By Teresa Welsh |
The rights of human conscience and religious liberty are as deeply embedded in the American experience as the Fourth of July. Surrender these two things, and we are no longer a free people.
In any conversation about the rights of conscience, Thomas More inevitably comes up. Rather than violate his own conscience by condoning a sham marriage, More suffered martyrdom rather than enjoy the wealth and protection of King Henry VIII.
Liberty is often a balance between two vices: license and tyranny. One attempts to say there are no rules; the other makes up so many rules they are impossible to follow.
Obama's mandate to force Catholic hospitals and other religious institutions to provide for abortifacients and birth control has the unique quality of offending in both extremes. Not only does it enable license, it tyrannizes the consciences of millions of Christians of every denomination.
What's worse, the infiltration of the secular state into the faiths of millions of taxpaying Americans alarms the very soul of the American character—it is precisely the overreach some have warned against for decades.
Yet this is the fallacy of political religions. Whether your belief system is revolutionary or spiritual, it is as tried and true a set of precepts or belief as any other. Some attend services on Sunday, others occupy courthouse greens. These faiths—whether they are Christian, Jewish, secular, Marxist, or otherwise—all have their creeds, adherents, and priests.
What this recent episode with Obamacare and the federal government's attack on religious liberty has shown many Americans is simple. Secularists are every bit the fanatics as they imagine others to be.
This fanaticism from the secular left is political religion right through. Their collection plate is your paycheck; their evangelization the end of a judge's gavel. All other faiths must submit or be shamed into submission—and this political religion does not suffer rivals well.
The Catholic bishops were once proud supporters of Obamacare, having caught a lion by its tail to support its own vision of social justice. That lion has now turned 'round, the makeshift alliance between the Catholic and secular left imploded for the trap we all knew Obamacare really was.
Conscience protections are at the very heart of the American experiment. Though they are inconvenient for the radicals and the secular political religions that have consumed the American left in recent decades, the rights of conscience are fundamental human rights. Conscience cannot be repealed by Congress, conscience cannot be abrogated by judicial fiat, nor can conscience be long contained by government.
Most knowledgeable Americans have at one time or another referenced Jefferson's famous "wall of separation between Church and State" letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1803. Few others will quote the rest of the document:
Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
After all, Jefferson was a keen student of classical authors such as Cicero. If the great theater for all virtue is conscience, then the intrusion of the government into this most private of all spaces is nothing less than the definition of tyranny.
This is why our Founding Fathers, though they knew America to be a profoundly Christian nation, understood that to best guarantee the rights of conscience and to protect free religion, gave us a republic and not a theocracy. The defense of that republic has always cemented itself on the size, proportion, and scope of federal power.
Jefferson innately understood this. Modern Americans appreciate this as well.
About Andrea S. Lafferty President of Traditional Values Coalition
Hannah Smith Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Jeanne Monahan Director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council
Nancy Keenan President of NARAL Pro-Choice America