Shattering our consensus for conscience
Comments by Richard Stith at the Rally for Religious Freedom, Valparaiso Indiana, June 8, 2012
June 11, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Freedom of conscience is not a Republican issue. We used to have strong bi-partisan support for religious liberty. Tragically, that consensus for conscience has been shattered by the Obama Administration.
Before Obama, when members of either party voted to support contraception, for example, they included an exemption for conscience.
In 1999, President Clinton signed into law an appropriations rider requiring most federal health plans to provide contraceptive coverage. But that Clinton mandate exempted “any existing or future plan, if the carrier for the plan objects to such coverage on the basis of religious beliefs.”
During his final illness, Senator Ted Kennedy wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, stating, “I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field, and I’ll continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.”
Under Obama, by contrast, conscience protection has been widely thwarted. Think of his administration’s early rescission of the Bush conscience regulations or its requirement that Catholics working against human trafficking refer for abortion. The HHS mandate is only the latest effort to make religious Americans do what they believe to be morally wrong.
This push against conscience is a grave political mistake. It literally imperils our republic.
Simply for this reason: If the government leaves people alone, they will tolerate much that they consider to be quite wrong. But if the government demands that they actively participate in what they believe to be evil, many will—and should—resist.
Federal judge John Noonan has written that slavery became polity-destroying only when its advocates escalated their demands from simply wanting the South to be left alone, to demanding that the rest of the nation facilitate slavery’s expansion—or, as Noonan puts it, to demanding “the moral surrender” of slavery’s critics.
Precisely because our nation is ever more polarized, we need conscience protection more than ever. The only way we will be able to endure our ever deeper disagreements is for the government to cease to require participation in acts that violate the consciences of those who disagree with it.
In defending liberty of conscience, we are not only defending our freedom to do what we believe good and right. We are also defending the unity and integrity of our nation.