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News Commentary 2010

Charleston Baptist letter to Washington Pharmaceutical Board Denouncing Removal of Right of Conscience Provision

Intellectual Conservative
24 December, 2010
Reproduced with permission

Pastor Stephen Alexander, Esq.*

Charleston Baptist Church
Bremerton, Washington
December 20, 2010

Washington State Pharmaceutical Board

Dear Members:

The Friday, December 17th article in the Tacoma News Tribune informed us of your recent decision to remove the "right of conscience" provision from Washington State pharmacists. Previously, we understand, a pharmacist could refuse to dispense a pill if it violated his conscience to do so and another pharmacist within his pharmacy was available to dispense that pill. Unfortunately, your original policy did not cover a lone pharmacist who might need to exercise his "right of conscience." Now, your policy becomes even more draconian, forcing all pharmacists to dispense medications which might cause the destruction of human life.

We are disturbed that your Board seeks to over-regulate the pharmacies under your supervision. It is interesting that you insist that every drug imaginable be dispensed by every pharmacy and we are concerned that this over-regulation of the pharmacies is due to the influence of certain special interest groups, particularly the "women's right to choose" extremists who do not want their "right to an abortion" inhibited in any way. On the other hand, there seems to be no concern for the Christian pharmacists (and Christian community) who hold life to be sacred and do not want to participate in anything which would interfere with our inalienable, God-given right to life.

We are personally aware of young people who are pursuing a Pharmaceutical career , but are very concerned that they may have to dispense drugs which would violate their conscience.

One young lady we know is considering moving out of Washington State to a State where the laws governing the Pharmaceutical Industry are less restrictive.

Please reconsider your recent decision. It is not necessary in a practical sense: those wanting their "abortion" drugs will always have access to them. It is reprehensible in a moral sense: forcing pharmacists to go against their beliefs and value systems reminds one of the policies in communist countries, where no one cares about the individual, much less the unborn child.

Finally, your decision continues to erode away at one of our very basic freedoms. Sadly, as we watch many freedoms being stripped away in America, we realize that we will soon no longer be "the land of the brave and the free", the country that gives hope to people of many nations who daily live in fear of dictatorial governments.

Although abortion was made legal in America through "Roe vs. Wade", legal, like might, does not make right. Even the justices who voted in abortion did not intend to promote it; rather, it was to be the exception to the rule. Your current position on the "right of conscience" issue, concerning the dispensation of medications which may cause abortions, allows no exception to your rule; hence, you show an extreme bias in favor of those desiring abortions and a blatant disregard for those whose only desire is to not bloody their own hands by participating in something (selling abortion pills) which violates their conscience.


Stephen E. Alexander, Pastor - Charleston Baptist Church
& 40 Congregational members Bremerton, WA

The Conscience of the Chemists
When Catholic pharmacists demand special treatment we reach a clash of apparently irreconcilable principles

The Guardian
1 April, 2010
Reproduced with permission

Nick Spencer*

The General Pharmaceutical Council, shortly to take over the regulation of pharmacists, has issued a revised code of conduct that permits pharmacists to refuse the sale of the contraceptive and morning-after pills to customers.

It is one of those seemingly innocuous decisions that helps crystallise the confusing and often acrimonious debate about liberty and equality in a plural society.

On the one hand, which often means "in the red corner", are those who decry such "exemptions". They denounce the "right" that some "minority" groups "demand" to choose "arbitrarily" who they do and do not serve. In their more lurid and emotional moments they imaginatively recreate the utter shame and humiliation inflicted on the innocent consumer who unwittingly asks for the offending item.

In the blue corner, are those who see in the equality agenda that seeks to make such exemptions history, an aggressive and unprincipled attempt to banish freedom of conscience, or rather the freedom of those consciences that differ too far from their own. In their more dramatic moments, they see spectres of "state-sponsored" morality looming over a once free society, bullying and intimidating Christians into silence or submission.

The reason why this debate is so acrimonious, other than the fact that it usually revolves around those sexual issues that seem uniquely able to generate fury, is that both sides have a good point.

Customers have rights. If the law permits a certain purchase (indeed pays for certain purchases), why should someone who has freely chosen to work in a certain role be able to deny customers that purchase? Who (now) would defend the refusal to serve someone because she had a different skin colour?

