We have written before about the West’s new official religion: utilitarian hedonism, which we call the “Church of Happy Moments” because its creed is clear, upbeat, and simple. It teaches that human life amounts to only this: “Suffering is worse than being happy, and being alive is better than being dead — except if it means that you will suffer.”
And this new church is not a tolerant one. Just at the moment when we most need the free agents of civil society to adhere to a higher vision of the human person, the agencies of government are restricting their freedom to do so. “Common Core” requirements are impinging on the liberty of parochial schools to set their own curricula. Discrimination lawsuits are punishing business owners who decline to cooperate with a new, state-imposed version of marriage. Increasing tax burdens made necessary by massive government deficits dry up the resources for private charity.
But worst of all, direct mandates that are not even conditioned on accepting government funding are being directed at private businesses and church-run agencies in the form of the Health and Human Services requirement that virtually all employers provide insurance coverage that pays for both contraceptives and drugs that induce abortions. This mandate came as no surprise to to small-government advocates, who warned that when one-sixth of a nation’s economy comes under the direct control of the federal government, subsidiarity must suffer.
A courageous group of religious institutions have initiated lawsuits to defend their freedom of action against this mandate, as have some private businesses. We would like to highlight one of these small businesses as heroes of subsidiarity: a family-owned firm that has risked everything in defense of its owners’ freedom of conscience.
Mary Anne and Christopher Yep are the proprietors of Chicago-based Triune Health Group, which they founded in 1990, and which employs almost a hundred full-time workers. As Crain’s Chicago Business reported, “The couple raised eight children and simultaneously built their business, starting from the basement of their home.”
In 2012, the Yeps were informed along with thousands of other business owners that they would have to provide medical insurance that covered contraception, sterilization, and the abortifacient “morning-after pill.” With their own limited resources, they decided to sue the federal government. The Yeps were able to attract support from other institutions of civil society, the Thomas More Society, Kevin Edward White and Associates, and the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project, which offered legal expertise.
“My stance on this issue is that we’re fighting for religious liberty for men and women,” Mary Anne told the National Catholic Register. “And that’s what was guaranteed to me as a woman in the Constitution,” she said. It is worth pointing out that Triune Health Care was voted in 2012 one of Chicago’s “best workplaces for women.” In their legal complaint, the Yeps request relief:
They believe that the inherent dignity, and indeed the inviolable sanctity, of each and every human being rests ultimately on the immutable truth that each person has been created in the image and likeness of God, before whom they stand as equals, endowed with inalienable rights. Consequently, they believe that the life of each and every human being must be protected, cherished, and even fostered from the moment of his or her conception until natural death, no matter whether that human being may be flawed or flawless, rich or poor, humble or exalted.
Christopher Yep toldLegatus Magazine, “Most people don’t understand what is going on. But it’s an argument that can be won in five minutes. Once people understand the HHS mandate, they can’t believe it and they can’t believe this is happening. We need to engage others. If the government is successful, they will force Catholics and Christian business people off the playing field and weaken our culture. It’s a battle we have to win.”
Indeed, it is crucial that citizens such as the Yeps preserve their freedom to follow their consciences. We cannot speak of living in a free society when an appointed official of the executive branch of government can, with the stroke of a pen, promulgate a regulation that compels religious believers to pay for medical procedures that they consider evil, on penalty of fines designed to bankrupt their businesses. The role of the federal government is not to impose a uniform standard of day-to-day conduct encompassing every aspect of human life upon our vast and diverse country, punishing dissenters with threats of fines or imprisonment.
The experience of national Prohibition laws should be enough to show us the costly consequences of making such an attempt: a massive loss of liberty, followed by widespread lawbreaking, and contempt for the rule of law. The courage of ordinary small-business owners such as the Yeps is all that stands between us and such an ugly outcome. But that is fitting: subsidiarity asserts that power flows from the bottom up, and it has always been best protected by grass-roots activists and doggedly independent citizens.
Defenders of the HHS mandate have claimed that because women alone can become pregnant, refusal to cover “reproductive services” (including those that prevent or abort pregnancies) amounts to unconstitutional discrimination between the sexes, and that opposition to the mandate is part of a Republican “war on women.” More ominously, some advocates have countered the religious liberty argument offered by churches and believers with a novel interpretation of the Constitution’s First Amendment.
These revisionists have claimed that what the Constitution really protects is merely “freedom of worship,” and not the full exercise of freedom of conscience in the course of daily decision-making. Bolstered by Supreme Court decisions refusing the right of certain Indian tribes to use peyote as part of spiritual ceremonies, “freedom of worship” advocates argue that the religious motivations of a citizen’s behavior are no more protected than any other arbitrary reasons why someone would make a decision.
This narrow right to religious rites, but not to the practice of a fully religious lifestyle, resembles nothing if not the condition of dhimmitude, the second-class status granted to non-Muslim monotheists in Islamic states, where Christians are also free to worship (often in unmarked buildings with neither towers nor bells), but must accept their subordination in every area of life to the dominant creed.
What we face in America is something a bit similar: the “soft” dhimmitude of secularism.
Jason JonesandJohn Zmirakare co-authors of the forthcoming The Race to Save Our Century: How Modern Man Embraced Subhumanism and the Great Campaign to Build a Culture of Life, from which this article has been adapted. This piece marks the third annual Fortnight for Freedom, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.