Removing Wartime Conscience Objections?

President Obama’s mandate compelling Catholic institutions to provide contraception and abortion drugs is receiving shockingly high support from liberals. That being the case, I ask liberals: Do you really want to go down this road of banning conscience exemptions?

Think about it. How many liberals extolled the right of conscientious objection during the Vietnam War? During times of mandatory military service, this nation has mercifully granted conscientious objection. If you were convinced, based on your faith in particular, that war was wrong, you had the option to not participate. I could fill this page with Catholic monks and priests who publicly defended that right during Vietnam, from Thomas Merton to the Berrigan brothers. They were heroes of liberals for taking that stand.

In fact, here, too, the Catholic Church, as an institution, has a lot to say.

Forty years ago, the Second Vatican Council issued a Declaration on Religious Freedom affirming that Catholics are duty-bound to faithfully follow not the dictates of government but their conscience. The Church’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World states that governments cannot compel a citizen to engage in military service if that person is convinced that physical combat is sinful. The Church condemns “blind obedience” to unjust regimes that commit unjust actions.

Popes and bishops and theologians before and after have consistently reaffirmed these positions. The Catechism states that, “Citizens are obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order.” Quoting the New Testament, the Catechism states: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Importantly, though I’ve cited Catholic teaching, millions of non-Catholics follow these principles, from Quakers to the Amish to the Mennonites.

Conscientious objection is a precious right in this nation.

Have so-called “abortion rights” become so sacred to liberals that they are willing to sacrifice conscience exemptions at the altar of Roe v. Wade? Do they really want to head down this road? I suggest they stop and think hard about what they’re advocating.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • Guesto

    Not only should people be allowed not to fight in aggressive wars overseas, they should also be allowed not to contribute money to those nonsenses like Vietnam, Iraq etc. As far as fighting is concerned, George Carline was again right: it’s not the politicians that are guilty of war, it’s the stupid common people who keep showing up to fight.

  • Guesto

    messing with other people’s health is a completely different matter. No employer should be allowed to deprive his employees of proper healthcare. In any event, it seems more than obvious that it is the religinion and conscience of the employee, not the employer, that matters here.

  • Momof11

    Contraception, sterilization, and chemical abortion are not healthcare, but the deliberate disruption of the proper functioning of a human body, often with unhealthy side effects.  But that is just a side issue here.  No one is denying people the right to purchase for themselves insurance which provides coverage for these questionable drugs and procedures.  But no one should be forced to purchase these things for others if they find them objectionable.  For that matter no one should be forced to buy any product against their wishes.

  • chrisinva

    Why does the author politicize the conscientious objection issue by naming only some idle old leftists? Has he ever heard of Blessed John Paul II?

    The issue within the issue is this: can one legitimately object to an **unjust** war, while reserving the right to use force to protect his home, neighborhood, church, and family?

    Most wars of the past 100 years have indeed been unjust, it can be argued. Wilson and FDR both pretended to oppose entry into WWI and WWII until they were safely reelected. And we know all about the lies that informed the wars in Viet Nam and Iraq.

    What is clearly lacking  in the current debate on the HHS Mandate is the **informed** Catholic conscience. Cardinal Dolan has admitted that Catholic bishops were intimidated into silence, and thus refused to teach Humanae Vitae (or anything else) to the past two generations (“since the mid-sixties,” he said).

    There’s your problem. “Conscience Rights” can be quickly reduced to a vapid label without content of the conscience. The proper approach is not to flee Humanae Vitae, but to preach it boldly.

  • Alecto

    It is an interesting fact that rights are inherent.  They come from the Creator, not government and therefore, cannot be taken away, only surrendered.  The right of conscientious objectors not to provide free contraception, abortifacients and sterilization because it counters their religious and moral teaching as well as those who object to unjust wars do not need to obtain “permission”.  What they do need, and what I find most lacking in the American Catholic bishops these days is a spine that matches the size of the conscience.  The case for conscience is at it most persuasive and in fact is only persuasive when the objector is being punished by an out-of-control tyrannical government. 

    When Catholics fill prisons for asserting conscience rights, then we’ve got a discussion and a debate worth having.  Until such time, this issue isn’t a ripe one.  

  • joxios

    ‎”AND ANY POINT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE IS WORTH DYING FOR, IF IT IS ATTACKED BY A GOVERNMENT THAT CLAIMS THE RIGHT TO MAKE LAWS FOR THE CHURCH” (St John Damescene concerning moslem influence on Roman emperor Leo the Isurian concerning Iconoclasm 720 a.d.)