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  • Conscience Rights: The New Frontline in the Culture War

    Last week’s congressional tussle over defunding Planned Parenthood demonstrates that national deliberation on controversial moral debates is far from over. While federal funding of abortion is currently in the media spotlight, a new fight is being waged in the culture war over individuals’ right of conscience.

    As new Heritage research from Visiting Fellow Thomas Messner points out, increasing government overreach through regulations and nondiscrimination policies poses serious threats to citizens’ conscience rights and religious liberty. From health care to institutional religious freedom to legalizing same-sex marriage, threats to conscience rights are emerging in many sectors of society.

    In Washington state, for example, a state regulation may force a family-owned pharmacy to choose between closing its doors and selling an abortion-inducing emergency contraceptive in violation of the store owners’ pro-life beliefs.

    Likewise, enforcement of nondiscrimination policies to prohibit exclusive hiring of people within a religion has threatened a parachurch organization’s ability to maintain its institutional character and identity.

    Legalizing same-sex marriage and enforcing sexual orientation nondiscrimination policies are also posing serious legal threats to individuals and private companies that adhere to a traditional view of marriage. In both New Mexico and Illinois, family-owned businesses have already faced civil liability under sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws for declining to provide their services for same-sex civil union ceremonies.

    In many of these instances, direct government regulation or condition-based funding has punished individuals and institutions for adhering to their moral and religious beliefs. Instead of protecting individual liberty and allowing robust civil debate about controversial issues, the government has become increasingly intrusive in society’s moral deliberations.

    As Messner explains:

    [G]overnment overreach raises the stakes of moral discourse and encourages intolerance on the part of private citizens. When civil liability or equal access to government benefits depends on private citizens adopting the “official” state position on controversial moral issues, the potential for infringement of religious liberty and rights of conscience is clear.

    Recent developments in federal policy have demonstrated the risk posed by increased government encroachment on personal liberty. Both the weak conscience protections in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Obama Administration’s decision to partially rescind federal conscience regulations have placed the rights of doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals in jeopardy. Recognizing the importance of personal liberty to civil society, policymakers have begun to propose measures to strengthen conscience protections.

    The Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, introduced by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R–NE), seeks to rectify the weak conscience protections in the PPACA and ensure that federal law respects the rights and beliefs of medical professionals. Likewise, Representative John Fleming (R–LA) has introduced the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of 2011, which would prevent the federal government or any federally funded state and local government from discriminating against medical professionals and health care institutions that decline to provide abortion-related services. Recent efforts to codify numerous pro-life and conscience protection riders in permanent federal law are also aimed at securing the liberty of health care professionals.

    As a tide of social pluralism continues to rise and moral consensus wanes, policymakers should consider the challenges to moral and religious liberty. Where government intervenes through regulation or funding provisions, policymakers should recognize the value of religious freedom to civil society and work to protect and promote citizens’ right of conscience.

    To keep track of developments on issues like these, subscribe to the Richard and Helen DeVos Center’s weekly Culture Watch.

    Co-Authored by Raul Tamez

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Conscience Rights: The New Frontline in the Culture War

    1. O_Henry says:

      Thank you, Ms. Torre, for a very good article.

      If the government is permitted to decide our conscience we cease to be individuals with liberty and become government controlled automatons/robots.

    2. Leon Lundquist, Dura says:

      Raul, Sarah! Wonderful and thoughtful Article. Religion isn't for wingnuts as the Progressive Liberals claim! (They are actually hidden Communists! Sssssh! Don't tell anyone!) These Issues of Conscience are vital from the Constitutional perspective, we are Citizen Sovereigns at liberty Under God! (Please, Elena Kagan, please take note!) It can never serve American Interests to have our morality undermined so! I heard the point made on Fox News one day, that if Abortion were not ever done in America our Social Security (Medicare, etc.) would not be underfunded! So in this wonderful Karmic way Abortion has come down on America! Imagine if Planned Parenthood were wrong, then it takes on the color of Mass Murder, American taxpayers who were never born! Gone! Just gone!

      I'll just bet the Captive Media know nothing, absolutely nothing about what you have written here! I believe you because I have seen it first hand! I can believe the unbelievably bad stuff the Progressives are doing, my life is a Victim Witness study, worthy of the Supreme Court! My life upholds your report.

      Fortenberry and Fleming should be congratulated, we simply must have this debate! I fear it is part of the Half Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, the HEART Part, to undermine Government by making us Americans hate our Government! But, you know me. I believe in God, so I'm a wingnut!

    3. Poole1Dan says:

      I absolutely love the Heritage Foundation. It is by far and away the best think tank on the planet. But I vehemently disagree with this post by Sarah Torre. The rise of "Social Pluralism" and the decline in "Moral Consensus" is infact a good thing because it allows more freedoms for more people. For example, the Fab 5 members grew up in a culture where rap music and trash talking was the norm for them, and they displayed it on the court for Michigan in the 1992 and 93 seasons. On the other hand, Grant Hill of the Duke Blue Devils grew up in a conservative household with two parents in a well-off neighborhood. We saw the clash of these two cultures in the recent ESPN Documentary.

      If you are a true believer in individualism and limited government, then BOTH these cultures and morals are perfectly acceptable in American society. Let Grant Hill live how he wants, and let Jalen Rose live how he wants. THAT'S called freedom! On the other hand, this "Conscience Rights" argument has nothing to do with religious freedom and has everything to do with forcing your subjective morals on other Americans! Who are you to tell anybody who they can and cannot marry, or have sex with? Who are you to say the repressive sex education known as abstinence must be taught in public schools?

      Furthermore, the government always has standards for federal funding, and social issues are no different. For example, from 1996 to 2009, there were tougher standards for welfare modeled on conservative principles. Is Sarah Torre complaining about that? I doubt it.

      Abortion is one thing because you're talking about another life, but aside from that, social issues MUST be dropped if conservatives want to defeat the deadly disease that is progressivism.

    4. Linda, Somerset, TX says:

      I've got a great idea for the government. How about "Conscience Rights" go along with the non-existent in the constitution "Separation of Church as State", based on except of a letter by Thomas Jefferson misconstrued by liberals. The Federal Government shall pass no law requiring companies or individuals to go against their Conscience Rights. Sounds good to me! Then the liberals cannot have their cake and eat it too.

    5. Judith Wilson Maumel says:

      it seems a monumental price to pay for a night of sex. If you want to indulge yourselves in wild abandon be prepared to pay the price yourselves. Why should our tax dollars be used to pay for your lack of inteligence or control?

    6. Deadbox Prime, Philadelphia says:

      Nice to see someone paying attention to the forgotten side of these issues. The government needs to focus on basic services before taking a run as thought police.

    7. Pingback: FRC Blog » The Social Conservative Review: April 28, 2011

    8. Gary says:

      As a corrections chaplain I was near to being terminated when I counseled a girl who didn't particularly want an abortion but her mother and the social workers and psychologists "knew" this was the proper thing to do. One gentleman on the parole board came closer to termination than I as we both counseled the girl to follow what we felt was God's plan for both mother and baby. Life got very interesting for both of us in the years that followed. We weren't fired but there are other methods of punishment that can be applied. Now I am retired and have become a "problem" as I am one of the money grubbing former state employees who is bleeding our state dry!

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