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FIRST-PERSON: What the Left fails to understand about religious liberty

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BP) — With the Olympics fresh in our minds, we see yet again the connection between commitment and performance. Thinking about that connection reminded me of a scene from the Academy Award winning movie “Chariots of Fire.” Those who have seen it may recall a scene where the British Olympic Committee attempts to pressure the Scottish runner Eric Liddell to run on the Sabbath. Liddell, of course, will not do so as it would violate his principles and moral convictions.

A compromise is finally reached in which the great runner switches events, thereby avoiding the Sabbath dilemma. In the aftermath, a committee member confides to another that it was fortunate they were not able to change Liddell’s mind. His explanation to his puzzled friend is that Liddell’s commitment as a runner is an extension of who he is and what he believes; the attempt to sever him from the source of his greatness was both foolish and morally wrong.

That’s an important lesson many on the left fail to learn as they blithely cast aside religious liberty and rights of conscience for others. Take for example Alliance Defending Freedom’s client Hercules Industries, which recently obtained an injunction against the Obama administration’s mandate demanding they provide and pay for contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization procedures, even though doing so violated their religious beliefs.

Hercules Industries is the type of local business that every politician supposedly wants to encourage. It provides residents with jobs and good benefits, including generous health care, and is a model of community involvement. For example, it received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Business Social Responsibility Award, for raising donations for victims and fighters of the recent wildfires across Colorado. Fittingly, the city of Denver decided to honor this local company for 50 years of distinguished service to the community and its diverse workforce and compassionate care for employees.

But then came the rub. When city officials learned the Newlands (the family that owns and operates Hercules) take their faith and the sanctity of life seriously, and their “generous employee health coverage” stopped short of underwriting things like abortion-causing pills, they yanked the planned recognition. Never mind all the wonderful community activities; their religious views on this subject suddenly transformed them into a pariah.

The cowardly politically correct renunciation is replete with irony. Think back to the British Olympic Committee confronting Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire. One wise member understood that it was morally wrong to pressure someone against their moral convictions — but also foolish to undermine the very values that push someone to accomplish great things. This is how it lies with the Newland family. The moral and religious convictions that led them to treat their employees well and provide generous health care are the very values the city now attacks. City officials would destroy the scaffold, and then wonder why people are laying on the ground. In the apt words of C.S. Lewis:

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function … We laugh at (honor) and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

The story has a happy ending of sorts, and a welcome breath of sanity. Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty presented, on behalf of state legislators, a proclamation virtually identical to the one Denver officials dropped.

Eric Liddell also had a happy ending to his story, and went on to win a gold medal in the 400-meter event while setting a new world record. His character in the movie observed that the strength to win the race comes from within, obviously linking his spiritual beliefs with his athletic pursuit of excellence. Perhaps it’s time Denver officials got that message and honored the local business as planned.
Joe Infranco is an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom. This column first appeared at ADF’s blog, http://blog.alliancedefendingfreedom.org. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Joe Infranco