Will the ‘Wall’ Fall?

Troy A. Eid claims that we shouldn’t take the separation of church and state so seriously because, after all, George Washington didn’t. Eid writes for the February 15 Rocky Mountain News:

A bold new book, co-authored by a prominent Colorado attorney, takes direct aim at this conventional wisdom. In Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State, Denver’s own Joe Smith and Tara Ross, a Texas-based lawyer and writer, counter Jefferson’s wall-of-separation approach with that of the best-known Founder of them all, George Washington. …

According to Washington, there is no wall. Instead, government should broadly encourage religious expression in order to strengthen public virtue – what might be called “values” today. The First Amendment, read in the way its drafters intended, means that the state must not discriminate for or against any particular sect or set of religious beliefs.

Smith and Ross carefully document their claim that Washington, not Jefferson, was in a far better position to interpret constitutional history based on real-life experience.

Ironically, Jefferson was minister to France from 1785 to 1789 and did not participate in the Constitutional Convention, or in the congressional debates that produced the Bill of Rights. Washington, in contrast, presided over that convention and was intimately involved in the process from beginning to end.

Notably, “Troy A. Eid is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Eid was “Nominated by [three guesses] President Bush…”

On March 3, Robert R. Tiernan of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Colorado Chapter, replied:

The First Amendment was not the subject of the Constitutional Convention over which George Washington presided. Rather, the Amendment was later debated in Congress after the Constitution was ratified and Washington had become president. With Jefferson’s help and advice, then-Rep. James Madison, a strict church/state separatist, marshaled the measure through the Congress and it was later ratified by the states as part of the Bill of Rights.

Beyond the historical debate, the First Amendment states clearly, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Eid, on the other hand, claims that the “First Amendment… means that the state must not discriminate for or against any particular sect or set of religious beliefs.” Eid has skipped right over the “establishment” clause to the “free exercise” clause. Yet both are necessary to preserve freedom of conscience, the broader intent of the First Amendment.

According to Eid’s interpretation, the state may actively promote generic religious beliefs, so long as the state does not favor “any particular sect or set of religious beliefs,” and so long as the state does not establish an official religion. Yet, aside from the fact that every possible state-sanction of religion would involve a “particular sect or set of religious beliefs,” Eid entirely neglects our right to remain free from religion. Forcing someone to fund via taxation some religious program or ideology, against the funder’s will, is a violation of the person’s rights.

Eid presents a slightly more sophisticated variant of Janet Rowland’s comment about the separation of church and state: “It’s not in the Constitution. We should have the freedom OF religion, not the freedom FROM religion.” Rowland, the running mate of Bob Beauprez for the governor’s race of 2006, got trounced in that election. Consistent with her pronouncement, Rowland promoted the spending of tax dollars for religious welfare and education.

Regardless of the weakness of Eid’s case, he illustrates one point with perfect clarity: America’s religious right has been enormously successful in advancing its agenda of faith-based politics.

Catholics "To End Abortion"

Recently I described and criticized the effort in Colorado to define a fertilized egg as a person. While the Catholic Church has not officially endorsed the measure, Catholics also wish “to end abortion,” according to one spokesperson.

Electa Draper writes for the February 28 Denver Post:

“We commend the goal of this effort to end abortion. Individual Catholics may choose to work for its passage,” [Colorado Catholic Conference Executive Director Jennifer] Kraska said.

“At the same time, we recognize that other people committed to the sanctity of life have raised serious questions about this specific amendment’s timing and content,” she said.

Kraska does not reveal — and Draper does not report — what problems some Catholics find with the measure’s “timing and content.” But Kraska could not be more clear in her position on abortion — a position that, far from preserving “the sanctity of life,” would destroy the sanctity of life of some people.

Nor are other Catholics as hesitant, as Draper continues:

“It’s a political, gutless position,” said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League.

“As a Catholic, it’s the most scandalous thing I’ve ever heard,” Brown said. “I can’t believe that any bishop wouldn’t want to be out in the front lines helping the petitioners. The sanctity of life is a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church.”

This issue is not limited to Colorado. Draper concludes:

The Colorado effort is part of a national movement to win Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade, Brown said. Montana and Mississippi also have ballot initiatives in progress for 2008; Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Oregon were working toward a 2009 measure.

Nobody can say the advocates of faith-based politics didn’t warn us.

