Supreme Court: To Hell With Your Conscience - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Supreme Court: To Hell With Your Conscience

The U.S. Supreme Court for the second time in two months declined to stop a state vax mandate for healthcare workers pleading religious objections. The court declined to intervene to halt New York’s radical governor, Kathy Hochul, in her stunning denial of healthcare workers’ First Amendment rights. Holding firm among the justices were a mere three: Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch, who was especially disappointed in his colleagues.

Among those disappointing colleagues, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh have miserably failed to protect the religious and bodily rights of Americans begging not to be forced to take injections against their will and regardless of whether they have natural immunity and natural rights of religion and conscience. Barrett’s ongoing failures date back to her decision against Indiana University students this past summer.

“No one seriously disputes that, absent relief, the applicants will suffer an irreparable injury,” states Gorsuch, condemning New York’s intention to fire workers and strip them of unemployment benefits. This obvious undermining of First Amendment freedoms “alone is sufficient to render the mandate unconstitutional.”

No question.

Gorsuch added in his 14-page dissent: “The Free Exercise Clause protects not only the right to hold unpopular religious beliefs inwardly and secretly. It protects the right to live out those beliefs publicly in ‘the performance of (or abstention from) physical acts.’” He concluded: “Today, we do not just fail the applicants. We fail ourselves.”

Among those failed, Gorsuch pointed to two New York Catholic physicians who object to the vaccines’ incorporation of aborted fetal cell lines:

These applicants are not “anti-vaxxers” who object to all vaccines. Instead, the applicants explain, they cannot receive a COVID–19 vaccine because their religion teaches them to oppose abortion in any form, and because each of the currently available vaccines has depended upon abortion-derived fetal cell lines in its production or testing. The applicants acknowledge that many other religious believers feel differently about these matters than they do. But no one questions the sincerity of their religious beliefs.

An added injustice, as Gorsuch alludes to, is that these healthcare workers were the front-line first-responders when New York was first under siege from COVID (many have natural immunity from that exposure). This is the thanks they get from their governor, who, ironically, literally insists that God is on her side. Gorsuch quotes the state’s theologian-in-chief:

The day before the mandate went into effect, Governor Hochul again expressed her view that religious objections to COVID–19 vaccines are theologically flawed: “All of you, yes, I know you’re vaccinated, you’re the smart ones, but you know there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants. You know who they are.”… The Governor offered an extraordinary explanation for the change too. She said that “God wants” people to be vaccinated—and that those who disagree are not listening to “organized religion” or “everybody from the Pope on down.”

So, Gov. Kathy Hochul can invoke her private religious beliefs to forcibly vaccinate New Yorkers, even against their will, but New Yorkers cannot invoke their First Amendment religious rights to protect themselves. The U.S. Supreme Court shields her, not them.

In short, Hochul has God and the state and high court on her side, whereas her citizens have no recourse. A Tarot card reader in Albany could tell Kathy Hochul to poke people with Pfizer needles and she would have more backing from Uncle Sam than do brain surgeons at Mount Sinai Hospital.

What a farce. Give the woman a pin cushion and voodoo dolls, but keep her away from the people of New York!

Welcome to America in 2021.

Gorsuch’s objection received literal silence from the six other justices: Barrett, Kavanaugh, John Roberts, and the predictable three liberals: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan.

We expect this sort of religious intolerance by anti-religious or non-religious liberals. No one knows if Sotomayor has darkened a parish door in a decade. But it’s particularly frustrating when religious people on the conservative side of the high court refuse to recognize religious liberty.

In fact, not only are religious rights not being respected, but they are being widely suspected. The latest pandemic among mad-vax liberals is an insistence that many Americans seeking religious exemptions aren’t actually religious. They’re faking it, hiding behind phony faith claims. Well, what really is “religious?” the New York Times’ crowd scoffs and snickers.

To be sure, one would hope that most people making religious appeals are genuinely religious. Surely some are not. On its face, this seems a legitimate criticism. But think again. Dig deeper into the history of American religious-conscientious objection.

Note the crucial second word there: conscientious.

From the start of the religious-appeal process against COVID mandates, I’ve been concerned that these appeals are more often labeled by employers as “religious exemptions.” They ought to be called religious/conscientious exemptions — that is, appeals based not merely on one’s religious faith but on conscience. This is a critical distinction.

