The Edmond Sun

January 10, 2014

HEY HINK: Government should not punish groups out of existence

Mike Hinkle
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — Let’s reflect on an uncomfortable fact. Every government harbors within it, the seeds of tyranny. The reason is simple. In order for government to preserve itself, it must have power to command; “Obey or be punished.” While government may cajole, educate, admonish, encourage and beseech it’s finished if it cannot issue commands and back those commands with believable threat of punishment.

The founders of this country recognized the need for government. They also knew the nature of government. Unchecked, government will always make increasing demands on a larger share of the people’s resources. Unchecked, the government will go to greater and greater lengths to control the lives of the citizens enforcing obedience by threats of punishment. For this reason, the founders sought to confine our government’s power to those limited areas where it was needed and to establish sharp limits to keep government out of the people’s private affairs.

Theoretically, in this country, demands for obedience to the government do not put citizens at risk of violating religious conviction.

This is on my mind this week as I observe ideological and judicial storm clouds gathering over “The Little Sisters of the Poor.” This is an organization of Catholic women whose nursing homes minister to the elderly poor. Their website lists almost 30 nursing homes in the United States stretching from California to Rhode Island. According to their mission statement, this is an international congregation founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan currently assisting the elderly poor in more than 30 countries. “… Our mission is to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.”

Whatever differences we may have with these people, everyone should agree their compassionate commitment to providing help to the underprivileged elderly is an extremely commendable endeavor.

This group is in the news because they are under pressure from the United States government to, “Obey or be punished.” Our government has issued an ultimatum. “Sign our document or be penalized out of existence — at least out of existence in the United States of America.”

In a nutshell, here’s the context. The Little Sisters are opposed, on religious grounds, to birth control and abortion. So far as I can tell, the sincerity of their beliefs in this regard haven’t been seriously challenged anywhere in the world. For purposes of this discussion, my opinions and your opinions on the merits of this belief are irrelevant. It only matters that they believe it.

These religious ladies believe they would be committing a sin if they participate, in any way, in providing contraception or abortion services to anyone. Some provisions of Obamacare require all employers in this country to provide employees with free contraception. The Little Sisters, morally, can’t do it. So the government provides an exemption to some religious organizations allowing them to sign a government-approved waiver. This waiver authorizes a third party to provide contraception services. But the Little Sisters insist they cannot, morally, authorize a third-party to engage in conduct that they themselves find sinful. Failure to sign the government-approved waiver will result in fines that may overwhelm and ultimately terminate the Little Sisters’ activities in the United States.

The Little Sisters filed a lawsuit arguing that Obamacare places them in a morally untenable position. They cannot obey, but they must obey or be punished. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor has issued an order temporarily rescuing the Little Sisters from their moral dilemma.

Critics of the lawsuit have pointed out that an overwhelming number of Catholic women in the United States use or have used contraceptives. With all due respect, this is thoroughly irrelevant. Our Constitution absolutely forbids imposing majority rule on private religious conviction. Even if the Little Sisters were the only women on earth who adhere to this religious conviction, it would be our obligation to defend them and that conviction.

Other critics bemoan the fact that the lawsuit is being funded by a conservative organization. Again, the source of the funding is entirely irrelevant. The proper focus is on the issues raised by the litigation.

Finally, some critics argue that the Little Sisters are attempting to impose their religious beliefs on others. I fail to see how steadfast refusal to sign a government form would fall into that category. These are precisely the kinds of intrusive federal ultimatums that our Constitution was crafted to avoid. Our government has no right to say to this religious organization, “Obey! Sign our form or be punished out of existence.” I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.