Working for the State Absolves the Conscience
Among the arguments of those who’ve sided with Congressman Patrick Kennedy in his rejection of Catholic doctrine is the point that Kennedy works for the people and therefore must represent their wishes. My usual response is that an elected official is to balance and represent the interests of his constituents, and it is just not possible to be Roman Catholic and believe that the world’s most liberal abortion laws are actually in society’s interest. What interests me, for this post, though, is the implication that Kennedy’s status as a “public servant” absolves him of supporting atrocities if they are supported by the people and their government.
There’s something similar in creeping government action against the notion of conscience clauses. Consider this paragraph by Wesley Smith (emphasis added):
A recent article published by bioethicist Jacob Appel provides a glimpse of the emerging rationale behind the coming coercion. As the Montana Supreme Court pondered whether to affirm a trial judge’s ruling creating a state constitutional right to assisted suicide, Appel opined that justices should not only validate the “right to die” but also, in effect, establish a physician’s duty to kill, predicated on the medical monopoly possessed by licensed practitioners. “Much as the government has been willing to impose duties on radio stations (e.g., indecency codes, equal-time rules) that would be impermissible if applied to newspapers,” Appel wrote, “Montana might reasonably consider requiring physicians, in return for the privilege of a medical license, to prescribe medication to the dying without regard to the patient’s intent.” Should the court not thus guarantee access to assisted suicide, it would be merely creating “a theoretical right to die that cannot be meaningfully exercised.”
Thus did Massachusetts push Catholic Charities out of the adoption business. The presumption becomes that the practitioner does not work for him or her self, ultimately, but for the government. “The right to practice” is contingent upon one’s wiilingness to do as the government dictates. Smith goes on:
Indeed, forcing medical professionals to participate in the taking of human life is already advancing into the justifiable stage. In Washington, a pharmacy chain refused to carry an abortifacient contraceptive that violated the religious views of its owners. A trial judge ruled that the owners were protected in making this decision by the First Amendment. But in Stormans Inc. v. Salecky, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, ruling that a state regulation that all legal prescriptions be filled was enforceable against the company because it was a law of general applicability and did not target religion.
In a decision that should chill the blood of everyone who believes in religious freedom, the court stated: “That the new rules prohibit all improper reasons for refusal to dispense medication . . . suggests that the purpose of the new rules was not to eliminate religious objections to delivery of lawful medicines but to eliminate all objections that do not ensure patient health, safety, and access to medication. Thus, the rules do not target practices because of their religious motivation.” And since pharmacists are not among the medical professionals allowed by Washington”s law to refuse participation in assisted suicide, Stormans would also seem to compel dispensing lethal prescriptions for legally qualified patients even though the drugs are expressly intended to kill.
It’s difficult to see how this principle would stop short of allowing government to dictate just about anything to religious citizens, provided legislators and judges can phrase the action in terms with the appearance of applying to everybody. A law that everybody must ingest some non-kosher substance, for example, could be made to apply to Jews on grounds of general applicability.
The common theme is that — partially in the name of religious freedom — the government takes upon itself the right to determine what a man or woman of good conscience should and shouldn’t be expected (permitted) to do.