by Alfred Kentigern Siewers
On a quiet summer day in rural central Pennsylvania it is hard to imagine that the small factory across from the lot where we are building our temple would have its fate decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC today.
Conestoga Wood Specialties, owned by a Mennonite family, along with better-known Hobby Lobby, was the focus of today’s final Supreme Court decision for this season.
The case centered on whether companies because of their owners’ religious beliefs could opt out of government-required abortifacient contraceptive insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or face crippling fines that would have forced Conestoga out of business.
Every week for months during Liturgy, around the corner from the plant, at the temporary house church where we meet, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit has prayed for those defending the sanctity of life through civil disobedience, keeping Conestoga in particular in prayer. The company has a reputation as a good neighbor and of treating its employees well, but because of the religious beliefs of its owners faced closure as a result of penalties for not adhering to the ACA provisions under dispute.
But the Court decision today not only helped keep Conestoga open, but provides a bit of legal breathing space in “post-Christian” American politics for traditionalists concerned with an emerging array of issues also of concern to Orthodox Christians, from abortion to marriage…
Today’s decision offers some partial relief for concerns about government action toward traditional faith communities in the U.S., but no salvation from an Orthodox perspective… Orthodox Christians aware of their own history would do well to do some summer reading in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and the recently published English translation of Ivan Sokolov’s The Church of Constantinople in the Nineteenth Century, which both illustrate graphically the past sufferings of the Church in antagonistic cultures, and the salvific power of the witness of martyrs.
Thankfully we haven’t reached anywhere near that point in the U.S. yet, but despite today’s decision, the trajectory of our culture doesn’t offer grounds for optimism. The decision itself is a reflection of that trajectory, and the severe persecutions faced by many Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and Africa in particular require our prayers…
We should pray and work in support of the freedom of people like the Hahn family, owners of Conestoga, and for our own freedoms as Orthodox Americans to pass a living tradition across generations to our biological or spiritual children and grandchildren. But finally, we pray to the Lord to preserve His commonwealth…
[One] can be grateful of the liberties one enjoys, and use one’s franchise to advance the work of trustworthier politicians (and perhaps there are more of those than I have granted to this point), and pursue the discrete moral causes in which one believes. But it is good [not] to mistake the process for the proper end of political life, or to become frantically consumed by what should be only a small part of life, or to fail to see the limits and defects of our systems of government.
After all, one of the most crucial freedoms, upon which all other freedoms ultimately depend, is freedom from illusion.