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“Right of Conscience” Amendment: Blatant Misrepresentation of Constitution, Republicanism

The US Senate, today, March 1st, plans to vote on a Republican-sponsored amendment that would restore “the right of conscience” to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). The Senate’s bill, which would hope to reverse the Sebelius/Obama Contraception regulation without any actual reference to ‘contraception’ or the regulation they hope to reverse. It is a Constitutionally permissible action in an attempt to override Obama/Sebelius’ unconstitutional actions. However, they hope to do this implicitly by demanding that “The Right of Conscience” be enforced. For this, they are in the wrong. The Republicans want to explicitly demand that Obamacare protect the Right of Conscience. However, the amendment is fallacious; such an amendment should not entail that the Sebelius/Obama Contraception regulation be reverse.

In case you have been on vacation here’s the buzz: The H.H.S. Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, created a regulation to implement Obamacare whereby all institutions with employees will have to pay into a healthcare plan that includes contraception coverage (for women, clearly). However, Churches are exempt from this rule; Church-owned and run hospitals and universities, however, are not exempt. Religious leaders made a concerted effort to reverse this regulation, and failed, as Obama made no compromises (see article: How Obama’s Compromise is literally not a compromise). Religious leaders were against this regulation, but not because it was an exercise of power the government didn’t have but because it violated the first amendment. They explained that abortions were against their religions, and many contraception caused abortions, and thus, the first amendment protected their right to not pay out of pocket for abortions (even for their employees). Obama and Liberals have since then called the regulation an essential “Woman’s Right.” However, it is not a woman’s right that religious people opposed to contraception that induce abortions have to pay for woman to get those contraception Such a claim is utterly ridiculous. Main Stream Media conglomerates ran with a pseudo-story that Obama compromised on the issue, and enough people drank the Kool-Aid that the issue has died down, slightly at least, since then.

Now, Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is leading the struggle to pass the Republican-sponsored amendment to implicitly reverse the Obama/Sebelius’ HHS contraception regulation. He says the primary purpose of the bill is to restore “the right of conscience” to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The bill is explicit in that regard; in fact the only thing the bill really mentions at all is the right of conscience. The bill doesn’t even mention the regulation concerning contraception, but just says, in sum “Obamacare must protect the right of conscience.”

First, lets define and speak a bit about what this whole “Right of Conscience” is. Its use an American ‘Right’ comes from our Founders, especially during the colonial era. They, in turn, obtained the idea from Common Law tradition.

The Right of Conscience is not discrimination whereby a religious minority is alienated or not given the same rights as others; It is specifically discrimination whereby a religious minority are subjects of government force intended to convert them to a specific religion against their own will. Right of Conscience to practice one’s religion is thus violated when a religious minority is pushed and compelled via government force to become an adherent of another majority religion.
Roger Williams of Rhode Island, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, all held strong beliefs on the right of conscience. A set of bills in colonial areas, especially one in Virginia, that violated the right of conscience were all decried by Jefferson and Madison. Christian leaders in the area wanted to implement a law whereby citizens would pay dues to the primary Christian denomination/church of the time in the colony, through government taxation, making the process (supposedly) simpler and easier for them, while encouraging Christianity in the colony (with the idea that if they’re paying into the church, they’re more likely to attend it). However, the legislation only promoted a few Christian denominations (After a time, the law was changed so that any member of any Christian religion (except Catholics) can pay into their respective church through government taxation). Williams had already written in “The Bloody Tenent of Persecution” about what exactly the Right of Conscience was, and had already rallied against similar laws. Jefferson in numerous letters including one to Baptists groups (where he also coined the term ‘separation of church and state) and Madison in the most eloquent example of argumentation to ever grace humanity, in “Memorial and Remonstrance,” all defined The Right of Conscience in the same way Rogers did. That the right of conscience was the right to not have government force compel individuals to reject their own belief structures. Jefferson even said that, yes, minority religious groups have been discriminated against, and given unequal rights, in America’s past, but that nonetheless their right of conscience had never violated within America’s history.

Lets fast-forward to 2012: The Republican amendment hopes to demand Obamacare protect the Right of Conscience. However, the amendment is wrong; such an amendment should not entail that the Sebelius/Obama Contraception regulation be reverse. Very simply, The Obamacare regulation doesn’t violate the Right of Conscience! No one is being compelled or forced to adhere to any religion or belief-structure they disagree with, or to leave their own belief structure; Catholics aren’t being compelled to be Evangelicals, Jews to become Christians, and Lutherans to become Mormon, or any combination imaginable. It isn’t even forcing or compelling Christians to become Atheists. It’s just politics, and it happens all the time; minorities in a Constitutional Republic are sometimes forced to do things they disagree with as per the majority, as long the government force is allowed by the universally agreed upon (in theory) Constitution. The problem isn’t that the regulation is a violation of right of conscience, because it isn’t. The amendment should not be passed, despite it’s good-intent.
Now, there is an argument to be made that is a violation of the first amendment. However, even the first amendment isn’t the real problem as it relates to the Unconstitutionality of the Obamacare regulation. The problem is that the regulation is simply unconstitutional because it is an exercise of power not explicitly delegated to the government by the Constitution. Period. By framing the issue as a religious issue, either by the first amendment or an imagined idea of what The Right of Conscience is, American society further gets derailed from a consciousness of Constitutionalism, and delegated powers, into one of Democracy and Democratic contention (pro-contraception v anti-contraception). The false dichotomy presented in this Democratized framework, of the this contention between religious and non religious, alienates Constitutionalists and their valid argument about delegated powers!

Furthermore, the amendment is nothing more then a political scheme by moderate Republicans and Conservative Democrats (The Republicrats) to pander ever so slightly to the Right. They are throwing a bone to the Conservatives; they think it will appease those who oppose Obamacare. They’ll say the fix is in, that Obamacare is better now, that the Moderates fought back and made it better. Better? BETTER?

The moderates hope to stop, by an inch, Obama’s 10-mile long marathon. This amendment, this “fix,” of Obamacare is kind of like asking someone who utterly hates the taste of soda whether the soda would taste better if it was served with four ice-cubes instead of five ice-cubes. It would just be utterly ridiculous. It’s like asking a thirsty man if he would like a drop of mud from the street to quench his thirst. It’s like asking a mechanic, fixing a car, who needs 40 parts, if he can make due with a broken half of 1 part. It’s like ripping off a quarter inch of paper off the New York Times and selling it as a copy of the New York Times.

The idea of religious freedom is hardly being violated by this regulation, and the Right of Conscience isn’t being violates at all; to frame it as if these things are the problem is a blatant misrepresentation of The Constitution. Whether it’s delegated powers, Rule of Law, Due Process, Equal Protection Under the Law, etc, the unconstitutional elements of Obamacare and the regulations ensuing from it are 99.999% due to affronts to Republican Constitutionalism that don’t involve a discussion on religious freedom. The whole idea of our Republic is obscenely violated by Obamacare and the regulations ensuing from it, and yet, somehow, the only thing you can come up with is that it violates “Right of Conscience?” What has happened to us?