Opinion

Coercion Disguised As Consensus Is Unconstitutional Just the Same

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Posted: May 17, 2022 12:01 AM
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Coercion Disguised As Consensus Is Unconstitutional Just the Same

Source: Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP

Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine’s recent comments that “there is no argument” among those who specialize in the care of children when it comes to the treatment of patients struggling with gender dysphoria is as inaccurate as it is revealing.

Prescribing drugs and surgeries that put even young boys and girls on a pathway to sterilization is, in fact, one of the most controversial issues among physicians and psychologists today. Indeed, Sweden, France, and Finland have all recently issued policy statements rejecting or calling for extreme caution in the use of puberty blockers for children—precisely because their benefits are unproven, and their harms are increasingly well documented. Today, it is the United States and Secretary Levine who are the outliers, ignoring the science that other nations are following.

What once went without saying must now be repeated often: Parents, not government bureaucrats, have the responsibility to care for their children and therefore have the right to direct the upbringing, education, and health care of their children free from the heavy-handed interference by the likes of Secretary Levine.

Healthcare professionals are not required to surrender their consciences to maintain their practices. When the government declares by fiat that its preferred course of treatment is the “only one,” parents, health care professionals, and patients are robbed of potentially life-saving choices.

The larger point that Secretary Levine’s comments demonstrates is the attempted silencing of dissent. As one reporter recently noted, many medical professionals are “in hiding” for fear that challenging the government-approved message on the issue could have career-ending consequences and, in some jurisdictions, trigger criminal prosecution.

What is happening here appears to be consistent with what one might find in a well-worn page from the authoritarian playbook. First, bureaucrats declare the government-approved message. Next, they employ something like the administration’s recent Disinformation Governance Board (an Orwellian sort of entity that exists to declare what is true and false). Then, in collaboration (either officially or in spirit) with a few technological oligarchs, an effort begins to remove as many conflicting messages from public forums as possible. If anyone persists in disagreeing, their livelihoods can be threatened via professional licensing boards, Twitter mobs, and even actual mobs. If all dissent is crushed, it’s easy to confidently declare there is no disagreement.

While this may be the most recent example of government coercion disguised as “consensus,” it certainly isn’t the only one. Alliance Defending Freedom, for example, is currently fighting for the rights of artists everywhere to decide for themselves what message they will express through their art.

Colorado website designer Lorie Smith of 303 Creative faces an untenable choice: Create art expressing a message that contradicts her deeply held beliefs about marriage, or face fines and punishment. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear her case.

A win for Lorie will not only protect her freedom but protect the right of every American to say what they believe without fear of government punishment. Those who find themselves at odds with cultural orthodoxy cannot be forced by government to speak its preferred message. Nor can they be prevented from speaking. Otherwise, the First Amendment would protect only some Americans—not all. The freedoms of conscience and expression are twin pillars upon which our free and civil society rests.

Whether it is the proper treatment of children struggling with issues of sexuality and identity, marriage, parental rights, or the beginning and end of life, a dangerous trend is emerging in our nation. When those in power illegitimately use it to silence those with whom they disagree, America takes one step closer to losing our most precious freedoms. But when Americans refuse to be silenced, stand up for their rights, and continue speaking from their hearts and minds, we live up to the promise of our founding.

In a constitutional republic, freedom isn’t subject to popular opinion; it can’t be outvoted. It can’t be overruled by medical experts. It is only threatened if we fail to defend and respect the freedom of those with whom we disagree or if we silence ourselves at the command of an unaccountable bureaucrat.

Lathan Watts obtained his law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law and is vice president of public affairs for Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal).