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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- These days, the Obama administration is catching heat for overriding religious sensitivities with its insistence that employers supply contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients to all workers who desire them. I think it's good to remember that this isn't the first time the state has frustrated one denomination or another where children were involved. But there's a big difference here: Where once they intervened to protect children from strange religion, they now dismiss the scruples of all believers who find the prevention or elimination of children objectionable. The government used to be aggressively pro-child; now they're intrusively anti-child.
For background, let's look at a few cases from the late 20th century:
In 1975, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Liston Pack, pastor of the Holiness Church of God in Jesus Christ in Carson Springs, Tenn., was creating a public nuisance with his snake-handling services. Justice Henry was concerned the practice occurred "in a crowded church sanctuary, with virtually no safeguards, with children roaming about unattended, with the handlers so enraptured and entranced that they [were] in a virtual state of hysteria."
In 1980, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Jehovah's Witness Jessie Mae Jefferson must undergo an emergency Caesarian section, even though she and her husband were confident that, contrary to the doctors' opinion, the Lord had healed her body. (She had been diagnosed with placenta previa.) Besides, she believed that transfusions attendant to the procedure violated the church rule against "eating" blood. The court overrode these concerns, saying that "the intrusion involved into the life of [the Jeffersons] is outweighed by the duty of the State to protect a living, unborn human being from meeting his or her death before being given the opportunity to live."
In 1990, a Massachusetts jury determined that Christian Scientists David and Ginger Twitchell were guilty of involuntary manslaughter for having let their 2-year-old son Robyn die from peritonitis. Instead of turning to surgeons to correct Robyn's dangerous bowel obstruction, they relied strictly on prayer, and the bowel ruptured.
The legal precedent is simple: Put your kid at mortal risk, and we will stop you, no matter how deeply you may feel that you're doing the right thing on religious grounds. But now we've moved in a new direction: When people of faith find the "morning-after pill" to be an instrument for aborting newly-conceived children, their concerns must be dismissed to make sure the nascent human being can be killed. The White House is dodging and weaving to say that insurers rather than employers must foot the bill for the lethal chemical concoction, but it comes to the same thing as premiums rise to cover these "freebies." And what if the insurance companies have moral reservations? Never mind that when Uncle Sam is on a search-and-destroy mission for unwanted babies.
This administration regards abortifacients as instruments of "health care," brushing aside the ancient Hippocratic Oath as so much sentimental gas. And, for them, a vasectomy and a salpingectomy are as morally uncomplicated as a tonsillectomy or appendectomy, and healthy testes and ovaries no more valuable than diseased tonsils.
Of course, this children-as-optional-if-not-thoroughly-objectionable mindset fits nicely with the crusade to normalize homosexuality, where procreation is out of the question unless you hire an outsider to pitch in a gamete or womb to make things happen.
I once heard Frederica Mathewes-Green say that every child born after 1973 was a "survivor." That was the year that Roe v. Wade declared "open season" on the contents of the womb. But it appears the license to hunt Bambi was not enough. Now the government is making sure you have a rifle.
Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville extension center and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.