On Choosing Books: Reading from the Other Side

stack_of_booksIt’s that time of year again when I have to submit book requests to our campus bookstore for the upcoming semester (technically, it is past time, but the bookstore is always gracious to those of us who miss the initial deadline). For many of my classes, I have developed a standard list of books that I revisit every couple of years to see if there are any better ones. However, each of the last few semesters, I have taught at least one class that is new to my teaching repertoire. This fall it will be Selected Issues in Life and Death—basically a class dealing with various cultural issues of life and death, such as abortion, euthanasia, and human genetic engineering.

When selecting books for this class, I have decided to do something a little different. I have chosen a significant text edited by someone with whom I ardently disagree on these issues. My goal is to have students interact with and engage the best thinkers on the other side of the debate.

I generally survey fellow ethics colleagues at other seminaries before choosing books for new classes just to see if I am missing a key text. While interacting with my PhD mentor on my selection of texts for this class, I mentioned the book I planned to use from the other side of the debate and told him the names of some of the contributors. His response was priceless. He said, “I really like the names you’ve listed for your purposes. [Author X] is scary. Thus a good read.”

For most of my academic career, I have heard Dr. Paige Patterson (president of my seminary) say that students need to know the arguments of the best thinkers who disagree with our positions. My approach to this in the past has been to bring in their works and read/present selections to the students in class. This is the first time I have made a concerted effort to ask my students to buy and read something so diametrically opposed to a Christian perspective on an ethical issue.

By the end of this class, my students will understand the arguments of those who want to promote abortion at any cost, euthanize the weak and poor, and produce designer babies. With appropriate guidance from their professor, I hope they will also be able to critique and combat those arguments.

Far too often Christians find themselves wrapped in their bubble of Christian books and Christian arguments hearing tales of what people on the outside believe. I want my students to read firsthand what people outside our Christian bubble think. That is the only way we can truly know how to engage the culture.

The task will not be easy, but it should be a fun ride. As one of my former professors used to say, “Strap on your helmets, boys, we’re going to war.”

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For those of you wanting to know, the book I chose is Bioethics: An Anthology edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer. Singer is famous for believing that humans have no right to life until at least 6–12 months in age (but possibly as late as 3 years). At the same time, he believes we could control the population by euthanizing all the elderly and infirm. And his is not the most extreme view in the book.

Hobby Lobby Wins Religious Freedom Victory

Supreme_Court_US_2010*Co-authored with Trey Dimsdale

In the highly anticipated decision of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court issued a victory to closely held for-profit corporations on the issue of religious liberty. While the decision was not as sweeping as some may have wanted—or as Justice Ginsburg claimed in her dissent—the Court’s decision upheld the idea that Americans need not check their right to religious liberty at the door when they enter the business world.

At issue for the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel, and the Hahn family, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, was the fact that the government compelled them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs by providing abortifacient birth control drugs and devices to their employees as part of their employer-provided healthcare plans. The Greens and Hahns specifically believe that life begins at conception and any measure that extinguishes the life of a human embryo is a violation of that belief. As such, the Health and Human Services birth control mandate would cause them to violate their consciences.

One of the key issues before the Court was whether or not for-profit corporations fit the legal definition of a person for the sake of exercising religious liberty. In the summary of their decision, the majority of the Court noted, “Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”

In a further explanation of this protection, the Court noted the Third Circuit’s argument that for-profit corporations “do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” In response to this conclusion, the Court stated, “All of this is true—but quite beside the point. Corporations, ‘separate and apart from’ the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.”

In making these statements, the Supreme Court tied the actions of closely held for-profit corporations directly to the actions and beliefs of their owners. Specifically, the Hahns and Greens can exercise their belief that life begins at conception through excluding certain types of birth control from their insurance plans.

The heart of this decision is in the Court’s determination that a corporation is a “person” under the meaning of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA establishes a very specific test which federal courts must apply in cases that deal with government action that infringes on a person’s free exercise of religion. HHS argued, and at least one appellate court agreed, that corporations are not “persons” capable of exercising religion. In that case, the RFRA would not apply to the issue before the Court. The Supreme Court, however, held that (in at least the case of closely held corporations), corporations areentitled to the protections offered by RFRA. The fact that corporations are not capable of participating in religious activities is irrelevant. In short, the Supreme Court recognizes that Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties are legitimate vehicles for the exercise and expression of their owners’ religious convictions.

