by Quin Hillyer
Imagine if a new, deadly influenza virus broke out and authorities determined that somehow a chemical element in pork helped boost one’s immune response, making the pork consumer less than half as likely to contract the illness. Jews and Muslims, of course, have firm laws against eating pork. Even in the midst of an epidemic, imagine the outcry if the government told a Muslim-owned, or kosher-Jewish, restaurant that it must provide all diners with the option of a small, free serving of pork during the crisis.
Civil libertarians would be up in arms, especially over the affront to Muslims. They would point out that pork is readily available elsewhere, that Muslims are (supposedly) an embattled minority within the United States, and that forcing somebody to violate an unambiguous tenet of his faith is an abominable abridgement of human rights and of the Constitution’s First Amendment.
They would be right.
Excuse another return here to the topic of the new rule by the federal Department of Health and Human Services requiring employers to provide drugs for sterilization and abortion inducement (along with contraception) within any health insurance plan they offer to workers. Remember, this comes on top of a provision requiring employers of a certain size to offer insurance in the first place.
The parallels to the hypothetical pork example above are almost exact. Yet most newspaper editorial boards, civil libertarians all, are silent on this abuse, or openly supportive of it. The hypocrisy is stunning.
That’s why it is important that the drumbeat continue against this abominable rule. Catholic bishops, to their credit, are openly talking the possibility of civil disobedience, if necessary, to block the rule’s implementation. But it is of crucial importance to get beyond the media portrayal of this being a matter only of importance to Catholics. Nothing could be further from the truth.
LifeNews.com notes, for instance, that the Alliance Defense Fund is handling lawsuits for several non-Catholic entities, all of whose rights are abused by the new rule: “The wolf which was at the door has become the burglar in the room, and religious freedom is in serious danger of being taken from us…. [The threat] reaches beyond those who worship at all. Instead, it is a matter that touches every American who treasures the right to be guided by conscience in making important decisions and adopting an ethical worldview for their lives.”
Along those lines, if readers will indulge me, for the second straight week I find myself quoting things I wrote more than a quarter century ago. As a theology and government double-major at Georgetown University (1986), I was intensely interested in the interplay between church and state. I was particularly concerned with the potential mixture – a dangerous mixture – of compulsion with faith. This violates the central Christian tenet, agreed upon by both the Protestant Martin Luther and the Catholic apologist Erasmus, that men should be allowed free will to choose whether or not to act according to the dictates of the Lord. Religious obedience compelled by the state is no real virtue; conversely, a state that attempts to compel disobedience to the tenets of one’s faith is issuing a wholly illegitimate order.
In what amounted to my senior thesis (though it wasn’t technically called as much) in Theology, I argued vociferously against leftist theologians who wrote in favor of “compulsion” with “the help of the state.” I was particularly appalled by one modern theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, who wrote that “we must be willing, if we are to live morally in this life, to let others suffer for our principles.”
This, of course, is tyranny. It also is utterly inhumane.
Against this tyranny, I agreed with another theologian we discussed in our class that “The message of Jesus is not a programme of social reform.... It creates a new order upon Earth, but it is an order which is not concerned with the state….”
I added this: “Grave mistakes made by men in all good faith in the past seem to warn against any use of compulsion in trying to do God’s work for him.”
Yet here we have officials at a federal department claiming to do good work by forcing others to provide a “health” service to women. They seem not to understand that its compulsory nature, even upon those whose faiths are appalled by it, is a violation not just of faith but of the entire American tradition as well. James Madison insisted, during his entire political career from Virginia’s legislature to the White House, that the “right of conscience” should not merely be “tolerated” by the state – which implies that the state could change its mind and choose not to tolerate it – but instead that the rights be acknowledged by government as absolute and pre-existing government itself.
No conception of the public good should allow the state to tell a religion what is or isn’t a central and inviolable tenet of that religion. Whether it is government-mandated pork or government-mandated abortion payments, the infringement upon faith cannot, must not, be accepted by free men and women.