Session 5: The Real Harm of Biased Religious Liberty Laws

In this session, we’ll seek to understand the role that authority plays in developing religious liberty laws and how its abuse can lead to real harm.


“Danita” was filled with joy when her home pregnancy test indicated she was going to have a baby. She shared the news with her husband and they celebrated that evening. Danita knew she needed to begin prenatal care, but she did not have a regular OB/GYN. A friend recommended she go to St. Dominic’s Hospital to begin her care.

The first few visits went well and Danita began to make preparations for the arrival of her baby. However, close to the end of her first trimester, she felt something was wrong. She wasn’t feeling well and was cramping frequently. Danita returned to the hospital for an examination. After she waited in her room for of a couple hours, the examining nurse returned and told her everything looked fine and she should take aspirin for any further cramping. The following day her cramping became so unbearable, she had a co-worker rush her back to St. Dominic’s. Feeling feverish and light-headed, Danita passed out while still en route to the hospital. Danita woke up to find her husband and mother at her bedside. They both had looks of deep concern on their faces.

“What’s wrong?” Danita asked.

Her husband just looked away. Her mother told her that she had lost her baby. “

But they told me just yesterday that everything was fine. What went wrong?” Danita asked through her tears.

Her husband spoke, “There were some complications. The baby was not going to make it and had you not come in when you did, we would have lost you too.” In disbelief, Danita asked, “Couldn’t they have figured this out yesterday when I came in? Why did it have to come to this?” Her mother softly replied, “Baby, this is a Catholic hospital. They told us it is against their policies to end a pregnancy and things would have to take their own natural course. “I don’t understand” said Danita. “If they knew there was a problem with the baby, why would they have let me die? How is that their decision to make?”[7]

Scripture: Romans 13:1-7

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Questions: Who determines what is right and wrong?

  1. What emotions are invoked in you after reading the story of “Danita?”
  2. Clearly, the hospital staff had a firm policy about women in Danita’s situation, a policy which they didn’t communicate to her. How would you respond to the question: “How is that a decision that the hospital is allowed to make?”
  3. Based upon the passage found in Romans 13 that instructs people to submit to authority, does this give the hospital staff the right to make a decision about the life of Danita and her baby and not tell her?
  4. The Romans 13 passage focuses on what is “right” and “wrong.” If Danita’s choices were limited based on another group freedom to practice their religion, how do we resolve this conflict of interest?
  5. Can you think of examples of how two opposing sides came to a resolution over an issue of morality?



7 This scenario is based on an actual event. The names have been altered. Permission is on file with Roland Stringfellow.