Republicans Against Free Markets

Those who insist upon being pissed off at State Senator Shawn Mitchell, even when they have no good reason to be, may be pleased that I have discovered a real reason to be annoyed with him.

Roger Fillion reported for the February 26 Rocky Mountain News:

The Colorado Senate gave the final thumbs up Monday to a bill that would allow liquor stores to open Sundays, a big step toward scrapping the decades-old ban on Sunday booze sales.

The measure now goes to the House, where it’s expected to face tougher resistance. The bill, SB 82, cleared the Senate in a 23-8 vote.

I decided to look up the “no” votes:

Following is a list of the senators who voted against the measure, along with their party affiliation:

Bill Cadman, Republican
Jim Isgar, Democrat
Andrew McElhany, Republican
Shawn Mitchell, Republican
Scott Renfroe, Republican
David Schultheis, Republican
Jack Taylor, Republican
Tom Wiens, Republican

Are you noticing any trends here?

It’s not like this is an ambiguous issue. Business owners and their customers have a moral right to do business on mutually beneficial terms, on any day that they like. The (partial) ban on Sunday liquor sales violates free markets and freedom of association (and also the separation of church and state, given that the Blue Laws are rooted in religious restrictions).

So the next time that a Republican lies to you and tell you that Republicans are for free markets, remind the Republican that it took a Democratic legislature to move seriously to repeal to the Sunday booze ban, and seven of the eight senate votes to maintain the ban were cast by Republicans.

Remember that the Republican Party is the Other Party of Big Government.

A ‘Religious Foundation’ for Law

Lynn Bartels wrote an interesting article for today’s Rocky Mountain News that begins, “A lesbian couple wants to overturn a voter-approved ballot measure that defines marriage in Colorado as the union of one man and one woman.”

Here, I am not so much interested in whether the measure should be overturned by the courts, but rather in what sort of arguments people are making on both sides. Here is the basic debate, as summarized by Bartels:

The lawsuit claims Amendment 43, which 56 percent of voters approved in 2006, is unconstitutional on several grounds, including it was “religiously motivated” and has the effect “of establishing religion.”

Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who helped put the amendment on the ballot, laughed at that argument.

“If that’s the case,” he said, “we can throw out most of our laws because most are based on some moral perspective, and you could argue that is a religious foundation.”

“We could even throw in the Declaration of Independence on those grounds: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… Creator.”

I have heard Lundberg’s basic argument many times before. The argument is that all laws have a moral foundation, and all moral truths have a divine origin, thus all laws have a religious base, and no law may be rejected merely because it has a religious base. Lundberg’s argument is complete nonsense.

It is true that all just laws have a moral foundation. However, it is not true that moral truths depend upon a god. Our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness does not depend upon the existence of a supernatural “Creator.” To take another example, murder laws are based on the immorality of unjustified killing; there are perfectly secular, non-religious, earth-bound reasons not to kill others (excepting cases of self-defense).

Various religions, on the other hand, offer a variety of “reasons” for killing others, along the lines that God said so. For example, Leviticus 20:13 advocates the murder of homosexuals: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them” (the Oxford Revised Standard).

The distinction that Lundberg fails to make is that some laws have a solid secular moral foundation (regardless of whether they also match some religious code), while other laws have a strictly religious foundation. Laws that arise solely from religious beliefs should be repealed or overturned for precisely that reason.

The question, then, is whether Amendment 43 is basically grounded in religion, or whether it also has a serious secular foundation. That is, is the issue fundamentally separable from religion? If it is, then it should not be overturned based on the establishment clause.

This is not always an easy thing to figure out. For example, clearly the Blue Laws — prohibitions on select economic activity on Sundays — have a religious background historically. However, today nobody seriously supports those laws on religious grounds. Instead, arguments in favor of such laws are essentially protectionist in nature. Thus, while the Blue Laws should be repealed because they violate rights of contract and property, it’s not obvious that they should be overturned based on the establishment clause.

Clearly, Lundberg himself is strongly motivated by religion. For example, he endorses Mike Huckabee for president because Huckabee’s “faith and principles guide his every step.” Given that Lundberg endorses the idea of religious faith guiding a politician’s every step, mightn’t we conclude that Lundberg’s opposition to gay marriage (or partnership) is religiously motivated?

