Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Response to Criticism of J. Herbert Nelson's Hobby Lobby Statement

The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness (OPW) is encouraged by the diverse dialogue that is occurring in response to the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson’s statement with respect to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling. The OPW gives thanks for the words of support as well as the expressions of disagreement.  It is through dialogue and engagement that we may begin to break down the walls of ideology and see Christ in and through each other.

Much of the criticism of Rev. Nelson’s statement has been to point out his lack of specificity as to the particular contraceptives challenged in the Hobby Lobby case. Access to reproductive health care is an essential human right affirmed by Presbyterian General Assemblies, many of which have reaffirmed the historic Presbyterian commitment to accessible, comprehensive health care that should be equal, accessible, affordable, and high quality for all persons. (214th General Assembly, Minutes, 2002, p.634)

But more than a ruling related to available contraception, Rev. Nelson and the Office of Public Witness wished to express in his statement a concern about religious liberty. The Hobby Lobby decision establishes a precedent that sets the conscience of employers over and above the conscience of workers. Further, the decision grants first amendment liberties to for-profit corporations, which, no matter how closely they are held, are not people.  Allowing corporations, whose primary function is profit, the freedom to impose religious values on employees is fundamentally un-American and contrary to the values upon which this nation was founded.

As always, the Office of Public Witness represents the actions approved by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly and its predecessor bodies, which have affirmed that God Alone is Lord of Conscience and that individuals must make decisions in personal and public life that are consistent with their own values, without seeking to coerce others. National policy that allows employers and the owners of corporations to coerce employees with respect to their moral decisions undermines our churches and the nation.

The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, is Director for Public Witness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC.