‘It’s a legal conflict that goes to the heart of what it means to be free’
Suppose for a moment that President Joe Biden wakes up tomorrow morning and decides that stealing isn’t wrong. Thus persuaded, he has the Federal Bureau of Investigation post on its website that stealing is now officially okay – not only legal, but henceforth required by law.
That being the case, the doors and windows of homes and businesses are to remain unlocked. Security systems are to be shut down. Law enforcement officers are not only forbidden to interfere in robberies and burglaries, but are in fact expected to take willing part in them – and to seize every opportunity to encourage people in their community to steal.
Of course, inevitably, a few old sticks-in-the-mud will hold to the conviction that stealing is wrong. Maybe they’ve seen the economic impact or realize how easily people could begin losing items they cherish and resources on which they depend.
Maybe they just take seriously their religious convictions and what their parents and grandparents taught them.
It doesn’t matter. The federal government has now decided what is orthodox and unorthodox, and people are expected to quietly submit their deepest religious beliefs, common sense, and better judgment to its moral authority.
Yes, it’s a ludicrous scenario. But for religious employers and healthcare providers, it is one not far removed from the aggressive position this administration is taking on policies that have upended religious, legal, and historical norms and reinterpreted sex to include gender identity in federal laws.
On President Biden’s first day in office, one of the first things he did was sign an executive order instructing federal agencies to reinterpret “sex” in Title IX and other statutes to include gender identity. That reinterpretation had a massive and cascading effect and led to two federal mandates directly affecting religious employers and health care providers.
The first requires most of these employers – including Christian nonprofits and for-profits – to provide insurance coverage for gender transition surgeries, procedures, affirmative counseling, and other treatments. The second compels most medical professionals to provide those services, even in violation of their own ethical concerns and personal religious beliefs.
Remarkably, these mandates did not benefit from congressional debate or formal legislative procedure. Nor did the president notify or solicit comments or feedback from a spectrum of religious leaders or even the general public. He simply directed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services to unilaterally redefine sex. They did so, and immediately his administration’s moral impulse became the perceived law of the land.
If you happen to be one who brings sincere religious convictions to debates about gender identity, it’s disturbing to find suddenly that the deepest beliefs you hold are forfeit to government overreach.
Make no mistake, the cost of those beliefs comes high. Not only do the mandates direct nearly all private and religious employers to cover the exorbitant costs of insurance coverage for procedures that conflict with their conscience and religious beliefs, they require virtually all medical professionals to talk positively about procedures that these professionals may not actually consider to be in their patients’ best interest. What’s more, the mandate even compels some to perform procedures they believe do egregious physical harm on those who look to them for medical care.
That’s a lot to ask of any citizen in a country founded on religious liberty and freedom of speech. Indeed, it’s far too much. Which is why attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of my organization, the Christian Employers Alliance.
The legal challenge will concentrate on whether religious employers who decline to provide insurance coverage for controversial gender transition procedures are in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which says employers can’t discriminate on the basis of sex) – and whether religious health care providers who decline to perform and affirm those procedures are in violation of the Affordable Care Act (which says certain healthcare providers can’t discriminate on the basis of sex).
The current administration is forcing the idea that those who have religious convictions cannot live in alignment with those beliefs if it goes against the radical gender identity ideology. Compelling religious people to violate their personal faith and professional ethics is in itself a flagrant exercise in religious discrimination and coercion – one prohibited by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, if not the Constitution itself.
It’s a legal conflict that goes to the heart of what it means to be free, what it means to hold to one’s own moral conscience and religious convictions, and even against the dictates of the government itself. In a nation so long dedicated to the priority of personal liberty, that shouldn’t be a difficult question to resolve.
Shannon O. Royce is president of the Christian Employers Alliance.