I looked up an old article about Amendment 43, and it too suggests a strong religious motivation for the measure:

Push to nix gay nuptials begins
But groups not all on same page — Focus on the Family and others disagree on whether a state amendment should ban civil unions too.
The Denver Post, December 9, 2005
Eric Gorski

What was envisioned as a broad coalition coming together to put a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage on the Colorado ballot next fall is divided over what exactly the measure should say.

According to sources involved in the discussions, the influential Colorado Springs evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family is pressing for a measure that would ban not only gay marriage but also same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships.

But other potential backers of an amendment — including the state’s three Roman Catholic bishops — prefer a narrower, potentially less divisive ballot measure that would simply define marriage as between one man and one woman, sources said.

Another key player, the Rev. Ted Haggard of Colorado Springs, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said Thursday that he stands with the Catholic position.

He said the institution of marriage deserves constitutional protection and that civil unions are a matter for the state legislature.

The fact that Haggard was later discovered to have purchased illegal drugs and various services from a male prostitute does not change the fact that that Amendment 43 was religiously motivated.

However, I’m not convinced that Amendment 43 violates the establishment clause, as there may be some plausible non-religious arguments in favor of it. If it’s true that Amendment 43 allows for “domestic partnerships” — an equivalent of the marriage contract for gay couples — then that strikes me as a reasonable alternative that should be pursued through the legislature. The courts are not always the answer to religiously-motivated bigotry against homosexuals.

Withhold Medicine from the Elderly and Obese?

Advocates of politically-controlled medicine in the U.S. and in Colorado typically make two major errors. First, they conflate today’s mixed economy in medicine, in which decades of political controls have wreaked havoc with the provision of medical services, with the “free market.” Second, they claim that a “free market” would heartlessly fail to provide medical services to people who need them.

For a little dose of reality, check out a January 28 article by the UK’s Telegraph. It is socialized medicine that pits doctors against patients and that rations care:

Don’t treat the old and unhealthy, say doctors
By Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:09am GMT 28/01/2008

Doctors are calling for NHS treatment to be withheld from patients who are too old or who lead unhealthy lives.

Smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide free care to everyone. …

About one in 10 hospitals already deny some surgery to obese patients and smokers, with restrictions most common in hospitals battling debt.

Managers defend the policies because of the higher risk of complications on the operating table for unfit patients. But critics believe that patients are being denied care simply to save money.

This reminds me of Colorado’s former Governor Dick Lamm, who once said that the elderly have a “duty to die.”

The central problem is that, when everyone is paying everyone else’s medical bills, everyone wants to spend as much as possible on his or her own medical care but as little as possible on everyone else’s medical care. Conflict is built into the system.

By contrast, a truly free market is characterized by voluntary cooperation among doctors, patients, insurers, and charitable organizations.

When politicians and bureaucrats control medicine, they necessarily tend to try to control the personal lives of the citizenry. The Telegraph continues:

The Government announced plans last week to offer fat people cash incentives to diet and exercise as part of a desperate strategy to steer Britain off a course that will otherwise see half the population dangerously overweight by 2050.

Obesity costs the British taxpayer £7 billion a year. Overweight people are more likely to contract diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and to require replacement joints or stomach-stapling operations.

Under politicized medicine, when medical care is “free,” people have less incentive to take care of their health. And taxpayers, politicians, bureaucrats, and health-care providers have more incentive to try to micromanage the lives of everybody else. As Lin Zinser and Dr. Paul Hsieh point out, “When the government pays our health care bills, in order to save money, it inevitably demands greater control in how we lead our daily lives.”

Shooting No ‘Accident’

The Rocky Mountain News reported today:

Mesa County sheriff’s deputies are investigating an accidental shooting at a Grand Junction gun store Saturday, in which an employee was shot in the abdomen.

The accident happened at Jerry’s Outdoor Sports, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said Sunday. Witnesses said a customer had brought a .243-caliber rifle into the store for servicing. While the weapon was being worked on, it discharged a bullet…

Okay, when you’re working on a gun that you haven’t bothered to unload, the resulting discharge is not an “accident.” Apparently the shooting was unintentional, but an “accident” it certainly was not. “Always keep your gun unloaded until you’re ready to shoot.” It’s one of the essential three rules of gun safety.

Also, why does the Rocky use passive language? The gun “was being worked on?” The gun “discharged a bullet?” Where was the person during all of this working and discharging? Guns are inanimate objects; they don’t fire themselves.

