Luke Goodrich is a lawyer who has won four United States Supreme Court cases related to religious freedom. What I appreciate most about his life and perspective, though, is how he constantly turns us back to Scripture. In a time when answers can seem all too clear in our own minds, Luke reminds us of the variety of ways God used His people in the Bible. As Luke says, God didn’t create us to win every argument, He created us to be like Christ. It’s a grace to welcome Luke to the farm’s front porch today….
For four generations, the Stormans family owned a small grocery store and pharmacy in Olympia, Washington.
One day the family received a phone call asking why their pharmacy didn’t carry the morning-after pill, a controversial form of contraception that may cause early abortions.
Upon researching the drug, the family learned it could prevent a newly formed human embryo from attaching to the wall of its mother’s uterus, thus, in their view, destroying a human life.
Because the family was committed to caring for all human life, they decided they couldn’t sell the drug. Instead, their employees would refer customers to nearby pharmacies that sold it.
That turned out not to be good enough for local pro-abortion activists. They protested the store, yelling at customers and disrupting traffic.mThey filed complaints with the state. And they ultimately convinced the governor to pass a new regulation making it illegal for pharmacies to refer customers elsewhere for religious reasons—even though pharmacies could still refer customers for nonreligious reasons.
The Stormans family then faced a difficult choice: either sell the morning-after pill, which could destroy a human life, or close the pharmacy, which would destroy their livelihood.
Because they didn’t want to do either, they filed a federal lawsuit asking the courts to protect their religious freedom.
I had the privilege of representing them.
In response to the lawsuit, the state claimed it wasn’t targeting the Stormans; it was simply trying to ensure that all citizens had access to medication.
But at trial, this argument was exposed as a sham.
Within a five-mile radius of the Stormanses’ pharmacy, over thirty pharmacies sold the morning-after pill. It was also available at nearby physicians’ offices, government health centers, hospital emergency rooms, and on the internet with overnight delivery.
By contrast, the state’s own documents showed that it was targeting pharmacists because of their religious beliefs.
The governor appointed a new chairman of the pharmacy board, who stated that “I for one am never going to vote to allow religion as a valid reason for a [pharmacy] referral.”
The chairman also said he viewed religious referrals as an “immoral” form of “sex discrimination” and would recommend prosecuting them “to the full extent of the law.”
Based on the evidence, the trial court concluded there was “no problem of access to [the morning-after pill] or any other drug before, during, or after the rulemaking process.” Instead, the purpose of the regulation was to “bar pharmacists and pharmacies from conscientiously objecting.” This, the court said, showed that the regulation targeted pharmacists because of their religion, rendering it unconstitutional.
The Stormans family won.
I wish I could say that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t.
The state appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit, which ignored key facts and rejected the Stormanses’ claims. We then appealed to the US Supreme Court. But just weeks after we filed our appeal, Justice Scalia died, leaving the court short one member. Our appeal received three votes—one shy of what we needed. We lost the case.
As American Christians prepare for potential violations of religious freedom, we often appeal to American law: Is it lawful to take away religious freedom when it is enshrined in the Constitution?
But religious freedom isn’t rooted in the American Constitution. It goes much deeper than that.
It’s rooted in God’s original design for humanity—in the way God created us and in the way God relates to us.
Simply put, human beings are created for relationship with God, and God desires relationship with us.
But a relationship with God must be entered into freely. So God Himself has given human beings freedom to embrace or reject Him.
We see it most clearly in Jesus.
He is God in the flesh, who came to reestablish relationship with His people, yet “He came to his own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:11). “He was despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3).
In one poignant scene, after a hard teaching, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). But Jesus never forced anyone to return, because a loving relationship with God can never be coerced. If it is coerced, it is no longer love.
If God Himself doesn’t coerce us in our relationship with Him, how much less should the government?When the government tries to do so—when it prevents us from freely relating to God—it is elevating itself above God and violating the created order.
We need to remember, though, how Scripture illustrates the radically different way Christians are called to approach persecution.
The goal is not to win but to be like Christ.
That’s why there is no formula for responding to religious freedom conflicts.
As Christians, we often want simple answers, but rather than offering simple answers, Scripture calls us to know God and teaches us that there is much more going on, because there is a much bigger story of God bringing His kingdom into this world.
Thus, as we face our own religious freedom conflicts, God’s kingdom purposes should inform everything we do.
Religious freedom is not a tool for maintaining Christian cultural dominance.
It is not a luxury that can be abandoned lightly.
It is not a pretty good idea that we don’t need to think much about.
Rather, religious freedom is a basic issue of biblical justice, rooted in the nature of God and the nature of man.
The very definition of a violation of religious freedom: when the government uses its coercive power to interfere in the relationship between God and man. When the government does that, it’s violating the created order and perpetrating an injustice.
And the reality is: Christians throughout history have suffered terrible persecution. Yet Scripture calls all of us to “rejoice in hope” (Romans 5:2), whether we live in North America or North Africa.
Where does that hope come from? That hope is not rooted in any human institution. It is not rooted in fair laws, favorable election results, or friendly Supreme Court justices.
It is rooted in a person: Jesus Christ.
He has already conquered every enemy we’ll ever face, and He has promised us an imperishable inheritance in heaven. So even when we’re “grieved by various trials,” we still “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:6–8).
This doesn’t mean we become Pollyannas, pretending everything is good when it isn’t. Nor do we become Nero, fiddling indifferently while the world around us burns. Instead, we fully acknowledge the evil in the world even as we hope in the Savior of the world and join in His work in the world.
We worship a Savior who is a realist. He told us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV).
And when it comes to religious freedom, we will have trouble. But that is not cause for alarm, because we worship a Savior who is also triumphant.
The One who said “In this world you will have trouble” also said “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Luke Goodrich is a religious freedom attorney at Becket who has won precedent-setting cases in courts across the the USA, including four cases in the United States Supreme Court.
His book Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America explores our questions about what it means to have religious freedom and why it matters. Many Americans are concerned about rising threats to religious freedom. They feel the culture changing around them, and they fear that their beliefs will soon be marginalized as a form of bigotry. Others, younger Christians in particular, are tired of the culture wars, and they wonder whether courtroom battles are truly worthwhile, or even in line with the teachings of Jesus.
Luke offers us a reasoned, balanced, gospel-centered approach to religious freedom. He draws on biblical truths as he invites us to respond to our changing times with both confidence and grace.
[ Our humble thanks to Multnomah for their partnership in today’s devotion ]