coming from those wish to see religious liberty relegated to the margins of American life. I do not know whether President Obama will go along with this. I hope and pray that he won’t.

—————

“I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” -1 Timothy 2:1-3

27 Responses to Is the government obligated to disfavor Christians?

  1. buddyglass July 16, 2014 at 2:10 am #

    “Did you get that? There is no “constitutional problem” when the federal government disfavors Christian employers.”

    You substituted “Christian employers” for “employers who discriminate on grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity”. I’m not sure that’s a fair substitution.

    It’s likely that the letter’s authors recognize that the government cannot arbitrarily disfavor Christian contractors for no other reason than that they’re Christians.

    They may also be correct in stating that existing protections are enough to secure religious liberty. They argue that the existing executive order only allows for hiring discrimination in favor of “co-religionists” and not on any other basis, e.g. race, gender, etc. even when that bases is religiously motivated.

    Even if that interpretation were accurate, a religious employer seeking to discriminate against a non-celibate LGBT would just need to argue (convincingly) that a non-celibate LGBT is by definition not a member of its religion despite any claims to the contrary.

    For instance, imagine that a Christian college discovered that a faculty member had secretly been carrying on a same-sex relationship. The faculty member refuses to repent when confronted. The college might argue that on the basis of his unrepentant sin the faculty member is not, in fact, a Christian, which would then empower it to discriminate against him under the exemption granted by the existing executive order.

  2. Mark Donaldson July 16, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    As a pastor in a local church, I see the complacency of the “church of God” on a regular basis. Faith and sanctification has been reduced, in the minds of many within the “church,” to Sunday morning worship services, serving on committees and boards, and attending a Bible study on a regular basis. I do not necessarily look forward to the persecution that will come to the Church, such as the government taking a stance against Christianity in general, but I also do not see this persecution as a bad thing. The Church has done much good through the grants and support of the government throughout the decades, but perhaps we are trusting in the government’s money too much. With persecution comes the removal of the dross. Perhaps what is happening is the sanctification of the true Church of Christ and the removal of the false church. Though it is painful now, it will prove to be the healthiest for the Church.

    I guess this is my struggle. I see the persecution that is coming or that is already here. But I don’t see it as a bad thing for the Church. Keep making the Church aware, Denny, of what is come. Do not slack in preparing the Church for the future. But we all must face the fact that persecution is here and here to stay until Christ’s Second Coming. Praise His name for this. For now the true Church of Christ will arise.

    Thought?

    • Liz McC. July 16, 2014 at 10:49 am #

      Fascinating thought, Mark, where you said “Perhaps what is happening is the sanctification of the true Church of Christ and the removal of the false church.”

      I’ve often thought something along that thought process. I have not much more to add, but I just loved how you worded that.

    • bobbistowellbrown July 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      Agree!

  3. Ryan Davidson July 16, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Speaking of poisonous terms…

    The Culture War took a poisonous turn on this issue in 2003-04 when religious conservatives carried out an over-the-top campaign that unnecessarily vilified and dehumanized gay people and exaggerated the threats that they pose to society, all in an effort to ensure that our “evangelical” President won reelection in November 2004. Much of what we said and did during that two-year campaign was dishonest, if not downright reprehensible. And the culture has now come to realize it. Thus, we are now reaping the consequences of our sins. The cup that we are going to be forced to drink is indeed bitter, but I believe that this is exactly what we deserve. This will be our Babylonian captivity.

    Regarding the scholars’ argument, I think the post confuses two separate issues. The scholars are not saying that the Constitution requires the government to take the action they suggest: I think it’s clear that they’re simply stating that as an indication of their personal policy preferences. In other words, they’re not saying that it would be unconstititional for the government to create an exemption or accommodation for religious organizations. They’re simply making the rather unremarkable point that the Constitution does not otherwise require the creation of an exemption or accommodation in this instance.

    Religious organizations may have won a battle on the Hobby Lobby case, but I suspect that this will come to be viewed as a Pyrrhic victory. Religious organizations benefit from all kinds of exemptions and accommodations, many of which are not otherwise statutorily mandated. In many instances, these exemptions and accommodations are not created so as to avoid burdening the religious organizations (as was the case with the ACA’s accommodation provision); rather, they are created to grant certain benefits to religious organizations. The government is permitted to grant these benefits, even though it is not required to provide them. Now that the Hobby Lobby case has opened the floodgates on who may qualify as a religious organization, you can expect many of these benefits to begin to disappear.

    In my view, the outcome of Hobby Lobby is actually bad for more traditional religious organizations, such as churches and Christian colleges. If a large for-profit company, such as Hobby Lobby, is viewed no differently under the law than the Little Sisters of the Poor, then the government is going to be a lot more reluctant to grant permissive benefits to “religious organizations.” But, due to the strange politics of the Culture War, organizations like the Little Sisters threw their support behind Hobby Lobby, even though any sensible person could read the tea leaves and see that a Hobby Lobby wil is ultimately a loss for the Little Sisters, Wheaton College, etc.