Fees for Bags

I expressly ask for plastic bags at stores because my wife and I reuse them to clean the kitty box and to line our trash cans. I even have particular uses for particular bags from different stores. I do, however, joyfully throw these bags in the trash whenever they become punctured. Thank goodness I don’t live in Denver. The Rocky Mountain News recently reported:

Paper or plastic?

It really doesn’t matter because either one might cost you a dime more under a proposal making the rounds at Denver City Hall.

An organization called BetterBagsColorado is lobbying the City Council for legislation to charge grocery store shoppers 10 cents for every plastic or paper bag they use to carry their goodies home.

The proposal, which would affect supermarkets with annual revenues of $2 million or more, is intended to help protect the environment by reducing the plastic and paper bags that end up in landfills.

First, there’s a group called BetterBagsColorado? Deborah Hart of BetterBagsColorado told the News, “The only way you’re going to change your behavior, really, is to have a little ouch at the checkout because you get enough ouches and you’ll make a new habit out of it.”

The article sensibly continues:

But Keith Christman, senior director of packaging for Progressive Bag Affiliates, a trade organization that represents manufacturers and recyclers of plastic bags, said such fees only make people buy more plastic trash bags or sandwich bags.

“We know from studies that we’ve done that 92 percent of consumers report that they reuse their plastic bags for things like disposing of waste around their house, litter bags in their cars, picking up after their pets and taking their lunch to work,” he said.

The paper also lists other regions that have banned or restricted plastic grocery bags: 80 British cities, San Francisco, Melbourne, Ireland, China, and Bangladesh.

God forbid that grocers and their customers be able to decide on bag policy without political intervention.

This example proves once again that environmentalists consistently ignore the most important resource: human time. Often I swing by the grocery store unexpectedly or purchase many items I hadn’t planned to buy. If the policy spreads, will I really have to keep bags on hand, just in case? Will I really have to make en extra effort to purchase other plastic bags for my needs, or figure out how to do without? Even though the local grocery store promises to recycle plastic bags (though I’m not sure how effective that is), I don’t collect punctured bags for recycling simply because I have better things to do with my time. But, for environmentalists, no amount of wasted human time matters in the context of a miniscule contributor to landfills and global warming. Call it death by a thousand-thousand “ouches.”

McCain, Romney, and the Politics of Satan

Recently I wrote that “Romney’s religious background did hurt him, not only among some urbanites, but among some evangelical Christians.” How much did Romney’s Mormonism hurt him among Catholics and Protestants? And just how different is Mormonism from those other Christian strains?

James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently endorsed Mike Huckabee. (In response to concerns that he is so far behind the delegate count, Huckabee responded, “Well, I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles. And I still believe in those, too.”)

Notably, Dobson endorsed Huckabee only after Romney left the race; Romney’s Mormonism was not a deal-breaker for Dobson in terms of presidential politics:

I am endorsing Gov. Mike Huckabee for President of the United States today. My decision comes in the wake of my statement on Super Tuesday that I could not vote for Sen. John McCain, even if he goes on to win the Republican nomination. His record on the institution of the family and other conservative issues makes his candidacy a matter of conscience and concern for me.

That left two pro-family candidates whom I could support, but I was reluctant to choose between them. However, the decision by Gov. Mitt Romney to put his campaign “on hold” changes the political landscape. The remaining candidate for whom I could vote is Gov. Huckabee. His unwavering positions on the social issues, notably the institution of marriage, the importance of faith and the sanctity of human life, resonate deeply with me and with many others.

Notice that Dobson’s sole criteria here are issues particular to Christian dogma. Christians believe that homosexuality is wrong, and Dobson supported the Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. McCain did not support that amendment, even though he has come out strongly in favor of the view that “the institution of marriage is a union between one man and one woman.” But on this point Dobson insists on agreement with means as well as ends; he does not see as adequate prohibiting gay marriage (or “domestic partnerships”) by means other than a Constitutional ban.

In opposing the Constitutional measure, McCain cited federalism:

“The constitutional amendment we’re debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans,” McCain said. “It usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them.”

Dobson also puts McCain outside of the anti-abortion camp, even though McCain has stated that his ultimate aim is “ending abortion.”

So, even though McCain has essentially adopted Dobson’s religious-right platform, the very reason that I will vote for McCain’s opponent, McCain’s positions on these issues are not strong enough for Dobson.

