Government involvement, in just about any area of life, causes conflict. It's all but inescapable. Set a tax rate and people will say it's too high or too low; too onerous for this group or for that one. A new benefit program leads to protests for those who don't qualify and have to foot the bill; Grants to specific companies (like Solyndra) create un-level playing fields, disadvantaging those who fail to benefit from the political lottery.
Yet such conflict is particularly pronounced when government intrudes in matters that involve moral issues and religious convictions. Surely it wasn't an accident that the Founders put the first amendment first: Freedom of religion, association, and speech are so fundamental to personal sovereignty that they are in a different class than squabbles about what constitutes just tax policy.
Those on the left who expected women to universally cheer the Administration's recent announcement that virtually all health insurance packages must offer free birth control misunderstand the value Americans place on the concept of freedom of conscience and the importance of respecting religious beliefs.
For starters, most Americans know the very concept of a “free” good is nonsense. Someone must pay the costs of producing and distributing contraception. Health insurance companies forbidden from charging for birth control will build those costs into insurance premiums, shifting costs from those who use prescription birth control or other covered contraception to those who don't. This is a “free benefit” in name only—ultimately, we all pay for it.
Yet this cost-shifting (intrinsic to many health insurance regulations) isn't what is controversial in this case. The real price Americans will pay for the Administration's “free birth control” mandate is in the damage done to the concept of religious liberty and the freedom of association.
Some religious groups find certain kinds of contraception immoral. It doesn't matter if you disagree with this set of beliefs. When it comes to religious liberty, Americans know that we don't have to agree with others. So long as their belief system doesn't include violating the rights of others—say, human sacrifice, stealing property, blowing up buildings, etc—we are supposed to respect their right to practice that religion in coordination with others that voluntarily join them.
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