February 28, 2012
The recent controversy between the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration over the issue of contraception was seen by some as a conflict between freedom of conscience and the law which guarantees medical coverage to its citizens.
Jack Marshall in his Ethics Alarms blog entitled In The Catholic Institutions vs Obamacare Showdown, Law and Ethics Trump Morality…And Should sees this controversy as a “spectacular collision of law, morality and ethics.” For him the ethics is clear. “The free exercise of religion cannot include the right to ignore, disobey or be exempted from laws.”
That is true in a democratic and pluralistic society composed of more than one religion.
Michael P. Warsaw, the president and CEO of EWNT Global Catholic Network has a different opinion. He writes in an op-ed published by the New York Times on February 22, 2012 entitled “Contraception, Against Conscience,” that the compromise proposed by the Obama Administration to have the employer’s insurance carrier provide the coverage for contraception is unacceptable because, indirectly, the employer would be “facilitating access to drugs that go against our beliefs.” Furthermore, Mr. Warsaw contends that the fine that would be imposed on an institution for breaking the law is a form of coercion that that may run some institutions out of business. A lawsuit has been filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to overturn what Mr. Warsaw called an “illegal mandate.”
There can be circumstances in which some laws are contrary to one’s conscience or convictions whether they stem from a religious belief of not. In a democratic society, there are some legal alternatives in resolving a conflict between our conscience and a law that one considers unjust or wrong.
- Becoming a conscientious objector is one option if war is the issue.
- There is also the option of civil disobedience which of course imposes a penalty, possibly jail time.
- Evidently, the most effective and least taxing way is to use the power of the ballot box to vote for representatives that share your views and that will repeal laws that you believe are objectionable.
- There could also be some practical steps one can take to distance ourselves from activities that would inevitably lead us into a conflict between our conscience and the law, such as choosing a profession or an industry that is more attune to our core beliefs.
I believe that what we should all remember is that, whatever our beliefs, we should always make sure that in defending and promoting them, we do not use coercion to impose those beliefs on others.
As Friedrich August von Hayek, the Austrian economist and philosopher once wrote:
“If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”