As a side note, at least Ann Coulter gave reasons for opposing McCain other than those grounded in Christian faith:

He promoted amnesty for 20 million illegal immigrants. He abridged citizens’ free speech (in favor of the media) with McCain-Feingold. He hysterically opposes waterboarding terrorists and wants to shut down Guantanamo. He denounced the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. He opposes ANWR and supports the global warming cult, even posturing with fellow mountebank Arnold Schwarzenegger in front of solar panels.

I have no basic problem with McCain’s view on amnesty, but I agree with Coulter that McCain’s censorship law is terrible. In my view, that single position should disqualify McCain from any elected office.

Of course, Coulter also finds fault with McCain’s partial support for stem-cell research and his marginally “soft” position on abortion. This tells us something about the religious right. It is not enough for the religious right merely for a candidate to advocate “ending abortion;” the candidate must stop at nothing to achieve that aim. Yet the view that a fertilized egg is the equivalent of a human person is based on nothing but religious dogma, and a ban on abortion would sacrifice the real rights of people to the make-believe rights of embryos.

But on to Romney’s Mormonism. David Harsanyi wrote a humorous yet poignant column about the issue:

…Mitt Romney’s exit from the presidential race was inevitable the moment evangelical voters heard he was a Mormon.

Evangelicals have shown us they now have a stranglehold on the Republican Party. …

In 2006, Dr. James Dobson — whose wife excluded Mormons from participation in the National Day of Prayer that she chaired in 2004 — explained, “I don’t believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon….”

… When asked if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion, Huckabee answered, “I think it’s a religion. I really don’t know much about it … . Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”

Golly, gee, ya think? (All this time I thought the Dark Lord Xenu was Satan’s brother.)

It seems perfectly reasonable to vote against a candidate based on faith, if the candidate’s beliefs conflict and/or pose a theocratic threat to the Constitution.

An example of this latent danger might be seen in an aspiring presidential candidate declaring his supporters to be members of “God’s Army” or “soldiers for Christ.” A candidate like Huckabee.

The alleged belief that “Jesus and the devil are brothers” is hardly stranger than any belief of Catholic or Protestant Christianity. Indeed, the idea that gods have offspring arose long before Christianity. But is Huckabee’s claim true? Certainly many other Christians think so. For example, GodVoter.org (!) — “Honoring God In Election 2008” (!!) — claims:

“What evidence do you have that Mormonism teaches Jesus is Satan’s brother?”

Quoted below are the founder, presidents, leaders and writings of Mormonism on your question, the teaching that God began as man, and the Mormon heresy of man becoming God someday:

“Jesus is the literal spirit-brother of Lucifer, a creation.” (Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15)

“Long before you were born a program was developed by your creators… The principal personalities in this great drama were a Father Elohim, perfect in wisdom, judgment, and person, and two sons, Lucifer and Jehovah.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 32-33)

“The appointment of Jesus to be the Savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer, son of the morning. Haughty, ambitious, and covetous of power and glory, this sprit-filled brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind.” (Milton R. Hunter, Gospel Through the Ages, page 15)

I have not checked the citations in question, so I have no idea whether GodVoter.org gets this right. (I welcome the comments of any reader, Mormon or otherwise, who can offer a good evaluation of this.) But the Catholics, too, claim that the Mormons adopt the “doctrine of Jesus Christ being the ‘spirit brother’ of Lucifer.” (Of course, as Elaine Pagels writes in The Origin of Satan, “As he first appears in the Hebrew Bible, Satan is not necessarily evil, much less opposed to God. On the contrary, he appears in the book of Numbers and in Job as one of God’s obedient servants –a messenger, or angel… In Hebrew, the angels were often called ‘sons of God’…” — page 39).

If you’ve not had your fill of crazy for the day, perhaps World Net Daily will satisfy:

‘Vote for Romney is vote for Satan’
Christian leader follows up Sharpton attack on Mormons
Posted: May 10, 2007
9:15 pm Eastern

While some evangelical Christians are defending the presidential candidacy of Mormon Mitt Romney from an attack by Al Sharpton, another prominent pastor is going further in his condemnation — saying a vote for the former Massachusetts governor is a vote for Satan.

That’s the word from Bill Keller, host of the Florida-based Live Prayer TV program as well as LivePrayer.com.

“If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!” he writes in his daily devotional to be sent out to 2.4 million e-mail subscribers tomorrow.

