Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The United States Catholics Bishops Religious Liberty Concerns Bigger Than Birth Control

It seems twitter, the blogs, and newspaper articles are all framing the Catholic Bishop's various Religious Liberty concerns as a war on "Birth Control" That seems to be missing the big point. The bigger issue is where exactly does the United States Government get this grant of power and does this alleged grant of power violate the First Amendment. It might be Birth Control today but what else tomorrow.

The Progressive Catholic Michael Sean Winters seems to get this at his piece Obama's Choice

..no one is proposing to “take away” any benefit from anyone. It is the pro-choice groups that are trying to change the status quo. More importantly, the effort to narrow the conscience exemption, in fact, is likely to end up in less access to all health care, because some religious organizations will decline to offer any health care coverage rather than violate their conscience. That might strike some people as an extreme consequence, but it is a foreseeable one. People get touchy about conscience rights, as liberals of all people should understand.

I noted last week that there is something more than a little ironic about these liberal champions, the type of people who normally celebrate the “wall of separation” between Church and State, now clamoring over that wall as fast as they can to tell Notre Dame and Providence Hospital what they can and cannot do. Ironic, too, that liberalism which was founded on the principle of conscience rights, and at a time when the Catholic Church was unalert or hostile to the idea of conscience rights, has grown so indifferent to them while it is the Catholic Church today that champions them. But, irony is the coldest of comforts.

Prof Vischer correctly noted earlier this year that underneath this is the debate between positive liberty and negative liberty. His conclusion is worth noting:

.....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.

Yet many Liberals , who I suspect agree with this, seem cowed by some forces to even have this discussion.

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