Fans of Norman Rockwell know many of his paintings whether they lived during WWII or not. One of my favorites is Freedom of Speech, which shows a man speaking at a town hall meeting with others respectfully listening.
It’s our system at its best – in Troy our new mayor expanded the public comment section of council meetings to five minutes regardless of how many speakers there are. A soft-spoken man spoke in favor of the transit center because it would be good for bicyclists. Frequent critics who are fixtures are also listened to with respect.
Of course, all is not rosy. Former presidents are normally silent when they disagree with current ones, but not so former mayors. Our current mayor was criticized by a former one for changing the oath of office, accusing her of disrespect for her predecessors and the city charter. When Mayor Daniels offered a reasonable explanation later in the meeting, then came the deafening but not golden silence. Daniels also cautioned one flame-thrower that there might be children listening at home, to please keep his content family-friendly.
FDR’s four freedoms, immortalized by Norman Rockwell, got me thinking about the ordered liberty we enjoy here, going back to our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It’s ironic that FDR only got one of the four exactly right. His second freedom is properly understood as freedom of religion, not freedom of worship as he and current liberals believe. Freedom of religion includes the freedom to persuade others to join you as taught by Jesus in the Bible. Government must restrain those who would kill family members for changing their religion. Freedom of worship is more limited – it’s OK as long as you keep it to yourself and out of the public square.
The third, freedom from want, is nice but not within the proper sphere of government to provide. Safety net, yes, and help for those who cannot provide for themselves. But to encourage people to be dependent on government food stamps is to rob them of the joy of earning their own bread.
The fourth, freedom from fear, is understandable given the WWII era, but no way can government deliver on that one. Government can and should provide justice and punishment for evildoers but only God can give freedom from fear.
So what is the foundational freedom? I believe it is freedom of conscience: to have one’s own convictions, as long as they don’t interfere with someone else’s life, liberty or property (a modern translation of pursuit of happiness).
The Supreme Court is deeply divided between conservatives and liberals, yet its 9-0 January ruling thundered in favor of religious liberty in the case of a Lutheran church and school having the freedom to preach and teach its religious distinctives. So it seems odd that President Obama ignored the advice of many of his advisors and allowed HHS Secretary Sibelius to require all religious employers except churches to provide abortion and contraception coverage.
The very people that cry “get out of my bedroom” are going one step further: forcing Christians and others who have moral objections to abortion and some forms of contraception to pay for it. Knowing that it will eventually be overturned by the Supreme Court, Obama plunged ahead. I can’t think of any benign reasons for this decision, other than maybe he really thinks he knows better how we should live than we do.
The most likely possibility: he’s building support with his liberal base to get donations for his reelection campaign. Sure enough, he modified the policy Friday to appear conciliatory with the Catholic church and try to regain their support. More than three dozen religious and legal experts led by Notre Dame Law School recognized this “accommodation” as a cheap accounting trick, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not convinced.
Meanwhile his base will contribute to his campaign and be enthusiastic about him as the transformational figure they were hoping for. Most Americans like our country the way it is, except we’d like to get back to work.
If he behaves this way when he’s trying to get reelected, what will happen during the next four when he has no reason to curry favor with the voters?
America has always accommodated minority views, like the Amish who choose not to drive cars because of their deeply held religious convictions: cars can hurt or kill people, which contradicts their pacifist Christian views. No one objects to that, and we allowed them to serve their country in other ways when there was a draft.
We can all learn from the guidelines the apostle Paul gave to the Christians in Rome about how to live in harmony with others holding opposite views (Romans 14).
Forcing Catholic hospitals to pay for insurance coverage for contraception and the morning after pill is the moral equivalent of forcing the Amish to buy cars. It’s another reason why Americans of all beliefs should reject President Obama’s bid for a second term.