Q&A: David Gibbs on the loss of religious liberty
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- Pro-family attorney David Gibbs says religious liberty is under attack in America like "never before" and that the future isn't bright unless there are changes.
Gibbs isn't speaking only about the election, but he does believe it will have an impact.
Gibbs is best known for his defense of Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old Florida woman who received a persistent vegetative state diagnosis and died two weeks after her feeding tube was removed. Her supporters said she was not in a persistent vegetative state.
Gibbs now is president and general counsel of the National Center for Life and Liberty, a ministry organization that defends life and liberty freedoms nationwide. He hosts the weekly radio program "Law Talk Live" on the Moody Radio Network and has authored five books, including "Fighting for Dear Life" and "Understanding the Constitution."
Katie McCoy, the editor of BiblicalWoman.org -- a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary -- interviewed Gibbs about the current state of religious liberty in America. Following is a transcript:
QUESTION: According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, all organizations must provide contraception. How does this affect churches, religious schools and businesses?
GIBBS: In late January 2012, the Obama administration, through the secretary of Health and Human Services, finalized regulations requiring religiously affiliated institutions, including hospitals and universities, to purchase health insurance plans under Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) that will pay for "preventive services" for all employees. "Preventive care" includes mandated coverage of contraception, certain sterilization procedures, and abortion-inducing drugs, i.e., the so-called "morning-after" and "week-after" pills. This is an especially problematic regulation for very large religious institutions, like hospitals and universities that are self-insured.
These new HHS regulations will force many religious institutions to violate their core beliefs by being required to provide employees with insurance coverage to pay for birth control and abortifacients intended to cause chemical abortions.
Churches and places of worship are currently exempt from this ruling if they meet certain requirements, but other religious institutions are not exempt. The Obama administration's religious exemption includes only those faith-based organizations that inculcate religious values, hire only members of their own faith and serve only members of their own faith. This is problematic since most Christian charities and educational institutions seek to serve everyone in the community.
Religious colleges may claim the exemption only if they restrict enrollment to students of one faith. Hospitals, homeless shelters or international aid groups, as well as others serving a larger community, would not be eligible for the exemption since they serve general populations of all faiths or even no faith.
Religious leaders across the country are speaking out decisively against what they consider to be a violation of religious liberty and free exercise of religion rights by the Obama administration.
A court case seeking to find Obamacare unconstitutional failed. Chief Justice John Roberts was very direct in his ruling that the Supreme Court cannot be called upon to correct political mistakes made by the people and their representatives. He emphasized that Obamacare is a political problem that must be solved politically. The November 2012 election, therefore, is the place to solve it. The American people must decide this question by voting. Gov. Romney has promised to repeal Obamacare if elected. Obviously, if President Obama is re-elected, Obamacare will move forward.
The Obama administration has delayed implementation for compliance with his new health insurance order for one year, until August 2013, well after the November election and perhaps the installation of a new administration. Given that we will not know the ultimate fate of Obamacare until after the 2012 election, there is no pressing need for churches or other religious institutions to rush into decisions about insurance or self-insurance programs before November. Several other lawsuits challenging the constitutionality, not of the law itself this time but only of those HHS regulations that violate religious liberty, are currently winding their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is impossible to know what the Supreme Court will decide about these religious liberty cases if Obamacare survives the November election.
We are only now beginning to know and understand the particulars of the Obamacare insurance mandate. ... The real problem is that the legislation gives the Executive Branch (primarily through the Health and Human Services Secretary) sole authority to implement Obamacare by drafting regulations without requiring additional approval by Congress. These regulations, we now know, include provisions that religious institutions may be fined for holding and practicing views regarding contraception, sterilization, and abortion that are different from the current administration's views.
For instance, Notre Dame University, which employs more than 5,000 people, is going to be given the choice of either expressly violating its religious convictions against abortion, sterilization and contraception, or the institution will be required to pay a $10 million fine to the federal government. This will be the penalty for any religious employer with a moral objection to any portion of Obamacare since religious institutions (with the exception of actual churches, i.e., houses of worship) will be compelled to comply with a law that violates their religious beliefs.
QUESTION: Religious freedom and freedom of speech are hot-button issues during this year's election. Why is that?
GIBBS: Religious freedom, especially for Christians, is declining in America. Prayer and other expressions of Christian faith are being forced out of our culture primarily through public pressure and court decisions. At least in part because of gay rights and pro-choice groups that advocate un-Christian ideas and behavior, Christians are becoming more and more unpopular in our culture. Christianity has been banned from our schools, which results in populating society with more citizens who either don't understand religion or think that religion, particularly Christianity, is a bad thing. Religion is banned from many of our nation's public events. Religious expression is limited in the U.S. military, primarily because leaders see it as disruptive and politically incorrect. Even private businesses that could allow for religious expression often ban it out of fear of disruption or discrimination lawsuits by employees.
