“Nuns hopeful of stay,” read the headlines. No, they weren’t going to be executed. Only their consciences were to be violated. The HHS Mandate was going to force them to cover abortifacient drugs that can end the lives of unborn children. Now, and only temporarily, the Supreme Court has stayed the execution of the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare.
Never in America’s long history has such a headline even been imaginable. The gravest threat to religious freedom has been part of what President Obama meant when he said he would “fundamentally transform this country.” Nuns have faced anti-Catholicism, Bible riots, and various forms of Klan-instigated bigotry, but never has the federal government itself threatened to snuff out the lamp of freedom. Evangelicals and Lutherans, too, face a hostile administration.
That’s in part why the Hobby Lobby and the Conestoga Wood Company have appealed to the Supreme Court to exempt them from the HHS Mandate that violates their deepest religious convictions.
Religious freedom is the necessary pre-condition of civil freedom. In his first Inaugural Address in 1789, President George Washington spoke of the”sacred fire of liberty.” He said it had been entrusted to the American people by Providence.
Washington’s colleague, James Madison, recognized this truth and noted that religious liberty had been secured in their home state three years earlier, with the passage on January 16, 1786, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Madison wrote that this world historical enactment had added to “the lustre of our country.” Indeed it had. Religious freedom was foundational for the American experiment in ordered liberty. Madison argued in Federalist No. 51 that:
In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government.