As a church historian, I feel compelled to remind my fellow Christians in America of a dire threat to their religious freedom, which freedom is supposed to be guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That threat is the Health and Human Services Mandate (hereafter H.H.S. Mandate) within the “Affordable Care Act.” This Mandate requires charitable and educational church agencies to offer abortion-causing drugs to their employees or face stiff financial penalties.
I cannot judge how or why this Mandate was developed. I am a church historian, not a political insider in Washington. What I know as a church historian is that the most effective strategy used by the enemies of the Christian church has been that of “strangulation” through stiff financial penalties and the suppression of its charitable and educational agencies. The H.H.S Mandate imposes stiff financial penalties on the Christian church’s charitable and educational agencies, if they refuse to accept its abortion policies. This is a policy of “strangulation,” whether or not it was intended as such, and it needs to be resisted by all Christian churches in America.
The policy of “strangulation” was first developed by the Islamic religion in its conquests in the Middle East and the Mediterranean world. “People of the Book” (Arabic: “Ahl al-Kitab”), i.e., Jews and Christians, who have lived in Moslem countries have always had the status of second-class citizens (Arabic: “dhimmi”). Dhimmis are allowed to retain their religion, but are subject to certain legal restrictions mostly in social and economic life. These restrictions and penalties have varied in harshness and the extent to which they are applied. The official levy of dhimmis is the poll “tax” (Arabic: “jizya”), which was often heavy (see Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church [London: Penguin Books, 1964], 97-98). The intent of dhimmi status was to induce Christians and Jews to convert to the Islamic faith, or to leave the country, which policy has proved to be quite effective through the centuries.
The policy of “strangulation” was developed in a different way by the communists in the Soviet Union. Starting in 1917, the communists in Russia executed over 12,000 priests, as well as uncounted numbers of laypeople for their steadfast Christian witness (see Ware, 156-157). What is generally not known about the communist policy is that many church buildings were allowed to remain open for worship services. The Church could worship in the Soviet Union, but it could not maintain charitable or social work. It could train a certain number of candidates for the priesthood, but it was otherwise forbidden to engage in educational activities (see Ware, 152-154, 166-169, 170). In other countries that were under communist control after World War II, the same policy of prohibiting the church’s educational and charitable work was followed, with the hope that this would “strangle” the church in a generation or two (see Ware, 174).
The H.H.S Mandate makes it a crime, punishable by law and heavy “tax” penalties, for a church agency to refuse to comply with the Mandate’s abortion policies. Christian churches that are worthy of the name “Christian” cannot, in good conscience, concur with abortion-on-demand. Until the 20th century, the Christian churches have always opposed abortion-on-demand and have done so on biblical bases. Even the traditional physician’s Oath of Hippocrates (460-357 B.C.) included a promise not to perform an abortion; although abortion was common among pagans by the first century A.D. (see Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church [Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982). Now in 2012, Christian church agencies in the United States will be heavily fined with “tax” penalties, if they do not offer abortion-causing-drugs to their employees.
What can you do? Representatives of the majority of American Christian churches, and their agencies, have signed a fine letter in opposition to the H.H.S. Mandate titled “Free Exercise of Religion” (see this document). All of the American Catholic bishops have spoken against the Mandate and their official conference is taking many steps to oppose it (see this website). President Matthew Harrison has spoken against the Mandate and his office offers many resources for Lutherans concerned about it (see lcms.org/hhsmandate).
All this “official” church action won’t do a whole lot of good, if the people of the church and their friends don’t take this issue to their elected representatives through letters and through other legal and appropriate means. The Christian churches, and all those concerned about religious liberty, want all candidates for office in November to make clear their position on the H.H.S Mandate, because it will indicate whether they are in favor of “strangling” the Church or not.