This is a clear victory for business owners who believe that life begins at conception and that the HHS mandate violates such a belief. In keeping with the First Amendment and RFRA, owners of closely held corporations can exclude abortifacient birth control measures from their healthcare plans.

A second issue presented in the Court’s decision is that the government cannot determine certain religious beliefs are invalid because they do not like them. The Court argues, “Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question [i.e., that providing these birth control measures enables the commission of an immoral act], HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.” Thus, HHS claimed it had the right to determine if the Greens and Hahns held a valid religious belief. The Court clearly held that is not the job of the government. The majority went on to say, “Similarly, in these cases, the Hahns and Greens and their companies sincerely believe that providing the insurance coverage demanded by the HHS regulations lies on the forbidden side of the line, and it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial. Instead, our ‘narrow function . . . in this context is to determine’ whether the line drawn reflects ‘an honest conviction,’ . . . and there is no dispute that it does.”

If the government had its way, the Court argued that it could have excluded religious owners from the business world. According to the government’s argument, no insurance coverage mandate would have violated the RFRA, including third-trimester abortions and assisted suicide. The Court responded, “The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage, and thus the HHS would effectively exclude these people from full participation in the economic life of the Nation.” Thankfully, the Court disagreed.

What does this mean for Christian business owners? Specifically related to the HHS mandate, owners of closely held corporations cannot be compelled to provide abortion-inducing drugs and devices as part of their healthcare plans. The Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is only applicable to closely held corporations. These are businesses which are organized under state law as corporations but are owned by a small number of individual shareholders. The companies involved in this case are all closely held, family-owned businesses. This is different from publicly held corporations that may have any number of shareholders who have invested money in the business.

Many people in our churches are likely to be part of such businesses. While they may not always have the number of employees that require mandatory health insurance coverage, there is potential that their businesses could grow to that point just as Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

This case could also foreshadow how the Court may decide other related cases, such as the cases involving the Little Sisters of the Poor and religious educational institutions. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions could extend similar religious freedom protections and exemptions to other types of organizations that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby does not.

We can rejoice in today’s victory for the Greens and Hahns, but there is still much work to be done in protecting religious liberty for people of faith in the marketplace.

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Trey Dimsdale, J.D., serves as Research Fellow in Law and Public Policy for the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also one of my Ph.D. students in ethics.

Abortion and Self-Ownership

Where does the right of self-ownership come from? Is the pro-abortion argument that a woman can do whatever she wishes with her body actually grounded in any theological or philosophical ideas? How does argument relate to the supposed right to abortion in the United States?

Canon & Culture, a project of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, published a piece I wrote on the issue of abortion and self-ownership. Here is an excerpt:

Last July I boarded a bus and drove down to Austin for a pro-life rally on the steps of the Texas State Capitol. We arrived more than an hour before the scheduled start time of the rally, so I had the opportunity to take in my surroundings and observe the arguments being made by the abortion-rights protestors. In what was often crass language, the abortion-rights argument being made at the Capitol that day essentially boiled down to one point—a woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body. This can be described as a right to privacy based upon self-ownership.

Since this right is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, where does it find its origin? In contemporary jurisprudence, the right to do what you want with your own body (i.e., the right to privacy) is drawn from the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Bill of Rights according to Griswold v. Connecticut and out of the 14th Amendment’s restriction on the state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Applied to the abortion issue, these ideas regarding the right to privacy form the foundation of the Roe v. Wade decision that opened the door for abortion on demand. However, the supposed “right to privacy” found in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment still does not make self-ownership clear.

Even though most abortion-rights proponents do not make the explicit connection, the right of self-ownership is typically attributed to the work of John Locke in The Second Treatise of Government. Locke writes, “Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself” (V.27). There is no doubt that John Locke’s work was very influential upon the Founders of the United States, and language from the Second Treatise appears directly in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However, are we correct in inferring a right to self-ownership of our bodies from Locke?

You can read the rest of the article here.

*You may notice that this article is a little more academic than what I usually post on my website, but that is the purpose of Canon & Culture. Their purpose is “to help build and strengthen the church’s social, ethical, and moral witness by providing thoughtful content from leading thinkers that inspires a rising generation of evangelicals to think Christianly about the public square and the common good.”

