|ObamaCare’s Newest Casualty: Freedom of Conscience|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, February 09 2012
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
--Amendment I, United States Constitution
Freedom of religion is a Constitutional right. Indeed, it is our nation’s most foundational right.
In contrast, the convenience of government-mandated free contraceptives from religious institutions in violation of their fundamental theology is not.
Those two basic truths settle the merits of this week’s sudden collision between the Obama Administration and religious institutions.
Importantly, this is not a debate about contraceptives themselves. Whether one condones or opposes contraceptive use is wholly irrelevant. Birth control has been legal and beyond prohibition since Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, and that’s not about to change. Furthermore, if the Obama Administration favors universal contraceptive dispensation, nothing prevents it from asking voters to add that to the federal government’s existing list of expenditures.
But it is not entitled to compel free religious charities to do so in violation of the First Amendment.
After all, America’s very existence stems from European refugees who were so desperate for freedom from government interference with their religious practice that they opted to abandon beloved friends and family, leave their homes, journey across a treacherous ocean, confront an unfamiliar and hostile new continent and endure deprivation, starvation and attack to achieve it. Ultimately, our Founding Fathers considered religious freedom so fundamental to a just society that they placed it first among the specific individual protections amended to the Constitution.
Today, however, the fact that some liberals demand “balance” between that most basic First Amendment right and the Obama Administration’s contraceptive policy preferences illustrates the gravity of our current Constitutional crisis. If this administration behaves this crudely and thuggishly during an election year, what might await the nation in a second term?
All of this, of course, is a natural consequence of ObamaCare. And it recalls once again Nancy Pelosi’s infamous admonition that, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”
Have we ever.
Last month, Obama’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Department finally got around to determining that “what’s in” ObamaCare is a requirement that employers provide contraceptives for free. Consequently, religious institutions such as hospitals, homeless shelters, schools and charities would be forced to follow partisan reproductive policy over fundamental theological principle.
As a result, thousands of private charitable organizations would be prohibited from the free exercise of religion. On the one hand, after all, such institutions’ theology requires charity. On the other hand, their theology compels respect for what they in good faith consider human life.
Under our Constitution, the federal government is not entitled to demand that dilemma.
Ironically, as HHS issued its mandate last month, the United States Supreme Court unanimously rejected Obama Administration overreach into religious freedom. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC the Court reaffirmed the right of religious institutions to make ministerial employment decisions without federal micromanagement.
Public opinion, fortunately, already appears to side with the First Amendment over this new ObamaCare intrusion. Despite the fact that the American electorate favors private access to contraceptive options as a general proposition, Rasmussen reports that voters reject the Obama Administration’s mandate by a 50% to 39% margin.
As for those “conservative” House Democrats who cast pivotal votes in favor of ObamaCare in the spring of 2010 based on Obama’s promise of theological protections, former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D – Pennsylvania) explicitly stated that she wouldn’t have voted for the bill knowing what we now know:
“I would have never voted for the final version of the bill if I expected the Obama Administration to force Catholic hospitals and Catholic colleges and universities to pay for contraception. We worked hard to prevent abortion funding in health care and to include clear conscience protections for those with moral objections to abortion and contraceptive devices.”
Too bad she voted to pass the bill before finding out “what’s in it,” as former Speaker Pelosi said. That largely explains why today she is a “former” Congresswoman and Pelosi is a “former” Speaker.
Odds are that the Obama Administration, awakening to the unexpected backlash resulting from its thuggish disregard, will backtrack and act as if its reversal illustrates its “moderation” and willingness to compromise. Any such reversal, however, would stand hollow given the knowledge that a second term would allow it to again reverse course and impose the mandate with electoral impunity. As hollow, in fact, as its original false pledge that fundamental religious freedom would be safe from ObamaCare.
The issue isn’t whether contraceptives are moral or immoral, good public policy or bad public policy. The issue is whether we will preserve our nation’s most basic freedom of conscience against an Obama Administration so hostile toward America’s fundamental principles that it would sacrifice them at its new altar of ideological purity.
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