With the exception of Catholics and others in the religious community that closely follow such issues, few people took note of the Obama administration's rhetorical shift from "freedom of religion" to "freedom of worship" in 2010. This seemingly innocuous modification carried with it significant implications, however, as Ashley Samelson of the Becket Fund explained in an article for First Things:
"Any person of faith knows that religious exercise is about a lot more than freedom of worship. It's about the right to dress according to one's religious dictates, to preach openly, to evangelize, to engage in the public square. Everyone knows that religious Jews keep kosher, religious Quakers don't go to war, and religious Muslim women wear headscarves-yet 'freedom of worship' would protect none of these acts of faith."
Ms. Samelson might have included "freedom of conscience" in her litany of the liberties protected by the free exercise clause has she known that the President would soon be launching an unprecedented attack on the constitutional rights of private religious organizations in the name of "health care rights." Why? Because this is exactly what the President's new birth control mandate signifies.
The strong reaction to this policy is understandable. What is happening here is more than mere politics as usual, it represents a fundamental attack on liberty in which the United States government is using its coercive power in an illegal manner to impose a controversial ideology on its citizens. To require private religious employers to provide birth control and other abortifacient drugs to their employees is to compel them to defy their consciences as informed by their faith and the Word of God. Indeed, there are some who believe that President Obama's true motive has less to do with birth control and more to do with government control, sending the message that it is not God but the State that is the final authority on questions of personal conscience and morality.
The Church should not be surprised by this, for this kind of secular v. divine power struggle has been going on since ancient times. As Michael Stokes Paulsen recounts in his article "Obama's Contraception Cramdown: The Pork Precedent," Jewish leaders were subjected to severe penalties for refusing to render to Caesar things that rightly belonged to God:
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