Category Archives: Bill of Rights

Protecting consciences, or what I found in my church bulletin today

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

USCCB Nationwide Bulletin Insert June 2012
WHY CONSCIENCE IS IMPORTANT

During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Americans shone the light of the Gospel on a dark history of slavery, segregation, and racial bigotry. The civil rights movement was an essentially religious movement, a call to awaken consciences.

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, “The goal of America is freedom.” As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition: “I would agree with Saint Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’… A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified. Every effort must be made to repeal them. When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.

The church does not ask for special treatment, simply the rights of religious freedom for all citizens. Rev. King also explained that the church is neither the master nor the servant of the state, but its conscience, guide, and critic.

Catholics and many other Americans have strongly criticized the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring almost all private health plans to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. For the first time in our history, the federal government will force religious institutions to fund and facilitate coverage of a drug or procedure contrary to their moral teaching, and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit an exemption. This is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide such coverage even when it violates our consciences.

What we ask is nothing more than the right to follow our consciences as we live out our teaching. This right is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day.

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.

What can you do to ensure the protection of conscience rights?

  • The U.S. Bishops have called us to get informed, pray and advocate. To send your message to HHS and Congress telling them to uphold religious liberty and conscience rights, go to www.usccb.org/conscience today! Thank you for joining the effort to end this unprecedented government coercion.
  • The Bishops have called for a Fortnight for Freedom – June 21-July 4. Please go to www.fortnight4freedom.org for more information on this important time of prayer and action!

USCCB: Our first, most cherished liberty

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

…As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.

This has been noticed both near and far. Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke about his worry that religious liberty in the United States is being weakened. He called it the “most cherished of American freedoms”—and indeed it is. All the more reason to heed the warning of the Holy Father, a friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom, in his recent address to American bishops…

Is our most cherished freedom truly under threat? Sadly, it is. This is not a theological or legal dispute without real world consequences. Consider the following:

  • HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services has received wide attention and has been met with our vigorous and united opposition. In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty. These features of the “preventive services” mandate amount to an unjust law. As Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.”…
  • Christian students on campus. In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
  • Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the state of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
  • Discrimination against small church congregations. New York City enacted a rule that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and sixty other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for scores of other uses. While this would not frequently affect Catholic parishes, which generally own their own buildings, it would be devastating to many smaller congregations. It is a simple case of discrimination against religious believers.
  • Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Notwithstanding years of excellent performance by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require us to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not somehow lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. And yet a federal court in Massachusetts, turning religious liberty on its head, has since declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government somehow violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion….

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it….

This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue….

Read it all.

When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail


An oldy but goody (August 2010), from News Channel 5 in Franklin, Tennessee:

…But a now former Middle school football coach in Williamson County said writing a politically-charged country song got him fired, after it rubbed a few parents the wrong way.

26 year old Bryan Glover is not shy about his political opinions. He is proud tea party Republican and felt compelled to voice his disappointment in the current administration through his music. But he never thought sharing his new song would leave him unemployed.

The song is called, “When You’re Holding A Hammer, Everything Looks Like A Nail.” It is a reference to Glover’s frustrations with the current administration and President Obama. Glover co-wrote the tune with a parent on the Grassland Middle School football team. He never thought sending it out to friends, family and player’s parents could put the hammer on the nail of his job with the school….

Within hours, parents called the school to complain of the politically charged lyrics and Glover said the principal at Grassland Middle School told the head football coach to release Glover from his position with the team.

“He just said parents were complaining, maybe there was a comment of racial overtones,” Glover said,

“I found it amusing,” said parent Michael Kasaitis about Glover’s country song.

He said no matter the opinion on his music, the link was sent from his personal email account and it is free speech.

“I was totally upset. He has every right to write a song, write a book or to make his opinion known,” said Kasaitis….

Read it all.

A broad-based IRS assault on the Tea Party?

From David French at National Review Online:

In the last 24 hours, my colleagues at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) have been in contact with literally dozens of tea-party organizations that have received intrusive information demands from the IRS, demands that seriously implicate their First Amendment rights. These information demands follow tea-party requests for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) status…

Critically, the demands we’ve seen are made not in response to complaints of wrongdoing but instead in response to applications for exemption. In other words, the IRS appears to be conditioning the grant of exemptions on the extensive violation of the tea-party groups’ fundamental First Amendment freedoms.

