The Obama administration is arguing that Tyndale House Publishers, a Christian publisher of Bibles and ministry material, is not religious enough to qualify for an exemption to the contraception mandate — which includes drugs many Christian groups say are abortifacients.
The First Amendment does not make a distinction between for-profit and non-profit religious groups: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .” The non-profit category is a government invention that only means that individuals do not benefit from any profits of the company. It’s obvious that the new healthcare law is a prohibition on “the free exercise” or religion provision.
So what’s the proper response? There’s the legal remedy. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing Tyndale. Officials at ADF “called the rule an unconstitutional and arbitrary threat to religious freedom.” The First Amendment give us the constitutional right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The Bible offers examples of confronting government officials that abuse their authority and power. The prophet Nathan challenged King David (2 Sam. 12). Daniel opposed the king’s law (Dan. 6). John the Baptist rebuked King Herod for his sexual sins (Matt. 14:3–5). Paul used his Roman citizenship to challenge the Roman Empire (Acts 22:25–30) and even appealed to Caesar (25:11; 28:19).
If there is no legal remedy, then what can organizations like Tyndale do? Must they comply? Let’s consider some biblical material on the subject. There is Peter’s argument against religious repression: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; also see 4:19–20 and 1 Cor. 9:16).
“It is precisely because the state is a divine1 institution that its authority is not absolute. . . . Once government oversteps those bounds — when it interferes with the life of the church or demands compliance with unjust laws, for example — it exceeds its God-ordained boundaries.”2
The Bible includes examples of faithful believers who resisted claims by civil magistrates to obey unjust laws if those laws required a Christian to disobey a direct command from God.
The Hebrew midwives were commanded by “the king of Egypt” to put to death all the male children being born to the Hebrew women (Ex. 1:15–16). The Hebrew midwives disobeyed the edict of the king: “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (1:17). The midwives had to make a choice. Did God’s law overrule the command of a king, even “the king of Egypt”? God shows His approval of their actions: “So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them” (1:20–21).
It’s no wonder that King James I, whose name is associated with a later popular translation of the Bible, the Authorized or King James Version (1611), disliked the Geneva Bible (1560) because of the specific nature of some of its notes. “The later vilification of marginal notes,” David Daniell writes in his history of the English Bible, “especially by the politicians controlling King James in the early 1600s, was from fear of the working of this sovereign God in places outside the fence of what was narrowly understood as the only apostolic Christianity.”3
King James expressly disliked the way the notes condemned rulers who acted contrary to God’s Word. For example, a marginal note for Exodus 1:19 stated that the Hebrew midwives were correct to disobey the Egyptian king’s order to kill the Hebrew babies. The Geneva Bible’s note on 1:22 states, “When tyrants cannot prevail by craft, they burst forth into open rage.”King James reasoned that if it was legitimate to oppose a ruler on one decree, then it was legitimate to oppose him on others. This is why King James professed, “I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is worst.”4
Jochebed, Moses’ mother, also disobeyed the edict of the king by hiding Moses and later creating a way of escape for him so he would not be murdered by the king’s army:
“But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it, and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile” (Ex. 2:3).
Jochebed even deceived Pharaoh’s daughter into believing that she, Jochebed, was in no way related to the child (2:7–9). There is no indication that Jochebed took the wrong action.
The note on this text in the Geneva Bible reads: “Committing him to the providence of God, whom she could not keep from the rage of the tyrant.” Notice Pharaoh is described as a “tyrant.”
In 1982, a Juvenile Court judge, the Honorable Randall J. Hekman, “in direct opposition to the law of the land, which said women cannot be denied an abortion,” refused to grant permission for a pregnant thirteen-year-old to obtain an abortion. Was he wrong? His decision parallels that of the midwives who refused to follow the directive of the king of Egypt. In a letter to the editor of a Grand Rapids, Michigan, newspaper, Judge Hekman explained why he refused to grant the abortion to the thirteen-year-old:
“What if the law requires a judge to order the execution of a person known to be totally innocent? What if a judge is required by law to order Jewish people to concentration camps or gas chambers because the law says that Jews are non-persons?. . .
“Ten short years ago, a judge in Michigan would be guilty of a felony crime if he encouraged, much less ordered that a pregnant girl obtain an abortion. Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that all state laws making abortion a crime were unconstitutional. In one day, that which had been a reprehensible crime became a sacred right protected by the Constitution itself.”5
Randy Alcorn wrote that Judge Hekman” was severely criticized in the press and by judicial colleagues. The child is now in grade school and is presumably more supportive of the judge’s decision!”6 That was more than 20 years. She probably has children of her own
Tyndale Publishing Company has both the Bible and history on its side.
- The author is using the word ‘divine’ to mean ‘divinely ordained.’ [↩]
- H. Wayne House, “The Christian’s Duty of Civil Disobedience to the Government: Contemporary Struggles Between Christians and the State,” The Christian and American Law: Christianity’s Impact on America’s Founding Documents and Future Direction, ed. H. Wayne House (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 149. [↩]
- David Daniell, The Bible in English: Its History and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 309. [↩]
- Daniel J. Ford, In the Name of God, Amen: Rediscovering Biblical and Historical Covenants (St. Louis, MO: Lex Rex Publishing, 2003), 41 [↩]
- Judge Randall Hekman, “Letter to the Editor,” Grand Rapids Press (November 19, 1982). Quoted in Randy C. Alcorn, Is Rescuing Right?: Breaking the Law to Save the Unborn (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 79-80. [↩]
- Alcorn, Is Rescuing Right?, 79. [↩]