Have you ever read the Bill of Rights? It is one of the foundational documents of our nation, put there to place limits on the power of the government. It specifies rights that are so fundamental that the even the government has no authority to deny or abridge them.
For instance, the first 16 words of the First Amendment — there are 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights — are these: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Over the years the courts have extended the meaning of the Bill of Rights to include state, county, and municipal governments as well. That is why it has been deemed a violation of what is called “the establishment clause,” the part about establishing a religion, to put a religious Christmas display on town property, or to enshrine the 10 Commandments in the county courthouse. We hear a lot about the establishment clause, but relatively little fuss is made about the other part, guaranteeing the right to practice one’s religion — all the time, not just for an hour or two on the weekend. The “separation of church and state” imputed to that amendment is supposed to work both ways.
On January 20, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, announced a new regulation whereby all women in the country have become entitled to free birth control, including drugs which can spawn an abortion, and free sterilization. Employers, she said, would have to pay for it as part of their insurance plans.
This upset numerous faith-based organizations, the largest of which is the Roman Catholic Church, with 70 million American members, which happens to believe that contraception, sterilization, and abortion are mortal sins. The Church operates many hospitals, shelters, food kitchens, and other charitable projects, which employ many people. It also upset a lot of other people of faith. The administration was losing the P.R. battle, so on February 10 the President announced what his handlers called “an accommodation.”
Those organizations, he said, would not have to pay for these services. Instead — get this — their insurance companies would have to provide them for free. Either the President is an idiot or he thinks you are. The Catholic Church may have charities; insurance companies do not. (And private employers who had moral objections were out of luck either way, though the Bill of Rights applies equally to them.)
“[W]omen who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they'll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries,” he said. Other women, he might have added, except for the 351,000-member United Federation of Teachers, or the 3 million others whose companies or unions have been given waivers from participation in “Obamacare.” Though both Obama and Sebelius have characterized birth control as a “right,” apparently it is one that does not apply where it is inconvenient to organizations that have supported Obama. (Remember all those ads in favor of Obamacare by the AARP? You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you. You’re right: the AARP is exempt from Obamacare, too, and needn’t provide “reproductive services” — amusing euphemism — to its employees.)
It could be that the President has a poor view of religion because of the only pastor he’s spent much time with, whose most famous prayer was “God damn America.” Obama might think that this is typical of religious observance. But that is speculation on my part; I cannot know his motivation.
Maybe you think that free stuff is free stuff, no matter who pays for it. And Obama and his media sock puppets have styled this as being all about birth control.
It isn’t. It’s about the Bill of Rights. If the President can by decree force someone to commit an act that is in grave violation of his or her religious beliefs, in violation of both the establishment and free exercise clauses, the First Amendment is dead. Hey, maybe you don’t care about religion or free speech or the right to peaceably assemble, all rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Maybe the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, is more to your liking. Or maybe you’d just as soon not be subject to unreasonable search or the seizure of your property. Maybe you’re a fan of something called “due process.”
But I guarantee you, there’s something important to you in the Bill of Rights. And if the precedent is set that the President may change its meaning or effect at will, he won’t stop with the First Amendment. There’s more: Obama is not ruler forever, much as I suspect he’d like to be. Presidents come and go, but precedents have a way of hanging around. If this president can ride roughshod over your Constitutional rights, so can the next one. And the one after that, all able to delete those — yes, God-given — rights on a whim.
Oh, and one thing more. A few hours after the President announced his “accommodation” to religious organizations, the administration submitted the regulation for publication in the Federal Register, which is to say it became final.
It was exactly the same as the original decree, not so much as a comma changed.
The “accommodation” was a lie.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.