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February 7, 2012 Published in Letters/Opinions

A War On Conscience

Opinion: Michael Gryboski

Since becoming a major public figure, President Barack Obama has weathered his share of verbal and written attacks. All at once, he has been accused of being Muslim, Communist, the Antichrist, foreign born, and a Nazi, to name a few. Yet one allegation may have been vindicated due to recent decisions on the part of the Administration.

For some time the right has leveled that Obama is one of the most if not the most anti-religious president this country has ever had. Such commentators would point to things like Obama’s absence of a mention of God in his most recent Thanksgiving address or the occasional instance when Obama would quote “certain inalienable rights” and not mention them being “endowed by their Creator.” These occasional gaffes could nevertheless be counterbalanced by things like the President having evangelical Rick Warren pray the Invocation Prayer at his Inauguration, the ceremonial deism found in most all of his speeches, and attendance at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast where he cited verses from the Bible in justifying some of his policy decisions.

And yet, he attended that Prayer Breakfast not long after his Administration decided to attack religious conscience. Last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued new rules on health insurance based on President Obama’s health care reforms. The rules stated that all insurance must provide coverage for contraception, even Roman Catholic charities that have religiously-based objections to doing such. Churches were exempted, but not the many charities and hospitals run by the Roman Catholic Church. Now these groups have one year until they have to enforce rules that go against their own doctrinal teaching.

This decision on the part of the Obama Administration was so awful, that even liberal commentators known for their support of the president spoke out against the new rules. E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post columnist who has often written favorably of the president, recently wrote a column denouncing the provision.

“[A]s an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the Church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings,” wrote Dionne.

“The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here.”

This is not about whether or not contraception is a good thing. Dionne himself believes the Catholic Church should reconsider its position. This is about defending something enshrined in our Constitution as the very first right listed: the freedom of religion. Religious conscience is the entity being attacked here and if something like contraception can be imposed, why not other things as well? Maybe the Administration should also force Muslim food charities to cook bacon products for those they service.

It is worth referencing a famous scene from movie and play A Man For All Seasons. The work focuses on the life of Sir Thomas More, a devout Catholic put to death for his religious conscience. In one scene, More and his family are aware of one man’s villainous efforts to put More in prison. As the man exits, More’s family demands that as Chancellor of England he arrest him. More refuses, noting that the man should not be arrested until he had actually broken a law. The issue then went to theology, as More’s future son-in-law declared that he would cut down every law in England to get at the Devil. But More responded that if every law was cut down, then where would his son-in-law hide should the Devil turn around and go after him. More concluded by saying “I give the Devil the benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.”

This is something the current Administration has neglected when deciding to impose this rule. And if they set the precedent of ignoring such matters of conscience, then future administrations will do likewise. Those who think this a good precedent should note future administrations could use that power against the things they support. Supporters of these new rules should note that if the current administration can get away with imposing a pro-contraception rule on religious-based charities, then a future administration can get away with imposing an anti-contraception rule on religious-based charities. Hopefully, it will not require such a scenario to make the administration and its supporters realize how bad these new rules from HHS truly are.

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