Are Corporations People Too?: Hobby Lobby and Religious Liberty

Supreme_Court_US_2010Who would have ever imagined that a craft store chain owned by a Christian family would be at the center of a Supreme Court case about sexuality, abortifacient drugs, the role of corporations, and religious liberty? Oral arguments were heard today in the Supreme Court case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. The central point of the case is whether or not the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian bookstores, has the right to exercise their religious freedom in opting out of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring employer-provided health plans to offer emergency birth control drugs at no charge to their employees. The Greens have objected on religious grounds that such emergency birth control options are tantamount to abortion and that providing abortion-inducing drugs is a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs.

Trying to predict what the Supreme Court will decide is an exercise in futility, so I will not go down that road. However, I do want to highlight a few interesting notes from today’s oral arguments.

The first is not all that surprising (and possibly not all that interesting)—the high court appears divided. From the best one can tell from the questioning, the Supreme Court is split 4-4 with Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor apparently siding with the government and Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito leaning towards Hobby Lobby. This leaves Justice Anthony Kennedy as the deciding vote in an otherwise divided Court. This is familiar territory for the current version of the Supreme Court.

The second item of note is that the role of a corporation seems to be a big question. Some of the liberal justices seemed to imply that corporations should simply be able to pick up the tab for the healthcare expenses or fees for not providing healthcare with no impact on the business or the economy. They did not seem to take into account that these healthcare costs have to be paid by someone and that the costs would most likely be passed along to the customer. Justices Kagan and Sotomayor also pressed Paul Clement, the attorney arguing for Hobby Lobby, about whether corporations could opt out of other healthcare options for their employees. Lyle Denniston reports that they “suggested that if corporations gain an exemption from having to provide birth-control services for their female employees, then the next complaint would be about vaccinations, blood transfusions, and a whole host of other medical and non-medical services that a company or its owners might find religiously objectionable.”

On the other hand, Justice Alito pushed back against Solicitor General Donald Verrilli regarding the purpose of corporations. He asked the Solicitor General if the only purpose of corporations was to “maximize profits.” If the object is only to maximize profits, then corporations would have no other rights. However, if corporations serve other purposes, then they might have the right to protection under the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment.

The third item is the most interesting development in my opinion. It relates to the rights of a corporation to make a claim regarding discrimination. The government argued that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby have no standing to file a claim against the government based on religious discrimination. On the surface this seems to make sense because corporations are not churches, nor are they individuals with religious beliefs. However, the government has already held that corporations can file claims based on racial discrimination. In the same sense, corporations are not individuals of a particular race or ethnicity. The racial discrimination claims have typically been based on the race and ethnicity of the owners.

Applying the same standard to the religious freedom aspect of the Hobby Lobby case, it would appear that the Green family’s deeply held religious beliefs (and clear articulation of those beliefs in company documents) would provide the corporation with the same protections as those guaranteed to them as individuals. This argument could prove to be central in the upcoming decision of the Court.

Once again, we will be left to wait for months until hearing the decision of the Supreme Court that will most likely come in June. Until then, it is futile to speculate what the Court will decide. However, there is one thing that we can do. We can pray for the justices of the Supreme Court that God would grant them wisdom in judging these matters. We should pray for godly wisdom that they would rule according to God’s will. We should pray that they would value life in the way that God values life—seeing those in the womb as no different than a full-grown adult (Psalm 139:13–16).

I urge you to join me in prayer for John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The future of religious liberty in the United States is in their hands.
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Lyle Denniston, “Argument recap: One hearing, two dramas,” SCOTUSblog, March 25, 2014.

Derrick Morgan, Hans von Spakovsky, and Elizabeth Slattery, “How the Supreme Court Justices Reacted to Today’s Hobby Lobby Arguments,” The Foundry, March 25, 2014.

Ilya Shapiro, “Is There No Alternative to Forcing People to Violate Their Religious Beliefs?” Cato Institute, March 25, 2014.

Good Reading: The Culture of Death Bares its Teeth

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted an interesting article regarding a recent admission by Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, regarding her belief about when life begins. Richards was interviewed on Fusion TV and was asked when she believes that life begins. After dodging the question initially, Richards stated:

For me, I’m the mother of three children. For me, life began when I delivered them. They’ve been probably the most important thing in my life ever since. But that was my own personal decision.

Mohler then comments on her admission by stating:

So life begins at delivery. Until then, no life, no dignity, no sanctity at all. This defies any moral sense, but it also defies modern biology. Cecile Richards did not try to argue the now infamous trimester argument of Roe v. Wade or a point of viability or any other argument about fetal development. As her comment makes clear, in her worldview the fetus doesn’t matter at all.

