“Conscience is the most sacred of all property,” wrote James Madison in 1792.
Apparently the “Father of the Constitution” and the primary drafter of the First Amendment was wrong, if the current crop of state lawsuits against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is any barometer.
This week 19 states plus three cities sued to block a new set of guidelines (known as the “Final Conscience Rule”) from HHS that would enhance enforcement of currently existing federal conscience laws in a more robust manner than under previous administrations. It’s important to emphasize that the substantive conscience protections at issue are already part of the nation’s laws, and HHS hasn’t created anything new other than a promise and methodology to enforce them more effectively. The previous administration’s “inadequate enforcement” of all 25 federal conscience provisions under the purview of HHS, including the Weldon Amendment and Church Amendments, among others, is what prompted the new rule.
These left-leaning government plaintiffs are adamantly opposed to allowing—on the basis of religious or moral conscience—doctors and nurses to refuse to perform abortions, employers (including religious ones) to refuse to pay for them, and insurers to not cover them. The lawsuit also objects to those who would seek to be excused, also on the basis of conscience, from providing unnecessary, and indeed, harmful drugs, hormones and surgeries for those “transitioning” to the opposite sex.
The attack on conscience didn’t begin this week. When the previous administration’s HHS decided to mandate that most employers provide contraceptives, including possible abortifacients, sterilization and other morally problematic procedures as part of Obamacare, it prompted over 100 lawsuits involving over 300 litigants, including Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor. Although Hobby Lobby gained a Supreme Court victory for the rights of religious conscience involving for-profit employers, it took a Rose Garden ceremony and Executive Order to set the wheels in motion for the Little Sisters and other religious organizations to exercise their rights of conscience.
It was the promise underlying that 2017 Executive Order which brought us to this most recent HHS rule, prompting the Left’s renewed battle to prevent religious conscience from gaining legal traction.
As a point in fact, the Little Sisters of the Poor are still in the federal courts defending against blue state challenges from California and Pennsylvania to the legal ground the charitable nuns thought they had gained by the 2017 Executive Order plus a resounding court victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Add to that mix this latest 19-state pile-on, and you get the picture that even nuns can’t get a break from the Left’s hostility.
Opponents of religious freedom are relentless in pursuing their goals, and don’t accept defeat easily.
As a country founded by men and women with a deep and sincere belief in the utter necessity of promoting and defending rights of conscience, the current hostility toward those who would exercise such a right is jarring, to say the least.
Unless and until the country returns to its first principles—including the importance of rights of conscience—we should continue to reflect and act upon the truism that elections have consequences. And, we must all do what we can while we are able toward protecting the rights and freedoms with which we have been entrusted.
Photo from Becket Law