Column: Losing liberty
"Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?" -- Thomas Jefferson
"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government -- lest it come to dominate our lives and interests." -- Patrick Henry
WASHINGTON -- Liberty is always tenuous. Those who enjoy it seem to be a minority in the world. That's why liberty must not only be preserved by those who currently benefit from it; it must also be fought for and constantly renewed for future generations, because there are always those who wish to restrict or eliminate our freedoms.
The Obama administration's ham-fisted attempt to require that contraceptives and abortifacients be offered to employees of Catholic and other religious institutions is a serious threat to our civil liberties. Yes, federal (through EEOC oversight) and state governments already play this role and have for a time. According to the Guttmacher Institute, "Some 28 states have mandated coverage of birth control and 20 of those have some sort of exemption for religious employers." New York and California are among the 28. But do we really want government to continue to take the place of individual conscience? Should government continue to dictate to its citizens how to order and conduct their lives?
But wait. Didn't President Obama give in to the concerns of Roman Catholic bishops by excusing Catholic institutions from paying for contraceptives and "morning-after" pills for their employees? Not exactly. The president disingenuously shifted the burden to insurance companies, which have now been ordered to offer the pills "free" to any employee who wants them.
Nothing is "free." The cost will eventually be added to the price of the policies, which the employer will wind up paying for anyway. The cost will then be passed along to the employee.
The bishops weren't fooled. After initially expressing "cautious optimism" over the administration's "first step in the right direction," they issued a statement, reports the Wall Street Journal, saying they still have "serious moral concerns" and cannot support the announced compromise, despite the fact that many thousands of religious institutions will be exempted from the mandate.
This issue was always about more than contraceptives and who pays for them. It is about individual liberty and whether the government under "Obamacare" has the constitutional right to dictate to private businesses and church-related entities when such orders violate conscience and religious beliefs. Would the administration also order a conscientious objector to engage in combat? It's the same principle.
If the administration can get away with this, there will be no stopping it. If government can force an insurance company or institution to pay for a birth-control pill or a morning-after pill, it can, under the same authority, conceivably force them to pay for a euthanasia pill for those others have deemed unfit to live.
Too extreme? Most inhumanities begin with extremes. What is to stop the government from such behavior? If the Constitution's protection of religious freedom is to be annulled, along with the already voided "endowed" right to life written into the Declaration of Independence, by what moral or legal authority can anyone stop government from doing anything? This is more than a slippery slope; this is an avalanche and it threatens our most fundamental rights, without which we morph into something other than the America we have known.
Responding to the president's remarks in which he pulled back on his insurance company mandate, Amy Ridenour, chair of the National Center for Public Policy Research, weighing in on the cost of providing contraceptive benefits, said, "Here's the problem: The 'savings' substantially comes from pregnancy avoidance. That's what religious-based opponents of the birth control/early abortifacient mandate objected to in the first place."
There are two possible remedies: A decision expected this spring by the Supreme Court that Obamacare is unconstitutional, or a complete repeal of the health-care law, which would require a Republican Congress and a Republican president.
What other liberties does the Obama administration want to subvert? In his Super Bowl Sunday interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, President Obama appeared to complain about the Founding Fathers, whom he suggested, "...designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change that I would like sometimes." It's called the separation of powers, Mr. President, and it was created to protect the nation from a dictatorial executive branch.
Direct all mail for Cal Thomas to: Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207. Readers may also e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.