IFWE on Hobby Lobby and the False Divide Between Sacred and Secular
I wear a hat as a Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics. In the last several days, IFWE has run a few pieces on their blog that have really stood out to me in light of the Hobby Lobby decision and how we categorize human action:
In “Hobby Lobby: A Victory for Religious Freedom and the Christian View of Work,” theologian Hugh Whelchel explains the error of separating the “sacred” (what you do at church on Sunday) from the “secular” (what you do M-F, 8-5 at the office). If we really believe something to be good and right, it will find its expression in how we live our lives. Just as one’s First Amendment rights don’t stop at the schoolhouse door, they don’t stop when we clock in.
Whelchel links to an insightful 2012 post, “Religious Liberty vs. Religious Tolerance” in which he reproduces Wesley J. Smith’s summary of a government argument that “Seeking profit is a wholly secularist pursuit” (Smith’s words). Here is Whelchel on James Madison, George Mason, and the Virginia Declaration of Rights:
It was James Madison who suggested the term ‘religious liberty’ to George Mason, chief architect of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. In the first draft, Mason used the term ‘religious tolerance.’ ‘Religious tolerance’ was understood as permission given by the state to practice religion.
The problem with religious tolerance was that what the state gave, it could take back.
Madison argued that religious liberty was a natural and unalienable right. It was possessed equally by all citizens, and must be beyond the reach of civil magistrates.
It was, in Whelchel’s words, “a revolutionary idea.” Religious tolerance suggests a right granted by the state that can be rescinded. Religious liberty suggests a right that precedes the state and that cannot be violated. If it is a right that is going to mean anything, then it has to extend to how we conduct the ordinary business of life.
This brings me back to one of my favorite pieces in the social sciences, a piece that surely has a higher neurons-blown-to-word-count ratio than anything else I’ve ever read, James Buchanan’s “Order Defined in the Process of Its Emergence.” There’s no way to know the right level of health coverage, whether birth control should be covered, and whether making business decisions on the basis of religious principles is a good or bad idea a priori. Free societies comprise an infinite array of experiments. Attenuating the experiments through force short-circuits the emergence of order and leaves us poorer–materially, spiritually, and socially–than we would otherwise be, and in no small part because we are using violence or the threat thereof to force others to act against their deeply-held beliefs.