    In a technical legal sense, I believe that the Court correctly interpreted RFRA in Hobby Lobby. In a technical legal sense, the Court also got the Dred Scott case right. And, in a technical legal sense, the Court probably got Brown v. Board wrong. Even so, we have generally come to see that Dred Scott was wrongly decided and that Brown v. Board was correctly decided, even if wasn’t true in the narrowest technical sense. I suspect that the culture will come to see Hobby Lobby as falling in the Dred Scott category, and its supporters will come to be seen in a manner not too different from the proponents of race-based slavery.

    Sometimes a good strategy includes knowing when to lose battles for the sake of winning the war. Sadly, the evangelical side of the Culture War is rarely that strategic.

    • Roy Fuller July 16, 2014 at 11:22 am #

      Ryan, very well stated. Thank you.

  4. Roy Fuller July 16, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    Buddy, good observations. And yet the cultural warriors will continue to complain about loss of their privileged status, which is wearing thin. Rather than see themselves as blessed, they complain about being “disfavored.” “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

  5. Andrew Alladin July 16, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Perhaps it is time to ask Christian employers, charities, universities, etc at what point will it be necessary to “let the dead bury the dead.” The secular left knows that too many Christians are tethered too deeply to the secular state and its philosophies to cast it off. Would the owners of Hobby Lobby have sold the business rather than compromise with abortion? How many Christian charities would dissolve themselves rather than submit to the state’s sexual litmus tests? How many Christian universities would decline all government funding rather than submit to Obama’s LGBT obsessions?

    How many Christian colleges wishing to be seen as the Harvard for Evangelicals would be willing to accept the scorn that comes with upholding biblical sexual morality? Secular leftists know that many Christians suffer from the anxieties of not wanting to be on the outside and will gladly cast off biblical morality in order to fit in. They will do so reluctantly. They will do so slowly. But they will do it.

  6. Curt Day July 16, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    What the comments here seem to be saying is that there is a difference between liberty and privilege. Liberty would revolve around rights and what is owed to everybody while privilege is granted to a select number based on conditions. Gov’t contracts aren’t a right but are earned and thus a privilege. And besides the question of why religious contractors are getting gov’t contracts in the first place, that religious employers are looking to discriminate against people whom the gov’t is protecting makes discrimination the issue, not the religion of the Christian employer. To say otherwise is to allow religion to be used as a reason for denying others their rights as was done during Jim Crow days when religion was used as a reason to discriminate and segregate.

  7. Don Johnson July 16, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    Since the time of Constantine, there has been an unholy alliance between the church and the state. With access to the state’s purse comes the state’s control, direct or indirect.

    • Ian Shaw July 17, 2014 at 8:35 am #

      Don, you would probably enjoy a 3 part blog series on ‘elections and idolatry’ by John Nugent, an OT professor at Great Lakes Christian College. Speaks very well to your first sentence. search ‘walkandword’

  8. Roy Fuller July 16, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    You know, in re-reading the original post, the most offensive line is where those who disagree with Denny are characterized as “those who care little for religious freedom.” Can we not agree that people on both sides care very much about religious liberty, but disagree with regard to to best ways to safeguard it?

    • buddyglass July 16, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

      I’d say the disagreement isn’t over how to safeguard religious liberty, but on what actually constitutes a violation of religious liberty.

      Denny feels that for the govt. to require Christian contractors and grant recipients to refrain from discriminating against non-celibate LGBTs constitutes a violation of religious liberty. The letter’s authors disagree.

      The letter’s authors do agree, however, that the existing executive order allows for Christian contractors and grant recipients to discriminate against non-Christians when hiring. So in the case of unrepentant non-celibate LGBTs I’d say Denny and the letter’s authors are on the same page. Christian contractors and grant recipients are allowed to discriminate against them if a court agrees its not unreasonable to view such individual as “non-Christians”.

      Where I think the letter’s authors and Denny would disagree is on whether it violates religious liberty to require contractors and grant recipients who don’t only hire Christians to discriminate against LGBTs. Such an employer would truly be discriminating on the basis of an individuals LGBT status and not on the basis of his or her non-Christian status. So, that sort of discrimination wouldn’t be covered by the existing executive order.

      • Gus Nelson July 16, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

        buddyglass: I think it’s commendable that you’re giving these law professors the benefit of the doubt. However, it seems extremely unlikely they are prepared to make the kind of concessions you are suggesting (regarding the definition of Christian). The last paragraph of their letter makes clear they think anything less than full non-discrimination along the same lines as race puts LGBT folks into some sort of second class, which they see as intolerable. The entire letter is designed to prove to President Obama that no exemption should be granted at all, not that some possible understanding with Christians can be (or ought to be) achieved.