Sharpton, the Democratic Party activist and former presidential candidate, has been widely condemned for singling out Romney’s faith as an issue in the campaign.

“As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don’t worry about that; that’s a temporary situation,” he said.

Keller also comes out swinging against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a cult.

“This message today is not about Mitt Romney,” he writes. “Romney is an unashamed and proud member of the Mormon cult founded by a murdering polygamist pedophile named Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago. The teachings of the Mormon cult are doctrinally and theologically in complete opposition to the Absolute Truth of God’s Word. There is no common ground. If Mormonism is true, then the Christian faith is a complete lie. There has never been any question from the moment Smith’s cult began that it was a work of Satan and those who follow their false teachings will die and spend eternity in hell.”

See? Dobson is restrained by comparison.

And so it is that an American election for president, the most powerful political office in the world, will be determined, in part, by what members of some religious sects think about the position of another religious sect on the relationship of Jesus and Satan. Or, “My god is better than your god.” Because, you know, the (alleged) idea that Jesus and Satan are “spirit brothers” is so much more bizarre than the idea that God impregnated a mortal virgin with Jesus and created Satan as an angel.

Absolute insanity.

The Forty Day Abortion Protest

The Gazette of Colorado Springs published an interesting article on February 7 about an ongoing protest of an office of Planned Parenthood:

40-day, round-the-clock vigil will protest abortion

By Mark Barna
February 7, 2008 – 12:49AM

For the next 39 days, a group of Catholics and Protestants will gather around the clock on a sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood office to protest abortion.

The vigil began at 12:01 a.m. on Ash Wednesday, when the Rev. Bill Carmody [Respect Life director for the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs] prayed outside Planned Parenthood at 1330 W. Colorado Ave. Two or more protesters plan to be there on a rotating schedule to pray, read biblical verses and talk to women arriving for appointments. …

Jody Berger, communications director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said… previous protests have been peaceful, and the participants stayed off Planned Parenthood’s property in accordance with a state “bubble law.” The law prohibits protesters from coming within 100 feet of the entrance of medical facilities and within 8 feet of their clients.

Of course, I fully support the right to protest, on public property, so long as the protest does not impede lawful activity. But I do wonder what sort of “talking to” the clients of Planned Parenthood will receive.

The article points out that, while the protest revolves around Catholic observances, “Protestant protesters say it transcends denominational differences.” While it truly is refreshing that Catholics and Protestants have settled down to work with each other, their bloody decades of mutual slaughter safely behind us, unfortunately these churches join not only to peaceably protest but to enforce their religious doctrines by force of law. I wonder if a single one of the protesters would hesitate to outlaw all or nearly all abortions, given the chance.

The article continues with this insightful exchange:

Berger would like to see all church leaders join with Planned Parenthood to promote sex education and the use of contraception as a way to reduce abortions.

Carmody scoffed at the idea.

“Of course they want to promote contraception,” he said. “It’s good for their business. I promote chastity.”

Ah, yes, chastity. That’s the solution. No sex. I presume that Carmody means to exclude married couples, so long as they too refrain from using contraception, as birth control violates Catholic doctrine.

Of course, I’ve been married for nearly a decade now, and contraception has worked perfectly well over that entire period. I wonder what percent of all pregnancies that end in abortion result from properly used contraception that failed. My guess is that in the large majority of cases, no contraception was used, and in the overwhelming majority of the exceptions, it was used improperly. If everyone who had sex used contraception properly, then, the number of unplanned pregnancies would plummet. But that not an acceptable goal for Carmody.

Perhaps Berger now realizes that the ultimate goal of these Christians is not merely to “educate” women about the alleged evils of abortion, it is to outlaw abortion, based on Christian doctrine, and to eliminate all sex outside of marriage.

Force Versus Choice in Medical Care

Some days ago “Yaakov” left a comment regarding the article, “More political control of medicine comes with higher costs.” That article contains the following paragraph:

[W]hy is it that some people can demand “free” care from hospitals in the first place? After all, people can’t force businesses to give them “free” food or clothing. The reason is that the “Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1985 [EMTALA]… requires that hospitals that accept Medicare patients diagnose and treat anyone who comes within two hundred feet of an emergency room, regardless of whether the person can pay for the treatment” (see the article by Lin Zinser and Paul Hsieh, MD, at TheObjectiveStandard.com). We should repeal that unjust law and return to a system of voluntary charity.

