At this time of year, some grumpy conservative talk show host will complain about how some Wal-Mart window display doesn’t use the word Christmas, or how the town caroling festival featured only “Frosty the Snowman” and other secular songs. Fine, go ahead and complain, but don’t waste all your breath on “offenses” such as these.
Christians ought not get too upset by un-Christian businesses or people. They do not interfere with our ability to live as Christians. We should be afraid of government restricting our freedom to live according to our beliefs and consciences.
Our federal and state governments often infringe on our religious freedom, but in an infuriating Orwellian twist, the battles surrounding these issues are portrayed as cases religious people imposing their morality on others. At the same time, many conservatives also simplify these fights as the clashing of two worldviews–which is the wrong way to fight them.
As Christians and conservatives our involvement in the political realm ought to be, foremost, defending our freedom to live our lives and raise our families according to our consciences.
Consider the scuffle over pharmacists who refused to sell a customer “Plan B”, a birth-control pill that also can (and is intended to) kill human embryos by preventing implantation.
The New York Times editorial page called a pharmacist’s refusal to sell Plan B “an intolerable abuse of power by pharmacists who have no business forcing their own moral or ethical views onto customers who may not share them.” In the Times‘s view, if I don’t sell you what you want to buy from me, I am “forcing [my] own moral or ethical views onto” you. In truth, I am forcing my own moral views only onto myself. If I were to try to outlaw the sale of contraceptives, or if I try to physically restrain you from buying contraceptives, then I am forcing my morals on you. This Times editorial was praised by a liberal website called “Theocracy Watch.” Apparently the pharmacists are now our government and nobody told us.
The media, at best, presented this as an issue of dueling rights: the right of the woman to procure Plan B versus the right of the pharmacist to follow his conscience. An Associated Press candidate survey this past election posed the issue to Senators thus: “Please explain whether or not you support laws that allow a pharmacist to deny filling a prescription for contraception if the pharmacist is opposed to doing so on moral or religious grounds.”
Read that again: “laws that allow a pharmacist to deny filling a prescription.” These were written questions, not an interviewer being imprecise in the middle of a long interview. The AP apparently believes that without explicit government approval, pharmacists would never or could never deny filling a prescription. No state needs a law to allow someone to not sell something he doesn’t want to sell. At issue was really laws to force the pharmacist to sell something against his conscience–or more precisely, laws to make selling abortifacient contraceptives a condition of working as a pharmacist or running a pharmacy.
The Illinois governor issued an executive order, and the state legislature has since passed this into law, that all pharmacists must fill prescriptions of Plan B.
If you are a Catholic faithful to the teachings of the Church and you want to keep working as a pharmacist in Illinois, you can either violate your conscience–aiding and abetting the killing of an unborn child–or you can go to jail. More likely you will stop practicing pharmacy or move to a state without such tyrannical laws.
For the most part, such laws were the issue in this debate, but the Left, led by The New York Times acted as though the issue were one of conservative Christians imposing their morality on poor young women.
Meanwhile, some conservative Christian pharmacists are actually imposing their morality–not on expectant mothers, but on the pharmacists’ bosses. In 2001, an Ohio pharmacy fired a pharmacist for refusing to prescribe an emergency contraceptive. Any Catholic ought to be upset about this firing, denounce the pharmacy, and maybe organize a boycott. Instead, in good American fashion, the fired pharmacist sued his employer, arguing that his rights were violated under the state’s “conscience laws.”
Outlawing firing–for any reason–is similarly tyranny. Once I can only fire my worker for state-approved reasons, I no longer have control over my own money. A conservative blogger, lamenting the lack of “conscience laws” in most states, put it this way: “In at least 45 out of the 50 States of the U.S., an employee pharmacist can be fired for refusing to dispense an abortifacient drug.”
Just as the liberals presume a right of a woman to buy from me whatever she wants to buy from me, this conservative blogger presumes the right of a pharmacist to be paid by people who no longer want to pay them.
These “conscience laws” are objectionable not only on libertarian grounds, but also on conservative grounds–as well as explicitly Christian grounds.
The conservative ought to worry about the new threats you create when you empower the government with more control over employer-employee relationships. The Catholic school will be compelled by law to keep the nun who loses her faith and declares herself an atheist. The Christian employer will be forced by the government to offer a homosexual employee’s boyfriend or civil partner the same benefits he offers the married employee’s wife.
Government dictates that go against our conscience are far more dangerous than some employer’s dictates. All the employer can do is fire you. The government can arrest you, fine you, or at least keep you from ever working in that field again.
Finally, there is something wrong with a Christian seeking such “conscience laws” that restrict what an individual can do with his own property. Making it illegal to fire a Christian for acting like a Christian truly is legislating morality (an overused term, admittedly). It is saying, “such a firing is unfair and hurtful, and therefore we will use government force to prevent it from happening.”
This view of government’s role–of preventing short-term pain and the commission of all injustices–seems to me to ignore some Christian beliefs about the universe. A Christian does not see suffering–or even suffering an injustice–as a bad thing in itself.
In his Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul encouraged to not run from suffering. “[F]or Christ’s sake,” he writes, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.”
At this Christmas time, we ought to be on our guard against threats to our religion–but not in the form of some storeowner’s lame signs. Let Christmas time be a time we remember that the reward and justice we seek are not here on Earth.
Tim Carney is the author of The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money. He is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.