Thursday, December 5, 2013
When Government Mandates Lead to Tyranny....
Should the federal government have the authority to require private companies to provide insurance coverage that violates the owners' religious beliefs? Supporters of the Affordable Care Act, including President Barack Obama, say "yes," and most conservatives, especially those with Christian beliefs, say "no." The latter group includes Hobby Lobby Stores, a privately held company owned by the Green family, who are committed Christians. The case before the Supreme Court, known as Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, confronts the question of whether government-mandated insurance coverage must give way to religious freedom, even if we're talking about the religious beliefs of owners of secular, for-profit companies.
Whenever the government passes laws or issues regulations affecting the conduct of citizens or private enterprise, it does so with a net increase to its own power and authority and a net decrease to the amount of freedom enjoyed by its citizens (as well as by the organizations and/or businesses consisting of its citizens). It is a fantasy to conceive of an organized society where the people exercise unlimited freedom, but those who cherish the ideals and principles enshrined in our nation's heritage desire a nation that errs more on the side of individual freedom than government power. And while most Americans recognize the need for government to protect people from harm, those who cherish freedom rightly believe such protections should extend to their own families, convictions, and values.
When the Constitutional Convention concluded its business in September 1787, their president George Washington sent a letter to the president of the national Congress addressing the delicate balance between individual liberty on the one hand and community needs (and government authority) on the other. In the letter, Washington wrote: "Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest." It's an easy argument to make that Washington foresaw the need for individuals to support a national government with their tax dollars, accept a standing army, submit to certain trade regulations, etc. It's inconceivable, however, to argue that Washington and the delegates to the Constitutional Convention would've been okay with the federal government mandating that companies pay for birth control, especially when the owners of such companies believe some of those birth control options include abortion-inducing drugs. On the contrary, it's quite reasonable to conclude that had the Federalists intended to give the government that much power, there would've been a whole lot more anti-Federalists opposing the Constitution - and such a Constitution never would've been ratified!
My liberal or "progressive" friends will likely respond with arguments that the nation has evolved since the days of our Founding Fathers and will point to selective court decisions which seemingly support such expansive government mandates. First, not all change is good. Second, when it comes to making changes, there's a right way to go about it - and a wrong way to go about it. And third, the courts are not always right. (Dred Scott anyone?)
Of course, liberals don't like to be pointed back to the Founders. They certainly don't like to hear talk about how we should still (even in 2014) respect the principles and ideals our nation was founded upon. They typically respond with a barrage of predictable, worn complaints: the Founding Fathers didn't give women the national right to vote; the Founding Fathers didn't allow for the direct election of US senators; it's 2013 (almost 2014) and not 1787; blah, blah, blah, blah. I've heard it all. And the Founders weren't the backward, primitive bigots so many of their left-wing detractors today would have us believe. If you're in that camp, put away the Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky and actually read what the Founding Fathers themselves wrote. But if you aren't comfortable digging into original source material, then pick up a copy of Vindicating the Founders by Thomas G. West. It puts everything in a much fairer context. Think West is too favorable? Then grab a copy of Jefferson's Pillow by Roger Wilkins. For that matter, you can also read Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech or his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, where he appeals to the founding principles of our nation, rather than condemn the Founding Fathers.
But even if you persist in believing the Founders were mean, bad, primitive, blah, blah, blah, the fact is that they built into the Constitution the means for it to expand and adjust to changing circumstances. It's called the amending process. And that's how our nation abolished slavery (something many, if not most, of the Founders wanted to do even back in the founding era), nationalized the right of women to vote, and provided for the direct election of US senators (instead of via the state legislatures). What the Founders did NOT provide for was allowing the national legislature or the national judiciary to ignore or redefine the Constitution. For this reason, the original intent of the Founding Fathers is relevant to understanding how much authority the federal government today should have when it comes to regulating the conduct and spending of individuals or private enterprise.
"Progressives" will often point to the "general welfare" clause of the Constitution and argue that, in order for the government to provide more in the way of social services, health care, etc, people must surrender even more rights and privileges, especially when they enter the public square or the marketplace. But the Founders would've considered this argument to be anathema. It is not the government's responsibility to make sure I'm healthy and wealthy -- and get tucked in at night! It's my responsibility to pursue those things. It's the government's role to protect my right and ability to pursue those things. The government isn't a provider; it's a protector!
I grant that there are some individuals unable to provide for themselves, no matter how much they are protected. And I fully support the community stepping in and helping those people. I'm no libertarian, and neither were the Founders. The Founders understood that some people need help, and the community should help. But somewhere in the last 200 plus years, we've lost our sense of balance and perspective. As conservative Dinesh D'Souza points out in this hilarious YouTube clip, when more people are in the wagon than are pulling the wagon, you have a serious problem! What's more, there's a big difference in arguing that the government should pay for food and shelter for those who need it. It's something else entirely to say the government should pay for birth control or (worse!) an abortion! Or...even worse...requiring a private company to pay for an abortion!
Bringing this back to the issue at hand...I agree that people need to give up a measure of their liberty and resources in order to live in a community. But when the government starts mandating that people and organizations must engage in activities or spend money (in addition to basic taxation) that violate their own convictions (particularly when we're talking about religious convictions), a line has been crossed! And that line is being crossed today. It's definitely being crossed with the Affordable Care Act and its mandates concerning contraception. This isn't a situation where tax dollars are being used to finance medical procedures or drugs which terminate a pregnancy (rather than merely prevent one). That's bad enough. Now, we have the government telling a private company that it must finance such procedures or drugs. This is tyranny...pure and simple! And the Founders would be appalled!
If the United States doesn't pause and reflect on where we're headed, we will cease to be anything close to resembling the great nation our Founders created and conceived of. When that happens, we will cease to be a great nation.