I decided to post Yaakov’s comment with my reply. Here is the comment:

January 23, 2008 12:39:49 AM MST

Granting for a moment that all of your information is accurate, an issue remains.

If the law is changed, it will become legal for a doctor to watch somebody die in front of him and not spend any effort or money to save the dying person.

Would you go to a doctor who had let a child bleed to death because the child had no insurance? How would you feel if it was your next door neighbor’s kid and your brother was the doctor? Would you want to be that doctor?

This is a country that spent $10 billion on pet medical care. We fly sick kids in from third world countries to do $500,000 operations for free. We will not put up with poor children dying outside hospitals that only admit the rich.

We may go bankrupt, but something significant in our brains is going to have to change before the changes you advocate will be enacted.

My dad and I responded to a similar charge in a follow-up article of February 4. Here I’ll reiterate and expand some of those arguments.

Yaakov’s basic error is to assume that every desirable outcome must and ought to be forced by political controls backed by men with guns. Thus, by this reasoning, if we want doctors to treat bleeding children, we must force doctors to treat them without compensation.

Yaakov’s assumption that good outcomes require political force is clearly false. Indeed, political force interferes with good outcomes. For example, the fact that Soviet economic planners forced people to produce an efficient industrial society did not, in fact, achieve an efficient industrial society. It created mass poverty and starvation.

The fact that various nations impose socialized medicine does not prevent people there from dying from lack of care. Under socialized medicine, it is, in effect, sometimes “legal for a doctor to watch somebody die in front of him and not spend any effort or money to save the dying person.” Under socialized medicine, the practice is not only permitted, it is inevitable. For details, see the section, “Attempted Solutions,” in the article by Zinser and Hsieh.

But let’s examine the central errors of Yaakov’s position in more detail. If Yaakov actually believes his claims, then he should also advocate the following policies:

* If someone comes to Yaakov’s house and claims to need a bed for the night (or the week, or the month), then Yaakov must be forced to provide the comer with a bed without compensation. If Yaakov refuses, he’ll be subjected to severe financial penalties. It should make absolutely no difference whether Yaakov has an extra bed, whether Yaakov has other plans for his beds, whether the comer can afford to rent a bed elsewhere, or whether Yaakov thinks that the comer deserves a free bed.

* If someone comes to Yaakov’s house and claims to need food, clothing, or any other essential item, Yaakov should also be forced to provide those things, without limit, and without compensation.

* Let us assume that Yaakov owns a business. If someone comes to Yaakov claiming to need a job in order to be able to afford the basic necessities of life, then Yaakov must be forced to provide the person with a job, regardless of whether Yaakov can afford the salary, and regardless of whether the person is willing and able to perform any useful work.

* If someone approaches Yaakov and claims to need his car for an essential purpose — such as a trip to the hospital — then Yaakov must be forced to lend his car to the person, without compensation, regardless of whether the person could get transportation elsewhere.

If doctors should be forced to provide service to any comer, regardless of circumstances, then grocers should also be forced to give out free food to anyone who claims to need it, clothing stores should be forced to give away free clothing, and so on.

Imagine the sort of society in which we would live if Yaakov’s policy were consistently imposed. It would be a society in which people competed, not to produce and prosper, but to make themselves as needy as possible. Why get an education, why work, why treat others fairly, if you can just take whatever you want by force?

Recently I quoted a passage from Atlas Shrugged that perfectly sums up the sort of society that Yaakov implicitly advocates:

It didn’t take us long to see how it all worked out. Any man who tried to play straight, had to refuse himself everything. He lost his taste for any pleasure… He felt ashamed of every mouthful of food he swallowed, wondering whose weary nights of overtime had paid for it, knowing that his food was not his by right, miserably wishing to be cheated rather than to cheat… [H]e couldn’t marry or bring children into the world, when he could plan nothing, promise nothing, count on nothing. But the shiftless and the irresponsible had a field day of it. They bred babies… they got more sickness than any doctor could disprove, they ruined their clothing, their furniture, their homes — what the hell, “the family” was paying for it! They found more ways of getting in “need” than the rest of us could ever imagine — they developed a special skill for it, which was the only ability they showed. (pages 619-20)

Forcing people to provide assistance to others, whatever the details, is grossly immoral and a violation of individual rights. The ultimate conclusion is Marx’s dictum, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” with “need” determined by whoever seizes power.