As I said, our review is ongoing, but the early indications are the IRS is using the routine process of seeking and granting tax exemptions to undertake a sweeping, top-down review of the internal workings of the tea-party movement in the United States….

Read it all.

HHS Mandate 101 and why you should care

From National Review, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a professor of constitutional law at the Catholic University of America:

MARK RIENZI: The mandate forces individuals and organizations to violate their religious principles by providing their employees with drugs that cause abortion, as well as with contraception and sterilization. Whatever one thinks about the debate between “choice” and “life,” we should all be able to agree that only willing people should have to participate in abortions.

This country was founded by people of all different faiths and backgrounds. We have a great tradition of finding ways to work with people so as not to force them to violate their religious beliefs. The Obama administration’s refusal to do that here violates the Constitution and federal law.

LOPEZ: Is there a smart shorthand that captures that?

RIENZI: Sure: Tyranny….

LOPEZ: Is this about birth control or religious freedom?

RIENZI: The only issue here is whether the government will force unwilling religious objectors to give up their religious beliefs. There is no problem of access to birth control in this country. As the administration never stops saying, the stuff is popular and provided by most private employers. And when private employers don’t provide it, the federal government already gives it out to people who want it through Title X funding.

Let me give you an example. At the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, we represent the monks at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. They are Catholic, and they have religious objections to providing these drugs. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the federal government already provides contraception to more than 100,000 people in North Carolina, from more than 100 federally funded Title X clinics. There is simply no reason that the government can’t provide contraception to any employee of Belmont Abbey who happens to want it. So the question is not whether people will be able to get birth control — they can, and they will. People get plenty of contraception today without making Catholic monks give it out. The question is whether the government will use the issue to force a small religious minority to conform to the government’s view that birth control is a great idea. And that’s something the Constitution and federal law clearly forbid….

RIENZI: James Madison famously said that conscience is “the most sacred of all property.” Conscience — particularly in the religious sense — is the right all of us have not to be forced by the government to violate our religion. It is the idea that in a free country, the coercive power of the government should not be used to deny people the right to freely and peacefully practice their faith…. It is a bedrock principle of our Constitution, our history, and our basic liberty….

LOPEZ: I’m an atheist. I’m on the pill. Why should I care about this?

RIENZI: You should care because you are an American, and this is a fundamental liberty issue. Religious liberty is just one aspect of liberty. The same First Amendment that protects your right to be an atheist — which is a wonderful and noble thing that our First Amendment does — protects the rights of other people to have other views. Just as you wouldn’t want the government to force you to follow Catholic views about the pill, we also don’t want the government to force Catholics to follow your views. It’s a free country. If you want the pill, you can buy it, you can work for one of the millions of employers who happily pay for it, or you can get it for free from the federal government. But everyone should oppose this forced conscription of unwilling people to participate.

LOPEZ: Is this a Catholic issue?

RIENZI: No, it is a liberty issue. That’s why you’ve seen such a huge outpouring of criticism of the Obama administration from people of all religious faiths….

Read it all. Twice.

Mead: New blue nightmare

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (official SCOTUS photo)

From Walter Russell Mead, a reflection on Jeffrey Toobin’s portrayal of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:

There are few articles of faith as firmly fixed in the liberal canon as the belief that Clarence Thomas is, to put it as bluntly as many liberals do, a dunce and a worm.  Twenty years of married life have not erased the conventional liberal view of his character etched by Anita Hill’s testimony at his confirmation hearings.  Not only does the liberal mind perceive him as a disgusting lump of ungoverned sexual impulse; he is seen as an intellectual cipher.  Thomas’ silence during oral argument before the Supreme Court is taken as obvious evidence that he has nothing to say and is perhaps a bit intimidated by the verbal fireworks exchanged by the high profile lawyers and his more, ahem, ‘qualified’ colleagues.

At most liberals have long seen Thomas as the Sancho Panza to Justice Antonio Scalia’s Don Quixote, Tonto to his Lone Ranger.  No, says Toobin: the intellectual influence runs the other way.  Thomas is the consistently clear and purposeful theorist that history will remember as an intellectual pioneer; Scalia the less clear-minded colleague who is gradually following in Thomas’ tracks.

If Toobin’s revionist take is correct, (and I defer to his knowledge of the direction of modern constitutional thought) it means that liberal America has spent a generation mocking a Black man as an ignorant fool, even as constitutional scholars stand in growing amazement at the intellectual audacity, philosophical coherence and historical reflection embedded in his judicial work. . .

Check it out.