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Can the Government Control Your Conscience?

Marissa Mayer
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Kevin Stormans faced an impossible choice: violate his conscience or do what he knew was right and lose his pharmacy business.

When the Washington State Pharmacy Board required pharmacies in the state to stock and dispense the “morning-after” pill, which can destroy human life in the womb, the third-generation owner of Ralph’s Thriftway made the only decision he could make:  he declined to stock the product, and asked Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to protect him and his business by challenging the regulation in federal court.

As ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner pointed out, Washington pharmacies decline to stock medications for all kinds of business and convenience reasons (such as they want to focus on a market niche or they don’t want to sell a particular brand). In fact, the judge concluded, “The state allows providers to refer for nearly every other reason except conscience.”

The Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act has reignited the battle on conscience rights, particularly those of health care professionals and employers who are told they can believe whatever they want, but they do not have the freedom to act on those beliefs.

It begs the question—what is conscience and how does our understanding of conscience influence our actions? While it’s nice to think that we all have Jiminy Cricket sitting on our shoulders, counseling us on good and bad, the real the source of our conscience, defined in Romans 2, is inherent:

“When [those] who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong.” Romans 2:14-15 (The Message)

This verse tells us that freedom of conscience is not just about having knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong; it’s about obeying the moral truth that is deeply rooted in who we are. To that end, forcing someone to violate their conscience is—by definition—forcing them to do something that is wrong.

Unfortunately, until the nation’s culture and legal system acknowledge moral truth as the yardstick against which all acts and behaviors are measured, conflicts like Kevin Stormans’ and plenty of others like these will continue:

  • Cathy DeCarlo, a surgical nurse for Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, was forced to participate in a late-term abortion under threat of being charged with insubordination and abandoning her patient – charges that could have cost Cathy her nursing license.  After ADF filed two lawsuits and a federal agency complaint on her behalf, citing her conscience rights under federal law, the hospital changed its policy to respect her pro-life convictions.
  • Twelve nurses at the Same Day Surgery Unit at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey faced intimidation and threats of termination for refusing to participate in elective abortions. ADF stepped in and defended their right to refuse under federal law, and the hospital backed down.
  • Dr. Nancy Fredericks reached out to ADF when her workplace, Madison Surgery Center in Wisconsin, devised a secret plan to start committing late second-trimester abortions—a plan that would force her and other medical staff to participate without regard for their conscience rights.  After ADF demanded that Dr. Fredericks’ employer respect her right of conscience, the center abandoned the plan.

Throughout our nation’s history, we have protected the fundamental right of people not to be forced to participate in the taking of human life in violation of their conscience.  But within the last several years, we are seeing more and more legislative proposals designed to do just that.

Recently, federal legislators proposed a bill that, depending on how courts interpret it, could be used to remove protections for health care professionals who conscientiously object to the taking of human life. If these protections cease to exist, what will the future hold for health care workers who have promised to “do no harm,” but are being forced out of their jobs for refusing to take human life and violate their conscience?

More importantly, if human conscience is inherent, do we want our government to dictate when our conscience is right or wrong and when we should or shouldn't be allowed to exercise it?

Take Action

If you believe in your right to live by your conscience, join our alliance and support ADF today so we can continue to stand up for people like Kevin, and fight for your right to live according to your faith.

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Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer
Senior Copywriter & Editor
Marissa Mayer is an Arizona native who fell in love with the written word at a young age.