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.
This should mean that religious organizations shouldn't have to engage in activities, or offer services or products that conflict with their core values. The Administration's rule recognizes this in part so provides exemptions for entities that are explicitly houses of worship, but will still force the requirement on other entities with religious ties.
What will be the result? Likely, some organizations that object to birth control will simply stop providing health insurance at all rather than violate core convictions. How's that good for women?
Americans should celebrate the existence of groups that represent a wide variety of belief systems. The recent controversy about the Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to withdraw—and then reinstate—Planned Parenthood as eligible for foundation grants shows how this process works.
Komen, with its sole focus on fighting breast cancer, presumably wanted to separate itself from the lightning-rod abortion issue. Their initial move to limit funding to Planned Parenthood backfired, as Planned Parenthood supporters were outraged at the withdrawal of funds and threatened to withhold contributions to Komen. Pro-lifers poured contributions into Komen, until Komen issued a statement to reverse course and reinstate Planned Parenthood as grant-eligible.
It was a messy process, and a rough week for one of Americans most well-regarded private charities. Yet this is how the private giving process should work. Americans are free to vote with their dollars for charities, companies, schools, and other organizations that reflect their core beliefs.
The truly unfortunate moment in the Komen controversy was when 26 U.S. Senators sent a letter urging Komen to reconsider the decision to reduce funding for Planned Parenthood. How was Nancy Brinker, the head of the Koman Foundation, supposed to take this? Was there an implicit threat attached to such powerful officials urging her to reconsider the organization's giving policy?
The Left talks a lot about the importance of “diversity.” Sometimes, however, it seems that what they mean by “diversity” is people who look and dress a little different and might speak different languages, but all adher to the liberal agenda de jour. The truth is that the one-size-fits-all mandates pushed by the Left, as well as the campaign to displace private giving with bigger and bigger government, are the real enemy of real diversity and to freedoms that are supposed to be central to our country.
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