Conscientious objection, of course, has a long and noble history in America. There are few more honored rights in our history and Judeo-Christian tradition. One of our most revered founders, James Madison, father of the Bill of Rights, insisted that an individual’s conscience was a possession “more sacred than his castle.” Just as one has the right to property, one has the right to conscience, which the state should not infringe upon. Your conscience is yours, and it’s sacred. In fact, it’s part of an eternal nature that transcends the mere physical.

Madison said that “all men are entitled to the full and free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.” He argued for inclusion of freedom of conscience in the Bill of Rights. He made that argument in Philadelphia, where William Penn, a century earlier, had implemented a historic Act for Freedom of Conscience.

This freedom has served America so admirably for centuries, from conscientious objectors in World Wars I and II to the Vietnam War, from the appeals of citizens as diverse as the Quakers, Mennonites, Sergeant Alvin York, Desmond Doss, Muhammad Ali, the Berrigan brothers, and Martin Luther King Jr. Today, it is appealed to by the likes of Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Kim Davis, and court cases such as Arlene’s Flowers v. the State of Washington, Zubik v. Burwell, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Liberals are aggressive supporters of conscience when it comes to, say, refusal to fight in an unpopular war. But like much of what liberals do, including their highly selective appeals to “tolerance” and “diversity,” conscience is conveniently invoked when they want it and rejected when they don’t want it.

It’s a great irony that progressives who once championed conscientious objection for the Vietnam draft-dodger spurn it for the Baptist florist in Washington state or Christian cake-baker in Denver who decline serving a same-sex wedding, or now for millions of Americans claiming rights of conscience against mandatory vaxxing.

Our onetime precious consensus on conscience is being ignored unlike ever before and redefined unlike ever before.

James Madison lost his effort to get the word “conscience” in the First Amendment, and it’s too bad he did. Nonetheless, courts have long honored appeals to one’s conscience as well as appeals to one’s religion.

Not anymore, folks.

Indulge me as I take this to a deeper theological-philosophical level, one that justices like Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, both products of Catholic education and likely admirers of Pope John Paul II, ought to be able to appreciate.

John Paul II wrote poignantly on this subject for decades. He stressed the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of free will and conscience that the Creator generously bestowed on all human beings. One of the pope’s most important encyclicals was his August 1993 Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). There he wrote: “The relationship between man’s freedom and God’s law is most deeply lived out in the ‘heart’ of the person, in his moral conscience.” He quoted the Second Vatican Council: “In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: ‘do this, shun that.’ For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Rom 2:14-16).”

The pope brought that message directly to our shores, telling Americans in Miami in September 1987: “The only true freedom, the only freedom that can truly satisfy, is the freedom to do what we ought as human beings created by God according to his plan.”

As noted by John Paul II authority and political scientist Thomas Rourke, “Possessed with reason and free will, the person seeks vertical transcendence when he seeks to know the truth and act in accord with it.” To arbitrarily interfere with this search for the truth, or to prevent a person from acting according to the demands of conscience — as oppressive governments do — is to deny people their right to responsible personhood.

How a person chooses to act defines the person. Our moral choices matter and, in a sense, make us. This is the very essence of Karol Wojytla’s (as a philosopher before he was a pope) published work, The Acting Person. God wants us to choose rightly. It is truly about how the person acts in accord with the conscience that God gave us.

John Paul II’s conception of the human person speaks not only to the dignity of the person but also as the person living within community. That includes a community like the America of the founders that created a system that honors the dignity of that person and his or her conscience.

For our modern state to act as an obstacle to an individual moral relationship with God is a horrible affront. It is an outrage. Not only would popes be outraged but so would our founding fathers.

Again, James Madison: “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man: and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

In short, modern Americans stand on firm ground whether they appeal to their religion or conscience. Vax mandates should be no exception. It’s ridiculous enough that COVID survivors with natural immunity rarely receive medical waivers even with letters from their physicians arguing that vaccination could be counterproductive and unhealthy. Religious and conscience appeals, however, ought to be literally sacrosanct.

And yet, there’s an element out there questioning if not denying these appeals because they doubt whether all of those making them are genuinely religious. That should not matter. This should be a matter of not only religion but conscience. It’s incumbent upon critics and HR departments and governments to realize and honor this.

Sadly, however, it looks like much of modern America, from mad-vax liberals to even many judges for whom religion is ostensibly important, is not only shrugging off the sanctity of conscience but saying to hell with it.

Paul Kengor
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Paul Kengor is Editor of The American Spectator. Dr. Kengor is also a professor of political science at Grove City College, a senior academic fellow at the Center for Vision & Values, and the author of over a dozen books, including A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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