        • buddyglass July 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

          I don’t know any of them so I can only speculate. My guess, though, is that they’d agree that an employee merely saying he’s a Christian isn’t sufficient to put him outside the scope of legitimate discrimination under the existing executive order.

          Supposed Richard Dawkins applied for a job at Southern Seminary and, when asked if he was a Christian, said, “Yes, absolutely. I don’t think Jesus ever actually existed, but I’m definitely a Christian.” I think the letter’s authors would support Southern’s right to discriminate against him on the basis of his not actually being a Christian, despite his claims to the contrary.

          The question is “when is it reasonable to believe someone isn’t a Christian”?

          Denny and the letter’s authors almost certainly do disagree on the answer to that question. They just draw the line in different places.

          Here’s another hypothetical. Suppose there existed a religion that was open only to whites. One of its core beliefs is that all other races are the spawn of the devil. Let’s call it Whiteism. Would it be a violation of religious liberty for the government to require a Whiteist organization to refrain from discriminating against blacks in order to be eligible for federal contracts and/or receive federal grants?

          • Gus Nelson July 17, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

            Since the First Amendment states the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion, your example would be a violation of religious liberty. We have (rightly) as a society determined this is an acceptable violation of religious liberty – that is “Whiteists” would not be able to get federal money like otherwise similarly situated groups doing the same kinds of things (say like helping orphans – in your example the Whiteists would presumably only help white orphans). If I am understanding these law professors, they are saying homosexuality is in the same category as race and, therefore, it is an acceptable violation of religious liberty to prevent Gordon College from receiving federal funds. I agree with you they would acknowledge Gordon College’s right to discriminate as an exercise of religious liberty, but, like Southern Seminary or some other religious institution, they’d have to do it without any federal support. I don’t think these professors are trying to find any way to allow Gordon College to keep receiving federal funds short of completely caving in on homosexuality, no matter how it gets couched.

            • buddyglass July 18, 2014 at 12:08 am #

              I agree: I don’t think the profs are trying to safeguard Gordon College’s right to discriminate against LGBTs per se. Here are the things I think are true:

              1. The profs recognize the college’s right to discriminate on the basis of religion per the existing executive order.
              2. The profs would probably disagree that whether or not someone is involved in unrepentant sexual sin is a reasonable criterion to use in determining whether someone is, in fact, a member of one’s religion.
              3. It’s an open question whether the courts would agree with them that such a criterion is unreasonable.

              I’m glad you agreed that my hypo describes a violation of religious liberty, though, and then agreed with our national decision to do it anyway. It demonstrates that religious liberty is not sacrosanct, despite its first amendment protection. The profs just disagree with Denny on what constitutes an “acceptable” violation of religious liberty.

              • Gus Nelson July 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

                The First Amendment is a man-made rule subject to man-made changes. It is not a biblical mandate. The right of free speech isn’t sacrosanct, either. Yet, I think we have to be very careful as a country in chipping away at these rights by allowing for “acceptable” violations of liberty because eventually the violations then swallow the right altogether.

  9. pauldreed2 July 17, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    “Are you a Catholic charity making use of federal funds in you charitable work? This argument says that the government must “disfavor” you for your “invidious” views. Are you a Christian university benefitting from federal loan programs or grants? This argument says that the government must “disfavor” you for your “invidious” views. ”

    What would you like? To be able to take government money with no strings attached? Not going to happen. What Caesar funds, Caesar controls. On another note, you’re taking a lot of liberty by defining “Catholic” and “Christian” as having to be anti-homosexuality. Did you know that the majority of Catholics voted for Obama?

    • Ian Shaw July 17, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      I think what Denny is saying that by taking government funding, you are handcuffing yourselves and bringing that to people’s attention. Thus causing people to think more critically of taking that kind of funding and perhaps try to raise more funding (for non-profit) on their own instead of taking federal dollars.

      Of course he’s not saying he wants to take Caesar’s money and have no stipulations. He’s calling on the sleepers to open their eyes and understand that taking that kind of funding has a cost and it’s not worth it. Just my $.02

  10. pauldreed2 July 17, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    What would you like? To be able to take government money with no strings attached? Not going to happen. What Caesar funds, Caesar controls. On another note, you’re taking a lot of liberty by defining “Catholic” and “Christian” as having to be anti-homosexuality. Did you know that the majority of Catholics voted for Obama?

  11. Paul Reed July 17, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    test

  12. Paul Reed July 17, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    What would you like? To be able to take government money with no strings attached? Not going to happen. What Caesar funds, Caesar controls. On another note, you’re taking a lot of liberty by defining Catholic and Christian as having to be for traditional marriage. Did you know that the majority of Catholics voted for Obama?

    • Ian Shaw July 17, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      Doesn’t 2000 years of Catholic teaching speak to the issue of traditional marriage being what God desires?

      People can be “for” whatever they want. It just might not always align with what God’s word and people will use any and all forms of gymnastics to try and support their stance (when it goes against God).

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