These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote Thomas Paine in “The Crisis” on Dec. 23, 1776.
He was recruiting citizens to fight for the Creator-endowed unalienable rights of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence. Just over 12 years later, on March 4, 1789, Congress adopted the Bill of Rights as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution to ensure these rights for posterity.
The first line of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Tension between this freedom and the others established in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights has been with us since the beginning. Such tension confronts us today.
At the national level, the mandate in Obamacare that businesses provide for contraceptives in their insurance plans is at the forefront. Business owners whose religious views proscribe contraception see this as an infringement on their freedom of religion. This issue will be taken up by the Supreme Court this month.
At the state level, all sorts of issues pop up from Christmas and Ten Commandment displays and prayer in schools and on public properties to limits on abortion clinics and definitions of marriage. Now comes our Legislature with a new issue.
Sen. Phillip Gandy of Waynesboro introduced and the Senate passed unanimously a bill to create the “Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Concerns immediately arose that the bill was an attempt similar to one in Arizona to allow businesses to deny service to gay customers.
Not so, said Gandy. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this and people are confusing it with the Arizona law. What mine does is already law in Arizona and elsewhere,” he said. “It was not intended to discriminate against anybody.”
Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton, chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee said, “I think the bill could be fixed.”
Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed Arizona’s bill after the major business and sports leaders spoke against it. “We are troubled by any legislation that could be interpreted to permit discrimination against a particular group of people in the marketplace,” read a letter submitted by one such group.
Gipson’s committee has recommended changes, endorsed by the Mississippi Economic Council, to make the bill more like the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993, that focuses on government actions not business actions.
Ironically, that federal act is being cited by businesses challenging the Obamacare contraceptive requirement.
Friends, these issues are just facets of the real tension – the relentless tide of government and court expansion of individual rights to the detriment of conservative Christian beliefs.
A deist, Paine would say, “these are the times that try Christian’s souls.”
Bill Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.