The Two "Sides" of Freedom of Conscience

 Posted by on 2 April 2009 at 11:01 pm  Politics
Apr 022009

“Freedom of Conscience for Pharmacists,” Idaho House Bill 216, passed the House last Monday and will now be taken up by the Idaho Senate. The debate has split along party lines, but what’s remarkable is how it reveals an utter hostility to individual rights on both sides, even while they pose as defenders of rights.

The bill’s proponents on the Right appeal (correctly) to the need to respect freedom of conscience and the right to refuse to engage in activities one considers immoral, citing the example of supplying emergency birth-control like the “morning after pill.” But of course, pharmacists are not required to dispense anything: they can always exercise their right to freedom of association and quit, joining or forming another pharmacy. Or the pharmacy could see the light and choose to change its policies if it doesn’t choose to fire the insubordinate for breach of contract, an exercise of its freedom of association and property rights. But the bill’s proponents are apparently unhappy with what genuine freedom and mutual respect for rights would allow in response to someone acting on their religious beliefs regarding birth control and abortion. So now they are attempting to ban legitimate exercises of rights by pharmacy owners, and seeking to shield pharmacists from the ramifications of breach of contract.

The bill’s opponents on the Left fail to highlight that fundamental problem. Instead, they focus on the potential for conscientious objectors to similarly refuse to dispense drugs like birth control and Viagra (maybe the pharmacist is a prude) and insulin (perhaps he’s an animal-rights advocate), frustrating the satisfaction of important needs. But of course nobody has a right to buy anything independent of someone else being willing to sell it. The bill’s opponents are apparently unhappy with what genuine freedom and mutual respect for rights would allow from those who disagree with them about what is best for business, people, and society. And so the opponents advocate mandatory dispensing of whatever prescriptions are written — or at the very least mandatory referrals to someone who is willing — independent of the pharmacist having freely agreed to do so. This would likewise constitute an obvious violation of rights to freedom of association and property.

So here we have a microcosm illustrating what is going wrong in American politics. One “side” seeks to violate pharmacy owners’ authentic rights in the name of pharmacists’ pseudo-rights — while the other “counters” by advocating violation of the authentic rights of both in the name of consumers’ pseudo-rights. No wonder Atlas is threatening to shrug.

(Submitted to The Idaho Statesman)

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