After two disappointing Supreme Court decisions last week in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and Stormans v. Wiesman, it’s easy for supporters of religious freedom and the sanctity of life to be discouraged. But even as we hear these sad tidings, we must recall two things: first, that we are in a long-term fight, and second, that in the midst of these disappointments God continues to grant victories to keep the doors open for the Gospel, as we see in the Supreme Court decision in Zubik v. Burwell and its impact on the ongoing Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care.
The battles for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family are, by their very nature, long battles. A brief look at history reminds us that we did not get to this cultural place overnight; our opponents spent decades fighting for what looked like losing causes. The disheartening harvest we see being reaped in America was planted over seventy years ago, and we cannot expect to undo all of that quickly or easily.
We also must not overlook the victories God has given in the past few months, or minimize the influence of those victories. While we often wish for clear-cut, strongly worded legal triumphs, sometimes God chooses to work in subtler ways. Consider this example of God’s faithfulness in the midst of difficulty:
In May, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in the consolidated matter knowns as Zubik v. Burwell, in which ADF represented five Christian universities who objected to the Obamacare HHS mandate’s requirement that they provide access to abortifacients through their healthcare plans. This ruling was not the clear-cut victory that some of us wanted to see, but it was deeply encouraging: all eight Justices agreed to vacate the earlier rulings and to remand these cases back down to the lower courts, while ordering the federal government to find some other way to guarantee access to these objectionable medications without hijacking the healthcare plans of these pro-life Christian organizations. The Court also issued an injunction against the government, which means that the Christian colleges and organizations will be able to keep doing their ministry without being subjected to the crippling fines they were threatened with.
And we’ve already seen the impact of Zubik on current cases.
In California, the state’s Department of Managed Health Care issued a mandate that forces churches to pay for elective abortions in their health insurance plans. In practice, the department’s mandate goes even further than the federal mandate in Zubik, which has an exemption for churches and houses of worship. However, in principle it is simply an extension of a single conviction that is spreading quickly throughout America: namely, that Christian individuals and organizations must give up their deeply held beliefs, and must agree to support something that violates their consciences, as the price of participating in the public square.
In February, ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Skyline Wesleyan Church in California against the state government’s attempt to squelch freedom of conscience. Soon after, the state asked the court to throw out the church’s lawsuit. On June 21st, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Zubik, the California court rejected the state’s request to throw out the suit, and indicated that in light of the ruling in Zubik this was a matter that needed to be investigated more fully. This is a major triumph, because if the case had been thrown out, the California mandate would have been implicitly upheld. Now, however, the case will move forward, and the state will have to answer and defend its unlawful actions.
This may seem like a small victory as the first battle in what may be a long war in the courtroom, but it matters, and many more victories will accumulate as we persevere in this long fight to keep the door open for the Gospel.
Please be in prayer for our attorneys as they continue to defend religious liberty and freedom of conscience for Skyline Wesleyan Church and countless other Christians across America.