Freedom of Religion to Disobey God — Say More about That

Freedom of Religion to Disobey God — Say More about That August 4, 2015

A curious feature of the ongoing and understandable outrage over the videos of Planned Parenthood executives explaining the sale of fetal body parts is that the film’s maker is using religious liberty to defend lying. I don’t want to be perceived to be someone on the side of the pro-choice lobby, but evangelicals may want to think the filmmaker’s justification through before wading any more deeply into the muddy pools of constitutional liberties for religion.

Here‘s one example of religious liberty, one that perhaps illustrates well how thorny the question of protecting a person’s civil liberties is:

So let’s say that there is a businessman in Indianapolis who runs a catering company. He is an openly gay Episcopalian and, at the heart of his faith (and the faith articulated by his church) is a sincere belief that homosexuality is a gift of God and a natural part of God’s good creation. This business owner has long served a wide variety of clients, including a nearby Pentecostal church that is predominantly African-American.

Then, one day, the leaders of this church ask him to cater a major event – the upcoming regional conference of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. He declines, saying this would violate everything he stands for as a liberal Christian. He notes that they have dozens of other catering options in their city and, while he has willingly served them in the past, it is his sincere belief that it would be wrong to do so in this specific case.

Whose religious rights are being violated? Can both sides find a way to show tolerance?

What is crucial to this case is whether at the point where a person interacts with the wider public he or she may rely upon religious convictions as a compass for those engagements. Many Christians, Roman Catholic and evangelical, want to defend the right of Americans to use faith to defend their actions in business (for starters).

That makes sense.

But what happens when those same people defending religious liberty wind up cheering on someone who has been openly deceitful about his interactions with the wider public and is doing so in the name of Christianity? Here’s an excerpt from an interview with David Daleiden, the maker of the Planned Parenthood videos:

How did you get people to talk to you? There have been other undercover videos about Planned Parenthood in the past, so you would think they’d be more skeptical.

It’s reasonable to think they would be skeptical. We were quite surprised, during the course of this project, how trusting and how willing to talk and negotiate and let us into the inner circle Planned Parenthood was.

All we had to do was say two things. Number one, that we supported their work. And number two, that we wanted to buy their fetal body parts. Those were the magic words. And they were willing to bend over backwards to accommodate that. . . .

There are some critics, who share your beliefs about abortion, who are uncomfortable with the techniques you use. They say misrepresenting who you are and using undercover video is unethical. How do you respond to that claim? And what are the laws about undercover recording in states like California, where you recorded video?

California has a recording law that prohibits the surreptitious recording of what are called “confidential communications,” so California’s recording statute is limited.

I think that there are a minority of people who think that any kind of undercover work is prima facie wrong and unethical. I certainly don’t subscribe to that view. Most people don’t subscribe to that view. Undercover work is a pretty common tactic among law enforcement and journalists. I don’t think the techniques that we use are any more extreme than what is done every day by mainstream investigative journalists.

People don’t realize that it’s a common law liberty in the United States to change your name at will. I think it’s a little silly to say that it’s unethical when it is a common law liberty to present yourself however you want to present yourself. . . .

What are your personal beliefs and how do they inform the work you do?

I am Catholic, and I am a really big fan of Pope Francis. He has been a huge inspiration to me over the past couple of years, especially while doing this project.

Pope Francis’s emphasis on not being closed in on yourself but always moving forward and always being willing to go out towards the margins of human experience—in order to bring the gospel to those margins—was a huge inspiration to me during this project. I don’t think there’s any place more on the existential margins of society than an abortion clinic.

I think that when you have a place like an abortion clinic—which is a place where children are killed on an industrial scale—there is almost a sacramental value in bringing a presence to those places. We were there for good, out of love, and to welcome those children for the brief time that they will be in existence before they die. And to be in contact with and pray for all the abortion workers, the abortion doctors who are there.

As a Christian you are part of the body of Christ. So your presence, even in those darkest of places, can bring the presence of Jesus.

Daleiden admits that he told Planned Parenthood he supported their work and was interested in buying fetal body parts. These were patently false representations of what he was up to. And then Daleiden claims that he did this at least in part on the basis of Christian convictions.

In other words, it seems that at the point where this Christian interacted with the wider public he did not want the liberty to let his Christian beliefs inform his activities but in fact to have the liberty to act contrary to Christian teaching. I get it. Opposition to abortion stems from Christian teaching. But lying doesn’t.

In which case, it sure looks to me that Christians might want to be careful in embracing Daleiden too unqualifiedly without losing the way on the matter of religious liberty. You can’t have liberty both to follow your religious beliefs and to disregard them and have the non-Christian world find you credible.


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