Friday, February 10, 2012

Freedom of Conscience for Me but not for Thee

I've been thinking about this issue for a while since it's come to light. Roman Catholics, and much more of the general public, were rightly outraged when the Obama administration ruled that religious institutions, unless they exclusively served members of their own religion, would be required to offer health care coverage that would include contraception and abortifacients. This is, of course, in direct contradiction to Catholic teaching, and the reaction was swift and severe. Priests and Bishops took to the pulpit to denounce the policy, and even reliably liberal Catholic Democrats were critical.

All this raises one question: where was the outrage before the policy was announced? Before today's reversal by the Obama administration, I started wondering what would have happened if the very narrow exemption the administration originally crafted, which would have exempted churches themselves, but likely not schools and hospitals, had been expanded to include all religious institutions that might morally object to providing such cover? Would they have been satisfied? I take the Freedom of Religion very, very seriously. I believe it is of the utmost importance, and among the most important causes for American identity and independence. But why should the freedom of conscience of religious institutions only be protected? What if I were an employer, and held such drugs in similar esteem? Why should the violence of the State be used to force me to supply those things to my employees, when it does not do so for others?

Aside: those who cast this whole debate as an issue involving the freedom of women to use contraception are so totally mistaken, it should be laughable. The supply of such things on the open market is not at stake here. But it should be not be surprising that people who regularly wrap affirmative/positive rights in the language of the negative rights upon which this nation was founded would be confused on the matter. Suffice it to say that my refusal to give you something is not in limiting your freedom to have it.

Anyway, we shall see if the bellicose rhetoric from the Catholic pulpit persists. The administration has changed the policy, in light of opposition, to exempt religious institutions from providing coverage including the offending items and forcing insurers to provide it for free. In other words, we will all pay (since we will be legally obliged to buy from the existing insurance cartel or the coming exchanges). Having acquired their exemption, I wonder if they will let the issue go. The shame is that it took getting to this point to make plain to people the disharmony that comes from using violence to force people to betray their values. Yet that is the nature of government action when it extends beyond the core principles upon which it was established. We see it all the time, most notably in government schools, where battles are raged over what should be taught, what dress should be allowed, what should be served in the cafeteria, etc. But healthcare extends the battlefield. Mortgage financing extends the battlefield. Industrial policy extends the battlefield. Every reach of government into different areas of life means an erosion of organization through voluntary agreement. Even forgetting the lessons of public choice, with the concentrated benefits and diffuse costs and the bootlegger/Baptists paradigms, inevitably, political choice means forcing people to violate their own choice. Choices sometimes found in avarice or simple pursuit of pleasure, but other times found in deep seated beliefs and values that no other man can extirpate.

The contraception ruling brought a renewed awareness of all this to a lot of people. I hope today's "resolution" doesn't satisfy their concerns and push them back onto the sidelines.

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