Union University
Union University Dept of Language


Acts 5:29 - Peter and the President

Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

February 11, 2012 - The Obama administration’s recent effort to placate those opposed to the assault on religious freedom is an occasion to reflect on the nature of moral complicity and the idea of material support that grounds the objection to rules requiring religious employers to fund access to abortifacient goods and services.  

The objection itself is simple.  Intentionally taking the life of an innocent human being, even at the earliest stages of its development, is a grave moral evil.  Certain drugs and medical services, misleadingly placed under the umbrella of “women’s health care,” are designed to ensure the end of an innocent human life, if necessary.  

Generally, those who wish to have no part in killing innocent human beings also wish to have no part in providing material support to those who do.  And if the Obama administration grasped this, then perhaps it would grasp why the proposed compromise is unacceptable.  

Perhaps the logic of the whole affair would be more perspicuous with the substitution of one grave moral evil for another.  Imagine then, that instead of abortion, the issue at hand were slavery.  

Suppose for the sake of argument that through a series of US Supreme Court decisions, we now lived in an era where women had a constitutionally-protected right to own slaves.  One can easily imagine that in such a world, some would object, on religious grounds, to the institution of slavery.  Such an objection would very likely take the form of a deliberate refusal not only to own slaves, but also to provide material (e.g., financial) support to those who wanted to exercise their constitutional right so to do.  

In such a world, the current situation would look something like this.  Having recently passed federal legislation requiring that all women who want a slave be able to obtain a slave for free, the US government would now be requiring that all citizens and institutions, religious or otherwise, assume their fair share of the cost burden associated with making this dream a reality.  

At this point, the religious institutions would object.  To require someone to help another pay to have a slave is tantamount to requiring one to own them.  At the very least, such compulsion forces religious citizens and institutions to ignore conscience by providing material support for the perpetuation of slavery.  

Here, the Obama administration might (as it has in the actual case) offer the generous compromise.  “Religious institutions will not be required to refer women to slave-providers.  Moreover, slave-providers themselves, not religious institutions, will be required to pay the immediate costs associated with a woman’s acquisition of a slave.  But the overall costs of the slave-providing industry as a whole will be sustained by the fees that all citizens and institutions, religious or otherwise, will be required, by law, to pay to the consortium of which the slave-providers are a part.”  

To think about the case in this way, should make it obvious why defenders of religious liberty recognize the Obama administration’s “compromise” for what it is - a total sham.  The effort to respond to genuine concerns about moral complicity by proposing an accounting trick signals a failure to grasp seriousness of the concern - unless, of course, the concern is grasped.  But in that case, the action signals not ignorance, but wickedness.