Christianity is generally ignored or ridiculed by the entertainment industry, which helps to form the opinions of many citizens. The First Amendment's Establishment Clause (sometimes referred to as the separation of church and state) has been interpreted by our courts in a manner that is highly antagonistic toward Christianity. It is no longer politically correct to believe that there is one way to God or that God sets moral standards for the behavior of His children. Freedom has turned into license for many in America, and a licentious freedom, without religious or moral limits, requires more and more governmental control to keep society from imploding.
As government becomes ever larger and gains more control over the lives of all Americans, free speech and freedom of religion must be curtailed so that government can retain and expand its power.
John Adams famously warned his countrymen in 1798, a decade after the adoption of the Constitution and Bill of Rights: "[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." John Adam's warning is still a good exhortation today. If people do not restrict their own conduct through religion, morality and we would add, self-governance, only an increase of government power and regulation, with less freedom for all, will be able to keep the peace and good order in society. Those who do not sincerely follow God often see the government as their only god. In order for a government that sees itself as god to keep peace and promote the general welfare, it is necessary to restrict the people's freedom in every area -- including religion and free speech.
Freedom of religion and free speech, as well as every other freedom guaranteed to Americans in the Constitution, is only possible in a society that sees God as the origin of rights and promotes religion, morality and self-government. Otherwise, both religious freedom and freedom of speech are seen as antithetical and a direct threat to an ever-expanding government.
QUESTION: What legal issues are looming that can be a challenge to churches and other faith-based organizations?
GIBBS: Religious liberty is being challenged in America today as never before. Too many Americans are beginning to view biblical Christianity as the problem, not the solution. In the reverse, government is now seen by many as the solution, not the problem. God is being driven from our Constitution, from our schools and from our national culture.
Our children are becoming wards of the state rather than blessings of God to their parents. The state is teaching our children what it wants them to learn, not what their parents desire to teach them. As Abe Lincoln is said to have opined: "What children learn in the classroom today will become the governing philosophy tomorrow." We have certainly seen that the "flower children" of the 1960s have now produced a governing generation that wants to retain freedom for their own beliefs, while denying freedom to those who disagree with them. After gaining freedom to express their own views and lead their own lives as they desire, they are closing the door behind them to the beliefs and values of others.
Poverty and dependence with its increasing numbers of government wards needing ever more financial and government support is one of our main social and economic problems today.
It is one of the primary causes of our current economic crisis. Citizens have previously depended on themselves, on family, church and God for their care and sustenance. Charitable organizations, usually religious, filled in any gaps. Government policies now encourage the disintegration of traditional families, which are the building blocks of any society, and discourage religion, morality and especially Christianity. The very things our nation needs most are disappearing. Unless religion morality and family values are brought back to America, as John Adams warned, there is no way to avoid the coming economic crisis, no matter who wins the 2012 election.
Faith-based organizations must share the faith, must provide faith-based education for their own children and for other children in the community, must encourage strong faith-based families, and must spread their faith and compassionate concern to others in the community.
Christians began nearly everything that is good and compassionate in America. Christians led the fight for freedom in America's Revolution against British tyranny. Christians led the fight against slavery. Christians established the first hospitals and schools in America. Christians led the fight for racial equality. Christians have the best success rate for healing alcoholics, drug addicts and other victims of various types of bondage. Christians deliver the best and quickest emergency aid in times of natural disasters. Christians help families remain strong.
The bottom line is that Christians must again take the lead in establishing strong non-governmental, faith-based entities and programs to bless everyone in our society and to make it less necessary for citizens to depend upon government for all their needs.
QUESTION: Regardless of the election's outcome, what can we do to protect our individual and religious liberties?
GIBBS: The only way that God will continue to bless America with everything it needs, including individual and religious liberty, is found in 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
Regardless of the November 2012 election results, Americans must pray for God to send revival and healing to our land. God blessed America with the best form of government ever given to mankind, but that government can only be retained if we continue to recognize its God-given origins. Just as the rallying cry of Americans during the Revolutionary War was "No king but King Jesus," our rallying cry must similarly recognize the importance of God in the founding and continuation of our American freedoms. We have seen in the Middle East very recently that democracy does not work without God.
America was not founded as a democracy. We were founded as a republic. A republic is a representative government ruled by law -- in America's case by the Constitution, which is based on biblical principles. A democracy is direct government rule by a majority of the people, which our Founders saw as a vehicle for lawless mob rule, such as France experienced in its godless revolution of 1789, which led to the guillotine, not to freedom. In a republic, the inalienable rights of citizens come from God, as our Declaration of Independence states. In a democracy, rights come from a government elected by the majority of citizens, a government which can just as easily take those rights away.
Without God (religion and morality), America cannot and will not survive no matter who wins the election of 2012. That fact should not discourage Christians from voting. But it should remind them that voting is not enough.
This interview first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
John Adams, "To the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts" (11 October 1798), The Works of John Adams – Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes, and Illustrations (ed. Charles Francis Adams; Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1854), Vol. IX, 228-229.