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The LA Times blog referred to my friend Ben Mitchell and his fellow panelists at the hearing on the HHS mandate as “hyperbolic.”  Mitchell, in particular, employed Roger Williams’ famous comparison of violations of religious liberty with “the rape of the soul.”

It is interesting to note that religious people, of a variety of persuasions, tend to naturally understand how serious a problem the HHS mandate presents.  What the department did, deliberately and with full knowledge of the consequences, was to create a very real and urgent crisis for institutions with a religious identity (especially the Catholic ones).  We could call this kind of crisis a “God and Caesar crisis” in which an individual or a community must choose between obeying God or obeying the coercive force of government.  ”Rape” is not an absurd metaphor to employ when we are talking about the use of raw power to force an action against conviction.

Now, it is obvious that religious belief cannot command a blank check, but the old standard was essentially that religious belief (and action) would remain undisturbed as long as it did not pose a threat to the peace and safety of the community.  It should be obvious that declining to fund contraceptives in an insurance policy is far from an affirmative threat to either peace or safety.  After all, there are many low cost ways to obtain contraceptives and no one is forced to work for a religious employer.  The coercion being employed is what is hyperbolic.  No one should be forced into a God and Caesar crisis with so little regard for the alternatives and so little regard for conscience.

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