Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby continues religious liberty legacy
July 17, 2014
Religious liberty set another milestone in its long-running legacy when the United States Supreme Court ruled June 30 in favor of Hobby Lobby and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The 5–4 Supreme Court decision struck down a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act, providing protection against government mandates — like the contraceptive mandate — that violate the religious conscience of individually or family-owned businesses.
The victory reflects back on the history of religious liberty and the acts of the late George W. Truett, former pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, specifially his famous sermon on religious liberty.
The Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Washington in 1920, and with no scheduled activities on Sunday afternoon, May 16, the city’s Baptists asked Truett to present an address on religious liberty. Some 15,000 people were in attendance, including Supreme Court justices, presidential cabinet members, senators, congressmen and foreign ambassadors. Truett spoke for an hour and 15 minutes without notes or a microphone. His words became what one Baptist historian called “one of the most often quoted Baptist statements of religious liberty in the 20th century.”
“It is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience,” Truett said in his 1920 address, “and as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration but for absolute liberty.”
The basis for religious liberty is “the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ,” Truett said. The New Testament is Christ’s standard of faith and practice, and it emphasizes that each individual must approach God for himself or herself.
Free church, free state
“There can be no sponsors or deputies or proxies in such vital matter,” Truett said.
All human governments should grant religious liberty, he said, because the Bible implies that a free church in a free state is God’s will.
“The utterance of Jesus, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s’ is one of the most revolutionary and history-making utterances that ever fell from those lips divine,” Truett said.
“That utterance once and for all marked the divorcement of church and state. It marked a new era for the creeds and deeds of men. It was the sunrise gun of a new day, the echoes of which are to go on and on and on until in every land, whether great or small, the doctrine shall have absolute supremacy everywhere of a free church in a free state.”
Truett hailed religious liberty as a uniquely Baptist innovation.
“We are very happy for all our fellow religionists of every denomination and creed to have this splendid flower of religious liberty, but you will allow us to remind you that you got the seed in our Baptist garden,” he said.
O.S. Hawkins, pastor of First, Dallas, from 1993 to 1997, and current GuideStone Financial Resources president, said, “I think I have probably read every word [Truett] wrote, visited at length with those left who knew him best and had access to minutes of the church’s long history. And there is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Truett would have been in the forefront of those celebrating the Hobby Lobby victory.”
GuideStone has filed its own legal challenge to the abortion/contraceptive mandate, which still imposes objectionable requirements on certain religious non-profit organizations despite the Hobby Lobby ruling.
“Tolerance” meant something different to Truett than it does to 21st century secularists and pluralists, Hawkins said. “On the Capitol steps [Truett] declared, ‘Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a divine right. ... Toleration is a gift from men, while liberty is a gift from God.’ Today some are using ... [a] different dictionary,” Hawkins said.