The liberal media is doing a good job of blurring the issues involved in the HHS mandate controversy. The issue is not, and never has been, whether contraceptives will be available for women who want them. It has never been about whether such birth control drugs or devices will be legal.
The issue is solely about whether institutions, including hospitals and ministries, shall be mandated to provide drugs that can cause abortions, sterilizations and contraceptives in insurance coverage to their employees even in violation of their consciences. We hear most about Catholic institutions, of course, because the Catholic Church historically has not accepted what she terms artificial birth control.
From America’s earliest days, political leaders have gone the extra mile to respect religious consciences. That’s why, for example, you find in the Constitution itself the requirement that office holders swear an oath to support “this Constitution.” Or, they can affirm their loyal support for the basic law. Why “affirm”? Because the Founders knew that the Society of Friends, known as Quakers, did not take oaths as a matter of conscience. The Founders did not want to exclude Quakers from holding federal office.
In the course of the Twentieth Century, with two world wars to fight, the issue of conscientious objector status for exemption from compulsory military service has been repeatedly raised in the courts. The federal judiciary, including the U.S. Supreme Court, has never accepted the idea that the government has unlimited powers over you. And thus, traditionally pacifist sects, like Quakers, like Mennonites, have been exempted from the military draft. Liberal jurists have even extended such exemptions to pacifists who do not belong to historically exempt religious groups. Supreme Court justices have recognized deeply held convictions that, for the holders, are as much a part of their identity as religious scruples are for believers.
Compare that respect for tender consciences with this HHS mandate and you see Leviathan rising up from the depths to crush us in its powerful jaws. Now, HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius says Catholic hospitals are mandated to provide coverage that includes drugs that can cause abortions.
If this is accepted, what principle could be invoked to say that these hospitals cannot be similarly mandated to provide coverage that includes surgical abortions? Or can these hospitals simply be mandated to refer patients for abortions elsewhere? Any one of these mandates is unacceptable to Americans whose consciences recoil at being entangled with the killing of unborn children.
For pro-life people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, this HHS mandate is like being swept up into King Herod’s army. We will not accept it. We want an exemption from that draft.
For us, James Madison is a better guide. He became a passionate advocate for religious liberty. As a member of the Virginia General Assembly, he supported Thomas Jefferson’s 1779 Bill for Religious Freedom. He shepherded that historic measure through various committees until it was finally enacted in 1786.
Madison recognized the multiplicity of sects as the best guarantee of religious liberty for all. After passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Mr. Madison went to Philadelphia in 1787 and played a central role in the framing of the Constitution. From there, he carried the day for ratification of the Constitution in Richmond, at the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788.
Arguing for ratification, Madison in Federalist 51 wrote: “In a free government, the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other, in the multiplicity of sects.”
Madison followed up these magnificent achievements with his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1789. “The magnificent little Madison,” as his devoted wife, Dolley, called him, then rode to New York, where he supervised the drafting and Congress’s approval of the Bill of Rights. Religious freedom is the first among the rights recognized in the First Amendment.
To journalists, it is hard to understand all this fuss. That’s not surprising. After all, 91 percent of journalists never attend any religious service. TIME magazine’s Amy Sullivan thinks conservatives and pro-lifers are over the top in their opposition. They should not call this HHS mandate “a war on religious liberty” or “the worst assault on religious freedom in our history.”
Why, blogger Sullivan asks, what about the anti-Catholic “Bible riots” in Philadelphia in the 1840s? Challenge accepted, Amy Sullivan: Those deplorable riots were not mandated by the government of the United States!
Mr. Madison is a better guide for us than are contemporary journalists. Without respect for religious freedom we will surely lose civil liberty. And he said: “The people are right to take alarm at the first advance on their liberties.”
Conservatives are arguing in federal court, correctly, I believe, that the Founders rebelled against a King and Parliament that taxed us for tea without our consent. But even that tyrannical King and Parliament never mandated us to buy the tea. Now, under the HHS mandate, the Leviathan grows even more voracious. Under President Obama and Sec. Sebelius, we are mandated to drink the tea.