Joe Biden and Henry VIII have something in common.
They both decided to use the power of government to force individuals to act against their consciences on matters of profound consequence.
But Henry VIII renounced his Catholic faith.
Biden currently declares, "I'm a practicing Catholic."
In 1534, the English parliament declared the king "supreme head of the Church of England," separating their new church from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry VIII then required prominent Englishmen to take an oath recognizing him as the final authority over the church.
This oath said in part: "I do utterly testifie and declare in my Conscience, that the Kings Highnesse is the onely Supreame Governour of this Realme ... in all Spirituall or Ecclesiasticall things or causes, as Temporall."
Sir Thomas More declined to take this oath — while remaining silent about his objection to it in hopes of avoiding a conviction for treason.
After he was convicted, he publicly explained himself to the court.
His words were noted by his son-in-law, William Roper, who included them in the biography he wrote about More.
"Forasmuch, my lord," More said, "as this indictment is grounded upon an act of parliament directly repugnant to the laws of God and his holy church, the supreme government of which, or any part thereof, may no temporal prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome, a spiritual preeminence by the mouth of our Saviour himself, personally present upon this earth, only to Saint Peter and his successors, bishops of the same See, by special prerogative granted; it is therefore in law, amongst Christian men, insufficient to charge any Christian man."
As punishment for following his conscience rather than a tyrant, Henry VIII beheaded More.
Now, More lives as a saint in heaven — and Henry VIII's name lives in infamy.
As noted, Biden says on his campaign website, "I'm a practicing Catholic."
But when Biden was vice president during the Obama administration, that administration issued a regulation that Catholics and other Christians could not in good conscience obey.
It required all health insurance plans to cover "(a)ll Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling." As Justice Samuel Alito would later write in the Supreme Court's opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, four of the mandated contraceptive methods "may have the effect of preventing an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus." In other words, they could abort human lives.
Given that some family-owned businesses were required under the Affordable Care Act to buy health insurance plans for their employees, family owners who — for moral and religious reasons — objected to covering contraceptives, sterilizations or abortifacients would be forced by the law and regulation to act against their consciences.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit came to that conclusion in the Hobby Lobby case. A 5-4 Supreme Court majority accepted their conclusion.
"The court," wrote Alito, "concluded that the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened the exercise of religion by requiring the companies to choose between 'compromis(ing) their religious beliefs' and paying a heavy fee — either 'close to $475 million more in taxes every year' if they simply refused to provide coverage for the contraceptives at issue, or 'roughly $26 million' annually if they 'drop(ped) health-insurance benefits for all employees."
Unfortunately, the court did not decide this case based on the First Amendment itself but on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act says Congress can impose a "substantial burden" on a person's free exercise of religion if imposing that burden is "in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest" and "is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."
In Hobby Lobby, the 5-4 court decided Obama's contraception mandate was not "the least restrictive means" of providing the "compelling government interest" of free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients to American women.
Alito suggested that the then-narrowly applied (and also morally objectionable) "accommodation" the Obama administration was providing to some religious institutions could be extended to family-owned businesses with religious objections.
Six years later, the contraception mandate's attack on religious liberty is still an issue — with the Supreme Court deciding this month that Trump administration regulations exempting employers who have religious or moral objections to it are permissible under the actual text of the Affordable Care Act.
But at no time has the court declared that the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion prohibits the federal government from forcing a Christian to cover contraceptives, sterilizations or abortifacients for his or her employees.
When the court released its latest opinion, Biden objected — and vowed to return America to the pre-Hobby Lobby status quo.
"If I am elected, I will restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the Hobby Lobby ruling: providing an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious missions," Biden said.
Unlike Henry VIII, Biden will not behead those who refuse to act against their consciences and obey his mandate.
He will merely fine them millions of dollars — every year.
Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSnews.com.