Officially re-defining religion

The Constitution carves out space for religion so that it does not fall under government jurisdiction.  So, as Charles Krauthammer points out, the  government, which currently demands jurisdiction over everything, is re-defining religion:

And thus, the word came forth from [Health & Human Services director Katherine] Sebelius decreeing the exact criteria required (a) to meet her definition of “religious” and thus (b) to qualify for a modicum of independence from newly enacted state control of American health care, under which the aforementioned Sebelius and her phalanx of experts determine everything — from who is to be covered, to which treatments are to be guaranteed free of charge.

Criterion 1: A “religious institution” must have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose.” But that’s not the purpose of Catholic charities; it’s to give succor to the poor. That’s not the purpose of Catholic hospitals; it’s to give succor to the sick. Therefore, they don’t qualify as “religious” — and therefore can be required, among other things, to provide free morning-after abortifacients.

Criterion 2: Any exempt institution must be one that “primarily employs” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.” Catholic soup kitchens do not demand religious IDs from either the hungry they feed or the custodians they employ. Catholic charities and hospitals — even Catholic schools — do not turn away Hindu or Jew.

Their vocation is universal, precisely the kind of universal love-thy-neighbor vocation that is the very definition of religiosity as celebrated by the Gospel of Obama. Yet according to the Gospel of Sebelius, these very same Catholic institutions are not religious at all — under the secularist assumption that religion is what happens on Sunday under some Gothic spire, while good works are “social services” properly rendered up unto Caesar. . . .

Therefore: To flatter his faith-breakfast guests and justify his tax policies, Obama declares good works to be the essence of religiosity. Yet he turns around and, through Sebelius, tells the faithful who engage in good works that what they’re doing is not religion at all. You want to do religion? Get thee to a nunnery. You want shelter from the power of the state? Get out of your soup kitchen and back to your pews. Outside, Leviathan rules.

via The Gospel according to Obama – The Washington Post.

We see this same new definition in the government’s failed litigation in the Hosanna-Tabor case.  It’s basically the same one used in the former Soviet Union, which provided for “religious freedom” in its constitution, construed as private interior beliefs, while at the same time forbidding evangelism, worship, education, religious child-raising, and any other external expression of religion in actual life.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Michael B.

    This is a result of religion having so much power in America (and in the West in general). All somebody has to do is simply say “this is my religion, and you must accept it”, and the conversation stops. This is the winning argument of why the Catholic church won’t have to provide contraceptives. No non-religious person was ever convinced that they’re “killing babies”, but the “respect their religion” argument works. The most appalling is to see the same thing applied to Islam, where even some liberals say we must respect how poorly women are treated in the Muslim faith, because it’s their faith.

  • Michael B.

    This is a result of religion having so much power in America (and in the West in general). All somebody has to do is simply say “this is my religion, and you must accept it”, and the conversation stops. This is the winning argument of why the Catholic church won’t have to provide contraceptives. No non-religious person was ever convinced that they’re “killing babies”, but the “respect their religion” argument works. The most appalling is to see the same thing applied to Islam, where even some liberals say we must respect how poorly women are treated in the Muslim faith, because it’s their faith.

  • http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com SAL

    #1 This is a very scary point a view I see more people on the far left promoting. The concept that religion and religious freedom is an impediment to the goals of their political party.

    What worries me is that more moderate people may accept the premise that religious liberty is really too costly to survive when government stands ready to solve every problem and wipe away every tear… but only if “those religious people” have their rights taken away.

  • http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com SAL

    #1 This is a very scary point a view I see more people on the far left promoting. The concept that religion and religious freedom is an impediment to the goals of their political party.

    What worries me is that more moderate people may accept the premise that religious liberty is really too costly to survive when government stands ready to solve every problem and wipe away every tear… but only if “those religious people” have their rights taken away.

  • Mary

    Can I be an alarmist here? I am reading the Eric Metaxas book on Bonhoeffer: “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” The parallels are quite striking. I know, I know, it could never happen here. Really? I am not equating Obama with Hitler, but can we not compare abortion and declaring the unborn not persons the same as declaring the same for the Jews? What I see is a comparison with the population desperate for something willing to throw away their basic rights. The Church was complicit in Germany, and forced by the government to do what the government ordered. So far the Church is standing firm, will we remain steadfast?

