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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tearing Down the Wall...

Imagine a group wholly opposed to something, who inadvertently rush forward into just such an occurrence.  It's what you might call a self-fulfilling prophecy.  In the movies, we see it all the time.  Fearful for your life, one attempts to run away, only to realize too late that you have ran headlong to your death.  One can remember watching Gene Hackman on the  S.S. Poseidon, yelling back at a group walking off to such a fate, "You're going the wrong way, damn it!"  It seems awful, watching people running toward perceived salvation only to find destruction, but it happens all the time.

With the uproar over the Obama administration's HHS mandate on contraception and religious freedom, the argument has become so clouded in invectives that people are not seeing clearly.  There is a group that believes the Church is attempting to control access, which is not the case.  The Church is simply stating that they don't like it and they don't want you to do it, but  if you do, don't expect them to pay for it or condone it.  It seems to me that I've said the same about a great many things to my teenage children.

But a certain group of people see this debate along with other issues, as part and parcel of a movement that seeks to remake America into a theocracy.  In a MSNBC interview with Chris Matthews, Washington Post political writer Melinda Henneberger said, "Maybe the founders were wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion in the First Amendment..."  They seek to fight the impending Theocracy by legislating Religion into either non-existence or irrelevance. 

Under the HHS mandate, employers who oppose contraception as a matter of religious conscience must pay for it against their will.  Yes there are exceptions for "churches", but not for followers of those churches.  The First Amendment becomes a trivial annoyance in pursuit of what they consider to be good public policy.  But herein lies their fatally flawed reasoning.  The Freedom of Religion is not the monster to be feared, but the gatekeeper that protects us all.

At the time of its writing, the American people found Madison's constitution lacking  While the overall structure was adequate to the task of building our system of government, there was concern for limiting it's power.  A bloody and expensive war was fought for our freedom and it would have been in vain if we were to simply exchange one oppressive regime for another.  The Bill of Rights, a set of amendments outlining the express rights of the people and setting definite limits on the federal governments exercise of power, became the linchpin that brought agreement to our constitution.

In that day, the people understood what it meant to live under oppression.  In fact, many of these peoples, like the pilgrims, came to this new land expressly to escape religious oppression.  The First Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The rights established with those words work to prevent the Federal body from acting as a Theocracy, whether Catholic, Anglican, Islamic or even Secular Humanism.  It's true that of the individual states, several formed theocratic states, where one must have met certain tests and taken oaths ascribing allegiance to a church and God, to participate in that state's body politic.  The Bill of Rights protects the people from the Federal government, but left much open to the states.  Over time, as the states became more pluralistic, tolerance for others became the norm and theocratic rule disappeared from the states.  Later, the Supreme Court ruled that the wording of the 14th amendment brought the Federal rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights to the states.

The First Amendment is the gatekeeper; the wall that Jefferson spoke of protecting all of us from whatever ideology or ideologues happens to hold power at any given time.  While today's government mandates employer funded contraception, tomorrow's could mandate employer  paid time off for church attendance or chastity guards for teens or even homosexual rehabilitation.  Further down the road, the use of Sharia and the resulting downgrade of women's rights might be deemed "in the public interest" by the ruling class.

When public policy trumps the freedoms guaranteed in our constitution, then where do we go for protection against harmful and wrong public policy.  When our rights are only guaranteed till the next election, then we will fight a new revolution on every ballot.  We will cease to be the America that has stood from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, through Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

When the constitution becomes flexible enough to allow the ruling party to force men and women to ignore the teachings of their church to provide an already accessible and affordable consumer good in the name of public policy, what happens when the "feared" theocrats take power?

And even if we toss out the whole freedom of religion issue, I still haven't seen anyone articulate why the government should have the power to mandate that employers must purchase for their employees, anything unrelated to their job.  Take the words "health care" & "contraception" and replace them with "firearms" & "handguns" in this discussion.  Why would a court see any difference?  At the very least, our right to firearms represents an explicit right in the constitution, as opposed to any implicit or legislated rights.

Now that the Federal government can force employers to buy their employees health care, why stop there?  Surely there are many other consumer goods that may reinforce other policy goals of this and future administrations.  Health care is good, but what about housing or food and water; maybe even broadband access?  It's a list without end.

As in Gattaca, Brave New World, 1984 and other novels and movies of dystopian futures, a government that can achieve control of access, will sooner or later limit access.  Heck, a government board limiting access is explicitly written in the Obamacare law.  I know that it's always clearer in hindsight (and may we never have reason to see it that way), but even proponents of affordable access to health care need to understand that we're going the wrong way.

(Scene from The Poseidon Adventure)

Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman): You're going the wrong way. You're going toward the bow.

Wrong group: That's right, Reverend.

Scott: Wait a minute. You can't get out that end.

Wrong group: Why not?

Scott: Because we're settling by the bow. The bow's underwater. Go to the stern. We'll exit through the engine room.

Wrong group: lt's gone. The only way out is forward.

Scott: How do you know? Did you check the engine room? Did you see it?

Wrong group: l don't have to. We're going forward. Please, come with us, Reverend.

Scott: You're going the wrong way, damn it!

Keep this in mind as you "Lean Forward" - simply moving forward does not necessarily mean that you are making progress.  And sometimes the preacher was right all along.

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