FLEMING: Can Religious Liberty Survive?

The current iteration of the culture wars has moved from distrust harbored towards faith communities to direct attacks on them.

As a long-time family practice physician, I have deep respect for the Hippocratic Oath I made to ethically practice medicine. As a man of faith, I believe that medical providers are tasked with protecting life, promoting health, and ensuring patient care. This is inclusive care: the young, the old, the unborn, the sick, the dying—providing care from conception to natural death.

Not all share my view, but that doesn’t negate my ability to practice conscientious medicine, or to decline participation in unacceptable practices or outright harmful procedures like abortion.

Thorough training, professional experiences, and moral perspective guide these decisions. Being free to live out one’s faith, however, has angered many who disagree, and has tipped the scales against practitioners in several states. We have documented stories of a nurse being forced to piece together a dismembered baby following an abortion, and medical facilities threatening to fire nurses who reject assisting with an abortion. States like California and New York are imposing financial burdens on churches to cover abortion under the umbrella of health insurance.

It is important to pause for a moment to remember that this discussion is not limited to religious freedom. Faith, deeply held beliefs, moral convictions, and sound reasoning comprise an individual’s conscience rights.

As recently as July, the House of Representatives passed legislation I’ve been working on for many years, the Conscience Protection Act. Congress unequivocally spoke in favor of these collective rights, ensuring that no one is forced to participate in abortion in anyway, for any reason. This includes hospitals, insurance providers, health care plans, pharmacists, doctors and nurses. Doctors should never be forced to end human life, and nurses shouldn’t be threatened with the loss of a job for practicing sound medicine.

But, earlier in October, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law in California that forces crisis pregnancy centers to distribute and promote information on where and how to obtain a state-funded abortion, essentially forcing pro-life clinics to advertise for abortion in their own centers! More intimidation.

This same court had also ruled against Washington State pharmacists for exercising their First Amendment rights in referring patients to local competitors instead of providing abortion inducing drugs.

The impingement on religious freedom and conscience rights have shifted the sentiment of distrust to outright assault on communities that think, act, and believe differently from the government’s newly established ‘values.’

It used to be that the First Amendment promoted and guarded differences through dialogue. The Left today, however, doesn’t want to win the argument with persuasion but rather with intimidation and personal assaults on freedom.

From church pastors and religious leaders to family practice physicians, specialists, and nurses, we need affirm religious freedoms and conscience protections. Now, perhaps more than ever before, we need to defend the First Amendment protections before a radicalized culture and the government power it now wields, takes away that right altogether. As James Madison reminds us, Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”

Dr. John Fleming is Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He is a physician, small business owner, and co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus. He represents the 4th Congressional District of Louisiana.

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