Congress & the Battle for Conscience Rights

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Two hundred and forty years ago last week, our founders unanimously signed a declaration. A declaration that, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently noted, conceived our nation in liberty and dedicated it to the proposition that all men are created equal—a declaration that recognized that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Now Congress is met on a great battlefield of that war this week, the struggle for all men to have the right to life, to liberty of conscience, and to pursue the ultimate happiness of knowing and serving their Creator. They meet on that battlefield to test whether this nation or any nation can endure to protect these rights that have been bestowed by a higher power—not by the power of the government.

Today, Congress will vote on the Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 4828). This act would reinforce the Weldon Amendment, the federal conscience amendment that prohibits HHS funds from being used for any federal, state, or local agency that discriminates against an individual or institutional heath care entity because they will not provide, pay for, or refer for abortions.  The Act protects millions of Americans from violating their consciences by performing or referring for abortion procedures, or by paying for abortion in health care services.

Current laws in New York and California, along with a recent decision in Washington state, force health care providers of conscience to choose between their jobs and their beliefs. They silence opposition and handcuff health care workers who care for the most vulnerable of our society.

Americans of conscience are facing a time that challenges faith and compels us to speak up for truth, no matter what station in life we inhabit. We rightly look to the Middle East and watch the violent convert-or-die “red” martyrdom of our brothers and sisters there. We feel great anger and sadness on their behalf, and we do what we can to defend them and provide the resources necessary to survive.

Yet very often we look past the quiet, white martyrdom of the West. This creeping secular advance of anti-Christian propaganda is guided by sexual license and gnostic ideals. In the West, we don’t yet lose our heads if we fail to conform to secularism, but we may lose our jobs or our way of life. Oftentimes, our very souls and spiritual life are on the line.

Bakers in multiple states, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and pastors in Houston and Iowa facing speech restrictions are but a few of the visible faces of the white martyrdom of the West. What is not seen are the health care workers and medical students who face persecution for refusing to perform abortions, the pharmacists who are forced to provide life-ending drugs, and the women who struggle to find doctors willing to care for an unborn child with special needs. The list could go on, and it is not just confined to the health care industry.

Congress must act to protect conscientious Americans from further discrimination by allowing them to follow their deeply held religious and moral beliefs, especially when it comes to protecting innocent human life. If health care workers are not able to protect and care for vulnerable human life, who in our society will?

While speaking at the Becket Fund after receiving their Canterbury Medal, Armando Valladares, a Cuban freedom fighter, congratulated the Little Sisters of the Poor for living out the richness of their conscience “which no government bureaucrat can invade…They know what my body knows after 22 years of cruel torture: that if they sign the form, the government demands they will be violating their conscience and would commit spiritual suicide. If they did this, they would forfeit the true and only wealth they have in abandoning the castle of their consciences.”

This week Congress must meet on the battlefield of our founding principles to protect the “castle of conscience” for millions of Americans across the country. As Pope Saint John Paul II once said, “When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.”

We know this to be true. In turning against humanity and freedom of conscience, we give the government the power to determine who is a valuable human being and who is not, who needs to bow to the tower of the secular gnostic babble and who is free to do as they please, when civil discourse and religion are allowed to flourish and when they are to be silenced.

American freedom depends on this vote. It is up to Congress to again stand for our first principles.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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