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The Problem with the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) for Churches….

What follows is a vast oversimplification of a very complex issue but such is the nature of blogs. After two years of court cases, PR, and media scrutiny, the nation is almost evenly divided over the signature legislation of President Obama. There are issues contained therein that make for strange political bedfellows, such as government overreach, commerce clause of the constitution, immigrant’s rights to healthcare, etc. Many men and women much smarter than me are championing their causes on both sides of this divisive issue and my opinion is largely irrelevant. However, for me and the people whom I serve, there are two critical and conflicting issues that need to be resolved.

The first of these is the understanding among Christians that it is inherent to our faith to care for the sick. Since its inception, Christianity has borne as one of its core tenants that to minister to the needy is the equivalent of ministering to Jesus (Matthew 25). In essence, real worship is to care for those who cannot care for themselves. The “how” of that is at the core of this debate, and it causes Christians to align on both sides, depending on their understanding of how that should be done and whether the responsibility lies in the hands of the church or the state. As a member of the religious right (I would rather be  called that than the religious wrong I guess.), I am convinced this assignment belongs to the church but in order for the church to do it at a local level, the government has to relax regulation and lower taxes. It is probably never going to happen and since that ship has sailed, this debate is more philosophical than practical.

However, the second issue that Christians need to see resolved is vastly more important. Included in the massive piece of legislation that is “Obamacare,” is a couple of pages that define who is a church in America for the purpose of allowing a religious exemption. For the first time, there is Supreme Court approved case law that allows the government to determine if your religious practices are in fact, religious. (Don’t panic yet, there may be good news on that front in the next couple of years.) The law states you are a qualifying church if:

● “The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization”;

●  “The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization”;

●  “The organization primarily serves persons who share the religious tenets of the organization”; and

●  “The organization is a nonprofit organization as described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.”

Here is what that means to Baptists. If we employ someone who is not Baptist, we are not a qualifying religious organization. If we serve people who are not Baptist, we are not a qualifying religious organization. Thus, a weekday school operated by a church or a high school or hospital operated by a denomination, would have to provide medical services contrary to their convictions if they did not limit their clients and students to Baptists. The law fails to acknowledge that for Christians, our service to the community, through education, healthcare, and benevolent ministries, is not done because THEY are Baptist, but is done because WE are Baptist. Thus to employ people and serve people who are not Christian is part of our mandate to advance His Kingdom. In effect, this service is our worship and should be exempt even if the employee or one served does not share our faith.

Lest this get too long, let me tell you the problem with that and what is on the horizon:

First, the problem. If this stands, it will be used in the future as case law that allows the government to define who is a religious organization in an ever tightening way and what convictions are legitimate and thus protected. Already, it is being applied selectively, granting the Amish an exemption, which they should, and denying the Catholics, which they shouldn’t. The government has always taken a wide berth around such issues, due to their reluctance to even appear to cross the first amendment line concerning the establishment of religion. This president and the congress that passed this bill has shown no such reluctance. That the Supreme Court has let it stand is a dangerous first step down a slippery slope.

The good news for us is that even in letting the entire act stand, the individual opinions of the justices of the Supreme Court indicated they are open to hearing challenges to various components of the law, including an indication by Justice Ginsberg, that she is uncomfortable with the religious exemption section. She typically is not one we look to for conservative causes and so we should be encouraged that this typically 5-4 conservative court will revisit this soon. Currently, there are dozens of cases winding their way through the district and circuit courts that will give them an opportunity to tackle this issue. One of the most promising seems to be the University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius. It will probably take a couple of years for it to wind through the system, and there will be much political theatre between here and there, but keep your eye on that one.

As conservative people of faith, we owe it to ourselves to read and understand the nuances of this debate and not let our opinions be dictated by CNN or Fox, depending on our bent. Thoughts anyone?

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