Freedom: It’s Never More Than One Generation Away From Extinction

© St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Tad Armstrong

Our national anthem touts our nation as the “land of the free” and politicians define us as “freedom-loving.” Indeed, the term “freedom” most aptly describes who we claim to be, doesn’t it? It would seem, then, that Americans should be the experts on this topic. Not a week goes by that we don’t hear someone praising those who lost their lives to preserve the freedoms we are told we cherish. But, do we? I challenge you to turn to your coffee klatch buddies and seriously discuss what it means to you. You may find the answer more elusive than you think.

Thomas Jefferson believed freedom and ignorance could not co-exist. The only place the word “freedom” is mentioned in our Constitution is in the First Amendment and religion is the first-mentioned freedom. The Founders believed our freedoms were granted to us by our Creator. See the Declaration of Independence. How ironic, then, that 221 years after ratification of the Bill of Rights our own President would unilaterally violate his oath of office by prohibiting our most sacred freedom to some of us.

I fear we are slowly losing our freedoms due to our ignorance of their meaning, for the Obama-backed contraceptive/morning-after-pill mandate, without question, in and of itself should have ended all hope this President had of winning a second term. Religious freedom is (or should be) that important to all Americans; yet, the polls point to a tight race.

I now understand how it is that freedom cannot survive in a sea of ignorance.

As one example, according to the Religion News Service, “The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, argued that…‘the Catholic Church’s definition of religious freedom is one that is only concerned with its own beliefs and practices and makes no room for those whose views differ.’” Apparently, this man believes that the freedom to exercise one’s religion is limited by views antithetical to one’s religion. How absurd! That’s not freedom! It smacks of ignorance!

In “Totalitarian Incursion” (April 18, 2012) the Post-Dispatch editorial (yes, indeed, my employer) says, “Contraception is nowhere in the Bible,” apparently in an effort to challenge the rationale underlying the sacred beliefs of the Catholic Church. No need to enter that debate. The validity of the premise is irrelevant. In this nation, no religious organization is required to substitute the beliefs of the Post-Dispatch for their own. Neither are they required to succumb to the beliefs of the majority. That is the beauty of constitutionally protected freedom.

The Post continues, “We do not take issue with church beliefs or internal operations, regardless of the church, as long as they do not enter the public square. The U.S. bishops, in their call for civil disobedience, have entered the public square.” Civil disobedience, by definition, always “enters the public square.” It would be of no value if it didn’t. I find it laughable that a liberal newspaper rails against the concept of civil disobedience. Does Gandhi come to mind? How about Joan Baez blocking a city hall entrance singing Kumbaya while protesting the Viet Nam war and unauthorized civil rights marches in the South? How would the Post react if a conservative president (via executive order) were to criminalize printed criticism of his policies? Is the First Amendment freedom of the press not worth a little civil disobedience in that instance?

Justice Robert H. Jackson, writing for the majority in one of the most eloquent of all Supreme Court opinions (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette – 1943), puts religious freedom in the proper, uniquely American perspective. “One’s right to…freedom of worship…may not be submitted to a vote” and “depends on the outcome of no elections.” That is, until this elected President decided he could unilaterally curtail religious freedom for some Americans.

Justice Jackson continues, “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters…We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent.” As far as I can tell, the Catholic Church has not consented to giving up their First Amendment freedom.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Murphy states, “Official compulsion to affirm what is contrary to one’s religious beliefs is the antithesis of freedom of worship.” This President takes it a step further by compelling employers with contrary religious views to actively participate in delivering substances to their employees, the use of which they believe to be a sin.

I refuse to accept the notion that a majority of Americans have so little regard for our founding principles that they would sell out their neighbor’s religious freedom for a few bucks per month. As President Reagan warned, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Somebody sound the alarm. Rome is burning!

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