David Harsanyi
It's always curious to watch the champions of "choice" decide what choices to champion and what choices to dismiss for the common good.

If you believe that the Obama administration's decision to force Catholic institutions to pay for and offer (directly or indirectly) products the church finds morally objectionable is an assault on religious freedom and free speech, you probably also realize the importance of consumer choice. After all, when government dictates what people buy and sell, it dictates much more.

First, let's ponder the precedent: Obama argues that government not only is empowered to force every adult to purchase a product in a marketplace (in this case, health insurance) but also can demand that providers sell certain products in this market (in this case, contraception). Washington, then, has the ability to direct both seller and buyer if it deems such actions beneficial for society.

And, needless to say, when Democrats deem something beneficial for society, they have a strong tendency to start treating this something as if it were a "right." As it stands, you have the "right" to a free condom, and should you forget or neglect or utilize this right, you have the right to an abortion that is partially funded by fungible taxpayer dollars. (If, however, a couple keep a child, they have no right to use their tax dollars to shop for a school outside their own neighborhood or, apparently, find a health care plan that comports with their values.)

As many of you know, there are "negative rights," as in my right to be protected from harm if I try to buy, say, birth control. And there are also "positive rights," as in my right to have birth control provided for me. In the eyes of many liberals, condoms, health care, salubrious foods, housing, etc., should, if there is any decency in this nation, be positive rights. Thus, anyone failing to provide these things is really just "denying" people access.

So, the argument goes, by failing to offer birth control, the Catholic Church is actually preventing access to reproductive health care.

A neat trick.

If we need an example of how limiting consumer choice can ignite social, economic and quality issues, we can turn to the similar one-size-fits-all debacle of "rights" called public education. Yes, there are Philistines like me who believe that exposing schools to market forces would spur innovation and better outcomes. Surely, there is little doubt that if we extricated schools from state monopolies and transformed parents into consumers, the many arguments about God, history, politics and Darwinism -- or whateverism is grating against your sensibilities -- would be fought in the comment sections of websites rather than in classrooms.


David Harsanyi

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of "The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy." Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.