This speech by ACRU Senior Fellow Ken Blackwell was delivered May 24, 2012 to the American Religious Freedom Program Conference.
Good afternoon. It is good to be with so many like-minded men and women, people who are committed to defending our most essential freedom – religious liberty.
We tend naturally to focus on religious freedom issues that rise to the national level. Those cases that come before the Supreme Court rank high in public interest and command the attention of the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other giants of the main-stream media.
One of the most unprecedented and ominous assaults on religious freedom is the proposed Health and Human Services contraception mandate. As I have written in a variety of opinion pieces, there has been nothing comparable to this in 225 years in this country. There is truly no precedent for the threat embodied in the HHS Mandate.
If the federal government can force not only Catholic institutions, but those of many other faith communities, and small businesses, and family-owned firms to provide drugs that can cause abortions or chemical contraceptives that violate their beliefs, then the First Amendment to the Constitution has effectively been repealed.
Late in the 19th Century, Germany’s Chancellor Bismarck waged an assault against Catholics. The Prime Minister intended to close down Catholic schools and hospitals, convents and monasteries throughout the country. We’re not there yet; but we must be vigilant.
Approximately one in six hospital patients in America is cared for in Catholic hospitals. These hospitals employ more than 550,000 full-time workers and 240,000 part-timers.
One thing needs to be emphasized here: Many of those employees and many of the millions of patients seen in those hospitals choose Catholic health care because it is grounded in a set of moral convictions. This is true even, and perhaps especially, for non-Catholics who seek care or who work in these Catholic institutions.
My Family Research Council colleague, Bob Morrison, a Lutheran, has twin granddaughters who were delivered at a Catholic hospital last December. When these newborns came down with the life-threatening RSV virus over Christmas, Bob was relieved that the twins were cared for in a Catholic institution. There, he could trust the care-givers and the administrators to share his family’s pro-life convictions and practice them in the way they treated his grandchildren.
Even when it is a specifically Catholic institution being threatened, the religious liberties of all Americans are in jeopardy. If Catholic hospitals are forced to choose between God and Caesar, bureaucrats will eventually compel other religious organizations and faith-based ministries to make an identical choice.
And ironically, even though Obamacare is intended to help the uninsured, it’s those of lower income who will suffer most as Catholic hospitals and religious colleges suspend health insurance altogether.
This present danger notwithstanding, our experience suggests that most threats to religious freedom have come at the state and local levels. One of the most blatant examples was the case of Oregon in the 1920s. There, a popular referendum, strongly backed by the Ku Klux Klan outlawed private education. Only when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this unconstitutional in the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) was this threat blocked. It was in this case that the Court memorably said: “The child is not the mere creature of the state.”
Then there were the Blaine Amendments, named for James Gillespie Blaine, the powerful Republican who sought to ban any public funds from aiding — even indirectly — what were then called “sectarian” institutions.
Though the Blaine Amendment, a vestige of the Know-Nothing movement of the 1800’s, was never passed at the federal level, similar legislation was enacted and is even today still on the books in many state constitutions. They were put in state constitutions to stop families from educating their children in Catholic schools (instead of public schools). Now, they have become a wall between private faith and the public square.
The Blaine Amendments, on record in 40 jurisdictions, constitute a serious barrier to education reform and parental choice.
The Becket Fund, a non-profit that protects the free expression of all faiths, is litigating a case in Oklahoma. There a family seeks to use a state scholarship to send their autistic son to a religious school for special needs children.
In Indiana, the state teachers union, predictably, is leading the charge to prevent parents from using vouchers at religious schools. The union claims these parents are violating the Indiana Blaine Amendment.
In Florida, voters will have the chance this November to repeal that state’s Blaine Amendment. Local family policy councils, state and national public interest law firms, and citizen-activists have worked tirelessly to bring this policy change to the ballot.
The government not only threatens religious liberty in our education, it also threatens through supposed discrimination laws. We have the case of a Michigan public university grad student, Julea Ward. Because of her religious convictions, she asked to refer a homosexual client to another counselor. She was then ordered to go through “remediation.” Ms. Ward refused and was expelled. A host of religious liberty defenders, most notably the Alliance Defense Fund, are standing with her.
We have seen Catholic Charities forced out of adoptions in Massachusetts and Illinois because they will not place children in same-sex or unmarried households. In Washington, D.C., this so-called “non-discrimination policy” was used by the City Council to achieve the ends of anti-Catholicism. Told by the Archdiocese that they might be forcing Catholic Charities out of adoptions in the nation’ capital, one councilman said, and I quote:
“Good. We’ve been trying to get you out of it forever. And, besides, we are paying you to do it. So, get out!” (Interview by James Taranto, Wall Street Journal, 31 March 2012)
Conscience Protection Laws are vitally needed. Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas recently signed a strong one. But many state laws are weak or unenforced. In Washington State, for example, Gov. Christine Gregoire pressured a pharmacy owned and operated by two sisters who refused to dispense the so-called morning after pill. This drug can cause abortions. The Governor personally joined in a boycott of this family-owned pharmacy. So much for the war on women.
It is amazing how quickly this storm has arisen. In 2008, at the end of the Bush administration, our colleague then-Secretary Mike Leavitt issued conscience regulations on behalf of the Departmentment of Health and Human Services. These were good conscience regs–protecting doctors and hospitals from being forced to practice medicine that they found morally objectionable. Immediately upon coming into office, the Obama administration revoked the regulations.
With the HHS Mandate, the gloves have come off. The carve-out for religious institutions is so narrow, so restricted, that it is hard to imagine even cloistered nuns qualifying for a religious exemption.
Knights of Columbus Grand Knight Carl Anderson questions whether Jesus’ own ministry would qualify for an exemption from the HHS Mandate. Was His work wholly religious? Or was He engaged in the food service industry with those loaves and fishes?
There’s a scene in a famous movie I recommend watching over again. In A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More is facing execution for standing by his conscience in a time of agitation.
More tells his prosecutors: “I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live.”
Thank God, we have not gotten to that point.
But our task is to make sure we never get to that point. We cannot allow these salami tactics–this divide-and-conquer strategy–to succeed. If the HHS can mandate that we subsidize abortion-causing drugs now, what is to stop them from mandating our support for surgical abortions next year?
So we are not being alarmist when we take alarm. James Madison knew something of liberty: “The people are right,” Madison said, “to take alarm at the first advance on their liberties.”
The battle is raging in Washington, without question. But the key battle-front of this fight is in your state–at your local hospital, or adoption agency. Are you up for the challenge?