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The President Declares War

Obama’s contraception mandate violates the First Amendment

Politics in America have officially become destructive. Polarization and heated political rhetoric may have been unpleasant last year, but in 2012, the brute ambition of the Machiavellian prince has emerged roaring from behind the curtain, and he’s ready to destroy. With the Obama administration’s decision to force certain religious employers to provide health care coverage for all Food and Drug Administration approved-contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and other controversial services, Obama has officially declared war against liberty.

Contrary to what some have argued, the contraceptive mandate is not contingent on the insurance provider receiving public funding. The statute applies to every health insurance provider in the country. As such, religious institutions not granted exemptions are forced to either stop providing health coverage (and face a stiff penalty under the law) or violate their religious convictions. On this issue, however, the First Amendment to the Constitution leaves little room for ambiguity: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” By forcing religious institutions to provide contraceptives and procedures that they have consistently regarded as evil, the Obama administration has effectively reduced the free exercise of religion to the freedom to worship. They have ordered Americans to leave their beliefs and principles at the altar. The mandate is an order to choose between one’s soul and one’s government, and despite what Obama may believe, a soul is far more precious than a government. Who you are is far more important than who your government orders you to be.

The contraceptive mandate is a blow not only to religion but also to civil society. By only exempting houses of worship but not other religious institutions from the mandate, the administration has decreed that religion and religious values are no longer welcome in civil society. In reality, religion is a major foundation of civil society. Throughout the history of the United States, religious institutions have provided critical aid to the poor, homes for orphans, and education for students. A personal belief is something that one acts upon: a religious call to care for the poor drives one to volunteer one’s time, talent, and treasure to charity. To order Catholic and other religious institutions to cover abortifacients and contraceptives is to order them to violate their beliefs. James Madison, author of much of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, argued, “conscience is the most sacred of all property.” If the government can control one’s conscience, there remains nothing outside of its reach.

The worst of it is the fact that the Obama administration and its allies remain indifferent to what they have done. After the thundering condemnation of the mandate from multiple religious leaders and religious freedom advocates, the White House's only response was that “the issue here is we want to be sure women, all women, have access to good health care.” Even if one believed this was good health care policy, it fails to explain why the president has the authority to explicitly violate the basic freedoms of the Bill of Rights. Planned Parenthood attacked the response of Catholic bishops: “They are in the very small minority who believe this is a bad policy, and the majority of men and women think they should have access to birth control through their health coverage.” The Constitution and fundamental rights do not depend on popular opinion; if they did, federal judges would be elected, not appointed. By refusing to defend its Constitutional position, President Obama has effectively recognized that he remains indifferent towards the fundamental rights of America’s citizens. Lincoln once famously asked, “Was it possible to lose the nation and yet preserve the Constitution?” Obama is asking whether it is possible to lose the Constitution and yet preserve his electoral base.

In 2012, America faces more than a choice between political parties and tax rates. The polarized American electorate must collectively resolve a crisis in government. Under President Obama, liberalism has transformed government from the protector of rights to the granter of tolerance. The problem is that, while rights are inalienable, tolerance can be taken away. Now that the tolerance for religion has been revoked, religious leaders face the crushing power of the state, imposing its liberal views on any institution that dares step in its way. The president and his supporters have officially declared executive authority over religion. In 2012, the American voter must decide whether he wishes to complete the path to serfdom. The price will be our freedom.

Derek J. Bekebrede ’13 is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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