On the other hand, all shop owners and service providers should have the right to serve whom they choose. Indeed some, such as landlords, are legally obliged to exercise that right. Try telling the owner of a newsagents shop that he has no right to refuse to serve a anti-social schoolboy?
The question is not whether pharmacists or shop owners should have the right to refuse service but whether the criteria that determine how they exercise it are legitimate.

The case of refusing the schoolboy is a clear one. If a certain child is known to be disruptive, he has been caught attempting to steal goods for example, no-one can deny the proprietor's right to deny him service.

Conversely, the case of refusing to serve someone because of her skin colour is equally straightforward. It is impossible to mount a moral defence of choosing who to serve according to race, because race has no bearing whatsoever on the fact of being a customer.

In the middle ground is the example of the contraceptive pill. Some people believe contraception is morally wrong, and more believe the same of the morning after pill. Such qualms are entirely reasonable according to certain legitimate moral presuppositions concerning the start and sanctity of life. The fact that they are incomprehensible to those who do not share them is irrelevant. We do not have to comprehend, still less share, someone's moral convictions in order to respect them in a liberal society. So,it would seem that the pharmacist's right to refuse service is reasonable.

But the contraceptive example is slightly different as it is not so much about whether to serve someone as whether to serve something. The pharmacist is not refusing to serve the customer; she is refusing to serve her with that product. Hence, the (quite reasonable) response, "No one forced you to become a pharmacist. If you don't like the terms, get out of the profession."
Reasonable perhaps, but singularly ungenerous. Ultimately, little is gained by forcing those who hold a legitimately different moral view out of certain professions and public roles. The more unpleasantly secularist may welcome the ejection of all Catholics from the health service, of all Christians from any job that demands Sunday working, etc. but most people recognise this as being a malign and mean-spirited attitude.

Better, surely, to moderate the whole situation with a little grace, by permitting pharmacists to continue to practice with this conscience clause in place, but asking (and if necessary compelling) them to make this fact known, to avoid a customer's embarrassment, and to direct her to another shop that will serve the product.

That appears to be where the General Pharmaceutical Council stands at the moment but in a landscape of genuine and seemingly increasing moral plurality, and among a population that is unused to dealing with such diversity, it is impossible to guarantee that it will remain so.

Unchecked government health care endangers conscience rights

Washington Examiner
26 March, 2010
Reproduced with permission

Matt Bowman*

Cathy DeCarlo of Brooklyn and her family followed the health reform debate more closely than some others might have. Cathy is Catholic and a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Less than a year ago, the federally-funded hospital forced her to assist in a 22-week dismemberment abortion, despite her tearful pleas that she be spared the horror.

President Obama's health reform executive order on abortion claims to protect the conscience rights of pro-life health providers like Cathy. But on closer reading, the order proves to be yet another presidential action that makes every pro-life health care provider a potential "next Cathy DeCarlo."

The health reform act signed Tuesday creates a vast amount of new government power, decisions, and funding but contains no corresponding limit on that new power to prevent it from being exercised against the consciences of pro-life health providers.

The House bill had a conscience section that mirrored language contained in time-honored conscience laws such as the 1973 statute championed by former Sen. Ted Kennedy. But the Senate rejected amendments that would have included that language.

The president's executive order, in turn, merely echoes the reform bill in saying that existing conscience laws will be left in place. But most of those laws apply only in narrow contexts. What the president's order and the bill needed to do, and what they utterly failed to do, was attach the language of existing laws to the act's new government regime.

The president's executive order claims that the reform act creates new conscience protections. Though the act does include a distinct prohibition on some private discrimination in the insurance exchanges, it fails to ban discrimination in its newly created array of government powers and funding.

The order's language on conscience rights is more like a press release than an executive order. Only the preamble even mentions conscience rights; there is no operative language that actually does anything to protect pro-life health providers. Nowhere does the order actually tell HHS to apply existing laws to the new act-or even to enforce existing laws as written.

This omission is no surprise. Obama has already acted swiftly to quash the mere enforcement of conscience laws already on the books. In early 2009, the president issued a rescission notice against regulations enacted by President George W. Bush, regulations that would have done nothing but enforce existing laws, word-for-word, against entities that receive specific federal funding should they violate pro-life health workers' rights.

In rescinding a mere enforcement mechanism, HHS gave a green light for federally-funded governments and hospitals to violate the conscience rights of pro-life health providers-and for HHS itself to break the law by funding entities without regard to their illegal discrimination.

