Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison.
A liberal reporter speaking at a conference in Georgetown recently dismissed conservative alarms about the Obama administration's mandate that forces religious institutions--like Catholic Hospitals and Evangelical colleges--to provide coverage for drugs and procedures that can abortions and that effect sterilizations. "What about the anti-Catholic Bible riots in Philadelphia in the 1840s," she asked. Those led to scores of people actually being killed. Those Bible riots were deplorable, a blot on American history. But they were not the acts of the federal government. They were lawless violence, not a deliberate policy of oppression.
James Madison famously said the people are right to take alarm at the "first advance on their liberties." The Obama Mandate will force us to violate our consciences. President Obama famously said he doesn't know when human life begins, but he's willing to force us to collaborate in the destruction of innocent human lives. We do know when human life begins. So does science. So, increasingly, do millions of young Americans who see their first photo--an ultra-sound picture taken of them in their mothers' wombs. This is why, even liberal columnist Joe Klein writes, "ultrasound has made it impossible to deny that that thing in the womb is a human being." He conceded this in TIME magazine, no less. But President Obama and his administration deny this eternal truth every day. And he wants to force you to deny it, too.
Madison happily reported to Thomas Jefferson in France in 1786 that the Virginia legislature had finally passed their great Statute for Religious Freedom. Madison exulted that this historic law would "establish" not a single church or denomination, but religious freedom itself--for the first time in human history. This measure would become the foundation for civil liberty, he thought. And it would add immeasurably to the "lustre of our country."
No more would governments presume to tell men what they must think. Conscience had been liberated. President Obama doesn't care what you think, so long as you join him in helping to destroy the unborn on demand. And help him by paying for it. The Virginia Statute of 1786 freed citizens from having to pay taxes to churches whose doctrines they disbelieved and whose worship practices they did not share. Now, all Americans are forced to join President Obama's professed ignorance of when human life begins, when the unborn come to possess the right to life. Abraham Lincoln had no such doubts as this Illinois president expresses. He said "nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon." That firm faith impelled Lincoln to reject human bondage inspires millions of Americans to reject this slaughter of innocents.
Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51 that the multiplicity of sects (religious denominations) is what enabled Virginians to establish religious freedom in 1786. And he argued that the checks and balances of the new Constitution would be preserve civil liberty in the new American republic. That's what's in danger now. If the Obama Mandate stands, Americans will all be forced either to violate their own consciences or be taxed for the suppression of other Americans' consciences. We have long recognized conscientious objection in granting exemptions from the military draft. President Obama's proposed religious exemption from his abortion mandate is so narrowly drawn that it is questionable whether even Jesus' ministry would qualify.
We are putting at risk America's unique contribution to the world: religious freedom. How much longer can we say, with George Washington, that in America "each shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."
Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows at the Family Research Council.