  • Mary

    Can I be an alarmist here? I am reading the Eric Metaxas book on Bonhoeffer: “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” The parallels are quite striking. I know, I know, it could never happen here. Really? I am not equating Obama with Hitler, but can we not compare abortion and declaring the unborn not persons the same as declaring the same for the Jews? What I see is a comparison with the population desperate for something willing to throw away their basic rights. The Church was complicit in Germany, and forced by the government to do what the government ordered. So far the Church is standing firm, will we remain steadfast?

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Mary, #3: “The Church was complicit in Germany, and forced by the government to do what the government ordered.”

    Was the Lutheran Church complicit (in a broad sense) with the government of Nazi Germany?

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Mary, #3: “The Church was complicit in Germany, and forced by the government to do what the government ordered.”

    Was the Lutheran Church complicit (in a broad sense) with the government of Nazi Germany?

  • Mary

    #4
    Was the Lutheran Church complicit (in a broad sense) with the government of Nazi Germany?

    Absolutely. The remnant, called the Confessing Church were the ones fighting the Nazis, many losing their positions if not their lives because of their confession. Check out the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl:
    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/rose.html

  • Mary

    #4
    Was the Lutheran Church complicit (in a broad sense) with the government of Nazi Germany?

    Absolutely. The remnant, called the Confessing Church were the ones fighting the Nazis, many losing their positions if not their lives because of their confession. Check out the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl:
    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/rose.html

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg
  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg
  • Mary
  • Mary
  • DonS

    It’s not “Free Exercise” if the government assumes the responsibility for defining it. It seems to me that these definitions are the closest we have ever come in this country to establishing state religion, in direct contravention to the First Amendment prohibition.

  • DonS

    It’s not “Free Exercise” if the government assumes the responsibility for defining it. It seems to me that these definitions are the closest we have ever come in this country to establishing state religion, in direct contravention to the First Amendment prohibition.

  • Jon

    Micahel B says “No non-religious person was ever convinced that they’re “killing babies”, but the “respect their religion” argument works. ”

    The “religious argument” works because it is in the Constitution–full stop.

    And, of course, lots and lots of non-religious persons are convinced that they are killing pre-born babies–it’s just that they are convinced that they have a Constitutional right to do that, as well.

  • Jon

    Micahel B says “No non-religious person was ever convinced that they’re “killing babies”, but the “respect their religion” argument works. ”

    The “religious argument” works because it is in the Constitution–full stop.

    And, of course, lots and lots of non-religious persons are convinced that they are killing pre-born babies–it’s just that they are convinced that they have a Constitutional right to do that, as well.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Mary, #5: “Check out the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl:”

    An inspiring story of bravery and courage, indeed. But it doesn’t say that the Lutheran Church in Germany, broadly speaking, was complicit with the Nazi government.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Mary, #5: “Check out the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl:”

    An inspiring story of bravery and courage, indeed. But it doesn’t say that the Lutheran Church in Germany, broadly speaking, was complicit with the Nazi government.

  • Mary

    #10

    You are right it doesn’t mention the Lutheran Church per se in that article, though the children were brought up in the Lutheran Church, and it was the state church of Germany. Perhaps complicit is also too strong a word. You have to dig deeper in history to see how the church “went along to get along” Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran who fought the church for turning a blind eye to the plight of the Jews and indeed all that were deemed a scourge on the state. Disabled, mentally handicapped, Gypsies etc. He was absolutely scandalized that his fellow Christians did not see or refused to see the signs of what Hitler planned to do to the least of these.
    Check out the Barmen Declaration which was written by Barth and other Lutheran and Reformed Church leaders. Niemoller was also prominent in the movement of the Confessing Church over and against the “German Christians”. The German Christian movement ultimately failed, and Hitler no longer needed the church to support him.