The alternative is liberty. Each individual has the right to decide how to live his own life and use his own resources. In a system of individual rights, individuals often choose, by their own volition and good will toward others, to help others in need. However, such individuals also tend to make sure that their charitable donations are spent well to help those who deserve it without encouraging dependency.

Yaakov offers the sympathetic case of a child bleeding to death. Of all the people I’ve met, including Christians, Muslims, atheists, Republicans, Democrats, and so on, not a single one of them (save criminals) would hesitate to take every conceivable step to save a child in such circumstances. I also know a number of doctors, and they deserve far better than Yaakov’s unjust insinuation that they will not help those innocently in desperate need unless they are forced to do so. Typically doctors are among the first ones to rush to the scene of an emergency.

Even in our semi-free market, all sorts of charitable organizations exist specifically to help children. For instance, my dad is a Shriner:

Shriners Hospitals for Children relies on the generosity of donors to help us continue our mission of providing specialized pediatric care at no charge, conducting innovative research and providing world-class teaching programs for physicians and other health care professionals.

In a truly free market, I suspect that most hospitals and clinics would offer charitable services. Because marginal costs often are much lower than average costs (due to the high costs of facilities and machinery), many health providers would also offer sliding scales for payment options.

But don’t parents bear any responsibility for raising their children? If parents were, in normal circumstances (as opposed to cases of rare, expensive problems), required to pay their health bills, perhaps parents would think twice about having children that they cannot afford to support. Perhaps parents would take better care of their children, reducing the chances of needing a trip to the emergency room. Perhaps in non-emergency situations parents would seek out less-expensive care options, such as regular doctors’ offices. Perhaps more parents would purchase health insurance. Perhaps more parents would realize that they have to save money for health expenses, just as they have to save money for the rent and groceries. Perhaps more parents would take out short-term loans to pay off health expenses. Why should doctors (but not any other professional class) be forced to pay for parental irresponsibility?

But let us consider even less sympathetic cases as well. What about the people who could pay for their health care but choose to freeload? To take another example, one cycle proceeds as follows: an impoverished alcoholic, in rough shape because of a lifetime of bad choices and irresponsible behavior, drinks himself into unconsciousness, so somebody calls an ambulance, which takes the drunk to a hospital, which then must spend many thousands of dollars drying the guy out and fixing his self-induced medical ailments. Repeat this process every few weeks. Does Yaakov really believe that hospitals should be forced to treat, without compensation and without limit, chronic alcoholics, drug addicts, and gangsters who live by violence?

If we could attain a free society, that would imply a healthier culture in which such problems would be reduced. However, assuming the persistence of such problems, I do not doubt that a variety of charitable programs would be available even for such hard cases (as they are today). However, if I were running such a program, I would also impose very strict conditions for assistance. Alcoholics and drug addicts would have to clean up their lives, and criminals would have to work and live under controlled conditions. Charity in such cases should focus on rehabilitation and should avoid enabling self-destructive lifestyles.

Not only do existing rules encourage irresponsibility, they also harm the responsible. Not surprisingly, it is the unjust, immoral policy that Yaakov advocates that is responsible for depriving some people of health care. As Zinser and Hsieh point out:

[A]s a result of EMTALA, hospitals are closing emergency rooms. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, from 1993 to 2003, while the U.S. population grew by 12 percent, emergency room visits grew by 27 percent — from 90 million to 114 million visits. In that same period, however, 425 emergency rooms closed (14 percent of the ERs that existed in 1993), along with 703 hospitals and nearly 200,000 beds. More close every year.

By mandating that doctors and hospitals treat patients at a financial loss, EMTALA violates the rights of doctors and hospitals to set the terms of their business. Consequently, doctors who are unwilling to lose money or who are tired of treating dishonest patients withdraw from emergency rooms. This leads to more overcrowding, longer waiting times, and, in some cases, the closing of ERs. As the remaining ERs become still more overcrowded and understaffed, the quality of emergency room services necessarily declines, harming honest patients who have genuine emergencies.

As Zinser and Hsieh argue, the problems with modern medicine are caused by the imposition of political force. Today, many immoral political policies impose force, violating the rights of doctors, patients, and insurers. A just system, and a system that offers the best medical care, is one in which the rights of doctors, patients, and other parties are consistently protected.