Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Coercive Attack on Free Speech

Last Friday evening I had the opportunity to interview a man whom I've known for some time.  (Unfortunately, he needs to remain anonymous.)  He currently serves in the Army as a Chaplain Candidate.  He has very strong feelings about what is happening to our First Amendment rights, but, in case you've missed some of the news, let's begin with some quick background.

An important part of President Obama's mandated health care plan has become the controversial requirement that all insurance plans must soon include contraception, abortion, and sterilization benefit options.  Then, just last Friday, a "compromise" was offered with regards to religious organizations--but we'll get to that later.  

I'd like to focus on one dimension of this debate that has become increasingly chilling to those for whom Free Speech is a sacred and treasured right.  It's happening in the military.  Recently, Archbishop Timothy Paul Andrew Broglio, overseeing the military chaplains, had planned to distribute a letter to Catholic chaplains to be read to their congregations in Mass.  The letter was an eloquent and powerful protest of the the administration's health mandates, and was written by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Phoenix Diocese.  When the Chief of Chaplains, Donald Rutherford, got wind of the contents of the letter, he forbade it from being read in Mass.  Here is an excerpt of the letter in question, the letter that could not be read in churches presided over by Catholic chaplains who served in the US Army.

We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.  People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens. ... In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.  (Letter quoted in its entirety at the end of the blog.)

So, mandated health care is bad enough, but there is something perhaps even more chilling, Orwellian even, when we have the US military dictating what can and cannot be said within a voluntarily attended religious service.

At the conclusion of the following interview, I will offer a few more thoughts on the purported health care compromise.

1.   Why should we all care about the Health Care Mandate, and how does the birth control requirement effect free speech?

The precedent here goes far beyond the issue of contraception.  There’s also the issue of the abortive medications as well and sterilization.  The intrusion of federal government into the free exercise of religion is unprecedented.  I don’t know of other cases of this happening in the USA before.  I’m familiar with examples of this with regards to Russian history and in Germany...
To require anyone to purchase a product is unconstitutional, and this takes away a freedom.  To coerce people to go against their beliefs in these's forcing people to violate either the law or their conscience--effectively removing them from their ministry and service  If we violate our conscience, we are turning against the nature of God and ignoring the very mission of God in following Christ.  

According to Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Christians will be jailed if Obama has his way.

      2.  What do you think is behind this action?  Does this reflect a larger agenda, or open the door to more serious troubles down the road?

The issues raised are so troubling that I find myself questioning what I'm doing in the Army.  I'm nervous about the future.

While Broglio and Rutherford are both Catholic, it's important to understand that the Chief of Chaplain's position is not one of shepherding; that is not, and never was, Rutherford's job.  In fact, this high position could belong to anyone of any faith tradition.  This is more than an internal disagreement within the Catholic Church.  

Someone higher up obviously wanted the Chief of Chaplain's to intervene and stop this letter from being read from the pulpits.  It's one thing for the command structure to direct a chaplain to say or not say something at a public ceremony, because the chaplain is representing the state.  When voluntary services are held, however, the chaplain is no longer representing the state.  The government has no authority there.  For the government to come into a religious service and censor what's said from the pulpit is just unbelievable.        

3.  What are your thoughts on today's "compromise"?

The President is getting a lot of flack for this, and it's not going away.  The references to a doesn't appear to be a compromise at all.  It's the principal of a thing, and not the logistics of it.  The references to a compromise doesn't make it a compromise.  Pushing this issue seems to run counter to the President's own party.  The political fallout is too great, and he's trying to backpedal.

Calling it a compromise is an empty and lawyerly gesture.  First Amendment rights shouldn't have to be compromised.

4.  Some have commented that the Army seems particularly soft when it comes to issues like this.  Do you think the Army has become too "touchy-feely?"

Well, there are definitely different cultures within different branches of the service.  There are different cultures even in the same service--support and logistics versus the foot soldier, for example.  My sense with regards to the Marines, for instance, is that they tend to be more professional; no one cares about your feelings there.

5.  Any parting thoughts on this freedom of religious speech issue?

The Chief of Chaplains may not have realized the gravity of his objections.  It could have been an honest mistake, but a person at this level should know better.  He should be acting as an advocate for the chaplains against governmental intrusion and political correctness.  Using his governmental authority to trump the bishop's authority clearly sets an awful precedent.

(Interview Conclusion)

I find the mandated health care compromise foolish on multiple levels, but it also offers fascinating insight into our opponents' thinking.  I believe they really thought the act of pushing the mandate off upon the insurance companies was a perfect solution, but it reveals such a shallow grasp of ethical thought that it would be humorous--if this weren't such a serious Free Speech battle.  

As it was described in the interview, it's very "lawyerly" indeed.  In fact, that's the perfect word to describe it.  First of all, it suggests that all Christians care about is appearances--the letter of the law so to speak.  It's embracing the line of misguided reasoning that says you can do whatever you wish on Sunday, but, come to work, you better not let religion color your thought or actions.  Of course, if it doesn't color our thoughts and deeds, it's hardly worth the time, is it?  As any person of faith knows, living a life of faith is all about the struggle to infuse every part of one's being with the grace and message of our Savior.  We're not looking for excuses; we're looking for truth and lives of meaning.  

It's a clear case of cause and effect.  Having the insurer, provided by the religious employer, covering inherhently immoral practices (clearly opposed by the employer on religious grounds) still creates a situation where the religious institution is facilitating an intrinsically evil act.  The link is still plain as day, and that link should not be permitted under any circumstances.

The lawyerly compromise from the current administration also fails to recognize or acknowledge the actual financial relationships here.  The insurance company has been contracted by the religious institution to provide services.  To say that the insurance company will provide those services for free is silly--the difference will be made up elsewhere.  What's being proposed is a meaningless distinction that would only afford peace of conscience to the most shallow and unreasoning of believers.  As Jimmy Akin pointed out on Friday in National Catholic Register, it's not like the insurance companies print money; it has to come from somewhere.  This is a classic shell game, and those of faith are the "marks."  (As an aside, it's important to note that we haven't even scratched the surface when it comes to religious institutions who are self-insured.)

I would like to conclude by pointing out that President Obama has made his opposition to faith and Christianity abundantly clear now.  Personally, I don't see how a Christian--let alone an informed Catholic--in good conscience could vote for him.  His aim seems to be to make it as easy and convenient as possible to destroy the lives of the unborn, served up upon the altar of Moloch.     

...But the worshippers of Moloch were not gross or primitive. They were members of a mature and polished civilization abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably far more civilized than the Romans. And Moloch was not a myth; or at any rate his meal was not a myth. These highly civilized people really met together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. We can only realize the combination by imagining a number of Manchester merchants with chimneypot hats and mutton-chop whiskers, going to church every Sunday at eleven o'clock to see a baby roasted alive.  (Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton)

Further reading offered in three categories:

1.  Religious 

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Humanae Vitae

Father Tim Mockaitis interview (touched on some related issues)

2.  Political and free speech

United States Bill of Rights

United States Constitution

3.  My Related blog posts

Just a Stay-at-home Mom

What is the Legacy of Margaret Sanger

A Few More Words on Sanger--and Life

Bishop Olmsted's Letter

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be “of, by, and for the people,” has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people - the Catholic population - and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion- inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the insurance policies they write. Almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their health insurance plans.
In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

We cannot - we will not - comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

Therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Pray the rosary, asking Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of our Nation, to intercede for us. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I recommend visiting, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s decision.

United in prayer and in confidence in God’s mercy, I remain Sincerely yours in Christ,

Thomas J. Olmsted Bishop of Phoenix

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