Saturday, February 19, 2011

When Did Liberals and Progressives Quit Caring About Conscience

I have posted before on what I view as an alarming trend of Liberals / Progressives seeming to back off their views of free speech.

There is another problem.

Yesterday the Obama administration removed some Bush era conscience regulations wording for health care workers. As for most matters legal both the left and right in their press are doing a pretty bad job of reporting what actually happened and what this means. When we get into this area of law it just gets worse.

Over at National Catholic Reporter there is actually a pretty good post on this that clears this up. See Professor Vischer on New Conscience Regs. A good read. However I want to post his final paragraphs that I think highlights what I view as an increasing problem:

The second question: how did rolling back – or at least holding the line on – conscience protections become a hallmark of a progressive political agenda? This is a much trickier inquiry than parsing regulatory language. One relevant development is progressives’ tendency to conceive of freedom – and the government’s responsibility to safeguard that freedom – in terms of positive liberty, not just negative liberty. Negative liberty requires protection against interference with the pursuit of basic goods; positive liberty requires affirmative assistance in securing basic goods. As progressives have tended to expand the range of goods for which the government’s affirmative assistance is required, the potential for conflict with a provider’s liberty becomes greater. Nowhere is this trend more pronounced than in the debates over reproductive rights. Arguments for conscience protection emerge from a long tradition of negative liberty; arguments for guaranteed access to a particular good or service – backed up in many cases by state power – emerge from a much more recent tradition of positive liberty.

A closely related development is a shifting view of professional licenses. Generally the state’s licensing authority has been viewed as a means by which to ensure a provider’s competence. As access to goods and services becomes an essential dimension of meaningful liberty (in progressives’ eyes), there is a stronger justification for viewing licensed providers as quasi-public officials, and the license becomes a means of ensuring that governmental objectives are met.

Progressives are quick to rally to the defense of a student forced to violate her conscience by participating in the pledge of allegiance. Few progressives have rallied to the defense of pharmacists required by state law to sell the morning-after pill. In my view, this is a progressive blind spot that stands in tension with the overarching progressive commitment to freedom from state coercion in matters comprising a person’s moral identity and integrity. Progressives have shown a steady shift in their willingness to accept incursions on conscience in order to further other socially desirable goals. Progressives may eventually come to regret this shift – state power unbounded by conscience protections is not necessarily captive to progressive causes – but so far there is very little indication of remorse. President Obama’s foray into the debate, though certainly not a disastrous turn of events, shows little indication that the partisan presumptions about conscience will change anytime soon

The fact that the left does not appear to be having this discussion among themselves is disturbing.

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