Today, Congress held hearings on the ongoing dust-up dealing with the HHS mandate that will require every employer, including religious institutions, to provide free abortion and contraception coverage for their employees, without exception. Bishop Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, related an amusing parable to the assembled members, trying to get them to see the issue from his perspective and that of other Catholic bishops.
Whatever your thoughts on that particular issue, however, it seems to me that the most powerful point in his statement is his repeated emphasis on the central issue: the government is forcing people to do something against their will and against everything they believe. It is amusing that certain supporters of the mandate have sought to cast this issue as one in which the Catholic Church, in particular, is “forcing its views on others.” The last time I looked, however, the Catholic Church lacked much authority to force anyone to do or believe anything, in light of the fact that, unlike government, it cannot threaten sanctions, impose fines and tax penalties, and, in the extreme, pursue criminal prosecution and incarceration. If there is any force involved in this dispute, I don’t have much doubt as to who is doing the forcing.
But even more troubling is the nature of the coercion. In the past, most laws were prohibitive–proscriptions against theft, for example, or murder, or speeding in a car, or lying under oath. As time has worn on, however, our laws, and our regulatory laws in particular, have shifted away from prohibitions designed to protect the rights of others to mandates designed to force us to serve others in some way or another. Many of these mandates started out as conditional: if you employ 50 employees, you must provide such and such; if you want to build on this property, you must get a permit; if you want to drive an automobile, you must obtain car insurance so that others will be compensated in the event of injury.
However, Obamacare’s Individual Mandate, like no other law, lays bare the naked power that the federal government claims for itself, because the only condition upon which it rests its power to coerce is that you are alive: if you are alive, you must obtain health insurance. And not only that, but the government is going to tell you exactly what that health insurance looks like: what your coverage must contain; what the insurance company may charge you for, and what it may not. (But even then, as many patients have already found to their chagrin, Obamacare’s generous “free” provisions have not exactly lived up to the sales pitch.)
As the myriad Obamacare briefs wend their way through the Supreme Court’s machinery, the attention here at PLF is understandably focused on the somewhat arcane legal issues: is the penalty a tax? Does the Commerce Clause power extend to forcing one to engage in commerce? Does the Anti-injunction Act apply? Does the Spending Power have meaningful limits? Make no mistake: these are important questions, because ultimately their answer has broad practical ramifications that impact our very real freedoms.
But when you get right down to it, the basic problem with Obamacare is that it’s a mandate. It is the United States government using all the power it can muster to tell its own citizens to do something that many of them, like PLF client Matt Sissel, do not want to do, and that some of them vehemently oppose doing with every bone in their body. As Bishop Lori points out: that’s just downright unamerican.