And just a couple months afterwards, Mount Sinai forced Cathy DeCarlo to assist a 22-week abortion despite its receipt of $200 million in specialized federal funds every year. When DeCarlo's attorneys at the Alliance Defense Fund notified HHS of this violation, HHS wrote back last week saying it wasn't sure whether it even "has authority and is able to take action" to enforce conscience laws.

Remember, these laws flatly prohibit HHS from giving specific funding to entities that violate conscience rights. But Obama's HHS appears to be so anti-conscience that it can't even decide whether it has authority to comply with the law.

So it is bitterly ironic that the president cites existing conscience laws in relation to the health reform act. When he and Congress refused to apply the language of those laws to the health reform act, he acted to quash enforcement of existing laws even against agencies to whom they apply, and HHS has to think about whether it will comply with those laws itself.

Meanwhile, as the president and Congress brush conscience rights aside, victims like Cathy DeCarlo are being denied their day in court. ADF filed a lawsuit against Mount Sinai Hospital on her behalf, but the lower court judge said that she has no right to sue to protect her rights, even though that 1973 conscience law backed by Kennedy was explicitly written to protect the rights of pro-life health workers.

Unless ADF can convince the federal appeals court in New York to overturn the decision in Cathy's case, health care workers who are forced to choose between their consciences and their careers will be facing three hostile branches of the federal government: An indifferent court system, a Congress refusing to limit new government power with respect for health care rights of conscience, and a president whose HHS department is taking active steps to refuse to enforce even existing law.

Disdains Scott Brown's conscience
Nothing Madisonian in this Martha

The Boston Herald
18 January, 2010
Reproduced with permission

John Garvey *

Reading James Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance" last week, I was struck by how timely it is after 225 years.

Madison wrote it as a protest against a bill to provide tax support for teachers of the Christian religion. "Memorial" condemns the bill for many reasons, but the first one is that it violates the freedom of conscience to compel people to support a practice they disbelieve. It would be wrong, Madison said, to "force a citizen to contribute [even] three pence" to support such an activity.

Madison appealed to the moral sense that helping someone else do wrong is almost as bad as doing wrong oneself. This principle has had a lasting influence on our legal system. Madison himself had it in mind in drafting the First Amendment, which forbids "an establishment of religion" and protects "the free exercise thereof."

Madison's principle - that we should not force people with conscientious objections to cooperate in practices they view as evil - has taken a beating in the current Senate campaign.

Consider first the issue of abortion funding. Since 1976 Congress has said, in its annual Medicaid appropriation, that the money may not be used to pay for most abortions. This restriction (the Hyde Amendment) rests on Madison's principle. People differ about when life begins, and Congress has been sensitive to the claim of pro-life taxpayers that they should not have to support the termination of human life (as they see it). The Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment in 1980.

One hot issue in the current health care debate in Washington is whether something like the Hyde Amendment will be included in the final bill. The House bill has such a provision (the Stupak-Pitts amendment). Rep. Michael Capuano reluctantly voted for it; Martha Coakley said she would have voted against it. Her position then was that she would rather sacrifice the chance for health care reform than support a bill that respected Madison's principle. Coakley got the Democratic nomination.

In her debate last week with Republican Scott Brown, the attorney general went further. In 2005 Brown introduced a bill that would have exempted doctors and nurses from a legal obligation to provide emergency contraceptives if doing so would violate "a sincerely held religious belief."

For those who believe that human life begins at conception, a morning-after pill can sometimes be a form of abortion if it acts after fertilization. Forcing a nurse with religious scruples to provide such a pill is a more extreme measure than the one Madison remonstrated against. It is a case of forcing her not to cooperate with evil, but to do evil herself (as she sees it). It's not like taxing Quakers to support the army; it's like drafting a Quaker into the infantry and ordering him to shoot the enemy.

Political ads by nature are not sensitive to nuance. Coakley's ad charges Brown with a lack of "understanding or seriousness" because he "favors letting hospitals deny emergency contraception to rape victims." But suggesting that we protect the right of conscience does not show a lack of understanding or seriousness. It does not even show a lack of support for abortion - any more than it shows a lack of support for the armed forces to say that we should exempt Quakers. What both show is a decent respect for religious liberty, as admirable and American as the author of the First Amendment.