The decision of the Obama Administration to force Catholic institutions to provide health care plans for their employees covering contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilizations, according to an anonymous White House official, was solely the President’s. The source said that Mr. Obama believed the issue of public health access outweighed the concerns of the religious institutions.
This argument for not providing a religious exception based on a compelling government interest, however, is not sustainable. The fact is that the majority of the people who work for Catholic affiliated institutions throughout the country (about 70,000 people, or roughly 0.022% percent of the population) have no need for this type of “preventative care” due to age, gender or religious commitments. The President’s diktat has rightly caused an uproar among many religious people, especially Catholics who deem these “health services” to be immoral. It threatens the loss of Freedom of Religion, a basic human right recognized in America prior even to our becoming a nation.
There was a time when school children learned about the Pilgrims and the Puritans who left England to escape religious persecution at the hands of Kings James Ι and Charles I. Although they were only seeking freedom to practice their own faith, one of their members, Roger Williams, greatly expanded the right of religious freedom to other groups in Rhode Island. His convictions have provided a template for America’s Church-State relations ever since.
As a protégé of the great English jurist Sir Edward Coke, Williams learned that God and the law are above the king. Williams was impressed by Coke’s high regard for the inviolability of natural rights. Thomas Jefferson incorporated natural rights in the Declaration of Independence and into the Virginia Statue for Religious freedom (1779). James Madison included this right as the “First Freedom” in the Bill of Rights (1791). Americans have always jealously guarded this right.
Numerous Supreme Court cases have tested the boundaries between Church and State. For the most part, the Court has favored the autonomy of Church and State, and consequently accommodations for conscience and religious practice. In a case involving the Amish, for example, the Supreme Court has allowed for an exception to state laws that require education up to a child’s sixteenth year. Also, it must be recalled that although the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution forbade the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol, an exception was provided for churches that used wine for sacramental purposes. President Obama’s edict to the bishops, therefore, flies in the face of American jurisprudence.
Unfortunately, most American’s are not familiar with the history of their religious freedom. This is undoubtedly because true American history and civics are not being taught in our schools. The natural rights guaranteed in our founding documents which inform our heritage have been supplanted by entitlements manufactured by the government. And, as Ronald Regan said, “What the government can give, it can also take away.”
When people do not know their basic rights, or come to believe that their entitlements are more desirable than their liberty, they are sacrificing their natural birthright for a cheap palliative which will only lead to enslavement. For religious and non-religious people alike this affront to human dignity cannot be tolerated.
The fundamental wrongness and illegality of President Obama’s decision will lead to undermining other freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Before it is too late schools, churches and other civic organizations must begin to educate Americans about their natural rights, the most obvious of which are embedded in the First Amendment. Not to do so jeopardizes both our heritage and our freedom (a right God Himself will not violate).