She identified her three children as “probably the most important thing in my life” since their delivery. Were they nothing to her in her womb? Each of those three precious children was precious in the womb — at every point of development.

Candid admissions of a worldview like this one are rare, but Cecile Richards’ statement perfectly explains her advocacy of abortion at any time for any reason. In her interview the Culture of Death bares its teeth.

Mohler’s analysis is helpful, and this short article is well worth your time. Read the entire article here.

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Albert Mohler, “The Culture of Death Bares its Teeth: Planned Parenthood Leader Says Life Begins at Delivery,” AlbertMohler.com, March 3, 2014.

Open Letter to Texas State Senator Wendy Davis

Below you will find the letter I sent to Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) regarding her filibuster of SB 5. I live in Senator Davis’ district and felt it necessary to express my disappointment to her. I have already sent a copy of this letter to her official state senate email account and to her campaign email.

SB 5 was a bill under consideration by the Texas Senate that would place various restrictions on abortion, including requiring abortion clinics to meet the medical standards of surgery centers, requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles, and banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. You can read more about the bill and the filibuster here.

Please feel free to copy and paste any of this letter in your own letter to Senator Davis. Her official Texas Senate page is here, and her campaign page is www.wendydavisforsenate.com.

Dear Senator Davis:

As a registered voter in your state senate district, I want to express my disappointment in your behavior on June 25 regarding SB 5. Your filibuster attempt of nearly 11 hours demonstrates only a concern for your own interests and not the interests of the state of Texas or your constituents in Fort Worth.

As Texans, we pride ourselves in protecting the innocent, but your political maneuver demonstrates that you have no concern for the innocent ones most in need of protection—unborn children. The supposed rights of one individual should never trump the rights of another individual, even if that one cannot speak for himself/herself.

Your platitudes about protecting women’s health fall flat in light of the atrocities revealed in abortion clinics in Houston and Philadelphia in recent months. If you were truly concerned about women’s health, you would welcome strict surgical standards for abortion clinics so that no woman would ever be the victim of another Kermit Gosnell.

Finally, you and your colleagues disrespected the rule of law in the senate chamber last night as the gallery was encouraged to continue their disorderly conduct. Our own local paper described the situation with the phrase “Chaos reigns.” You and your colleagues should have personally called on the gallery to cease their disruptive behavior. If the tables were turned, you would decry the situation as outrageous.

Senator Davis, you have disappointed Texans with your behavior. You have disrespected the rule of law. You have ignored the rights of the unborn. I call on you to reverse course, support a special session of the Texas legislature, and allow SB 5 to come to a vote so that the representatives of the entire state of Texas may decide its fate.

Sincerely,

Evan Lenow

Murder or Abortion: What’s the Difference?

CNN reported on a tragic story about a woman whose boyfriend tricked her into taking an abortion-inducing drug after she told him she was pregnant. The boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, is now facing first-degree murder charges for killing the unborn child. Welden told his girlfriend that his father, a doctor, had prescribed her an antibiotic for an infection. In reality, Welden gave her an abortion-inducing drug, and the pregnancy was terminated.

This story is undoubtedly tragic, and Welden deserves to face punishment for first-degree murder. However, the undercurrent of this story is working against the tide of abortion-rights advocates. Note with me the inconsistency of the logic of our laws and of abortion advocates.

The pregnancy of Remee Lee was terminated by her boyfriend, the supposed father of the child. Since it was against the will of the mother, Welden is being charged with first-degree murder. However, if Lee had terminated the pregnancy herself, it would have been perfectly legal and perhaps even applauded by abortion advocates. Even if the abortion had been against the will of the father, the mother would have been within her legal rights to have an abortion.

Why is this a problem? The charge of first-degree murder implies the pre-meditated killing of innocent human life. It implies value in the life that is lost. In this case, it is the life of an unborn child.

What makes an abortion elected by the mother any different? The charge of first-degree murder cannot be levied against Welden for any physical harm incurred by Ms. Lee. Instead, it is directly centered upon the loss of life for the baby. The attorneys may even argue that the life was taken against the will and rights of the unborn child. In the same way, abortions performed according to the will of the mother take the life of an unborn child against his/her will and rights. Why is it murder for the boyfriend to induce an abortion and not when a woman chooses it on her own?

The inconsistency is glaring but unspoken in our culture.