  • Mary

    #10

    You are right it doesn’t mention the Lutheran Church per se in that article, though the children were brought up in the Lutheran Church, and it was the state church of Germany. Perhaps complicit is also too strong a word. You have to dig deeper in history to see how the church “went along to get along” Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran who fought the church for turning a blind eye to the plight of the Jews and indeed all that were deemed a scourge on the state. Disabled, mentally handicapped, Gypsies etc. He was absolutely scandalized that his fellow Christians did not see or refused to see the signs of what Hitler planned to do to the least of these.
    Check out the Barmen Declaration which was written by Barth and other Lutheran and Reformed Church leaders. Niemoller was also prominent in the movement of the Confessing Church over and against the “German Christians”. The German Christian movement ultimately failed, and Hitler no longer needed the church to support him.

  • Steve Billingsley

    It would be more correct to say that a portion of the leadership of the Lutheran Church in Germany was complicit. There were also many pastors and leaders (as well as individual members) who bravely resisted the Nazis.

  • Steve Billingsley

    It would be more correct to say that a portion of the leadership of the Lutheran Church in Germany was complicit. There were also many pastors and leaders (as well as individual members) who bravely resisted the Nazis.

  • mendicus

    Mary@3: It’s only alarmist if the evidence isn’t there.

  • mendicus

    Mary@3: It’s only alarmist if the evidence isn’t there.

  • formerly just steve

    If this is all true it’s very, very dangerous indeed.

  • formerly just steve

    If this is all true it’s very, very dangerous indeed.

  • formerly just steve

    Michael B, once again coming to the defense of the indefensible with straw in hand.

  • formerly just steve

    Michael B, once again coming to the defense of the indefensible with straw in hand.

  • W.B. Picklesworth

    I’d like a point of clarification. In Germany, isn’t there an “Evangelical” church which was formed in the early nineteenth century and is comprised of Lutherans and Reformed?

  • W.B. Picklesworth

    I’d like a point of clarification. In Germany, isn’t there an “Evangelical” church which was formed in the early nineteenth century and is comprised of Lutherans and Reformed?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    W. B. Picklesworth, “Evangelical” in Germany and Scandinavia means Lutheran. What happened during the rise of Prussian authoritarianism in the 19th century was a merger of Lutheran and Reformed into one state church that was really a violation of both confessions in the name of Enlightenment liberal theology. That body had adherents that emigrated here forming the “Evangelical and Reformed” congregations that were subsumed into liberal congregationalism. But you can still see the old moniker on old U.C.C. buildings. In the meantime, lots of confessional Lutherans fled that state church and came here, forming the Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synods. (This is why to this day those churches resist ecumenism, since they saw what it could do.)

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    W. B. Picklesworth, “Evangelical” in Germany and Scandinavia means Lutheran. What happened during the rise of Prussian authoritarianism in the 19th century was a merger of Lutheran and Reformed into one state church that was really a violation of both confessions in the name of Enlightenment liberal theology. That body had adherents that emigrated here forming the “Evangelical and Reformed” congregations that were subsumed into liberal congregationalism. But you can still see the old moniker on old U.C.C. buildings. In the meantime, lots of confessional Lutherans fled that state church and came here, forming the Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synods. (This is why to this day those churches resist ecumenism, since they saw what it could do.)

  • W.B. Picklesworth

    I knew about those who emigrated, but I had assumed that union meant that the “Evangelicals” in Germany comprised both. Thanks for the clarification.

  • W.B. Picklesworth

    I knew about those who emigrated, but I had assumed that union meant that the “Evangelicals” in Germany comprised both. Thanks for the clarification.

  • mikeb

    Michael B. @1

    All somebody has to do is simply say “this is my religion, and you must accept it”, and the conversation stops.

    Why is it so hard to understand that free people are free to enjoy their freedom? Would you prefer to live in a society where freedom of association, of religion, of speech, and of assembly are curtailed? From what I can see, the areas of the world where this is the norm aren’t the Eutopia the Left claims them to be.

  • mikeb

    Michael B. @1

    All somebody has to do is simply say “this is my religion, and you must accept it”, and the conversation stops.

    Why is it so hard to understand that free people are free to enjoy their freedom? Would you prefer to live in a society where freedom of association, of religion, of speech, and of assembly are curtailed? From what I can see, the areas of the world where this is the norm aren’t the Eutopia the Left claims them to be.

  • Bill H

    Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world
    James 1:27 (ESV)

  • Bill H

    Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world
    James 1:27 (ESV)


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