Officials in Germany want to have a Pennsylvania man charged with war crimes. He was a prison guard at Auschwitz - one of the most notorious Nazi death camps during World War II. The 87 year-old man admits this, but argues that he did not take part in gassing the Jews.
We cry out that this man should be tried and convicted of unspeakable horrors. Even if he wasn't personally responsible for deaths, he should have stopped it. His conscience should have demanded action.
Recently, CIA interrogators used questionable methods to gain information they believed was vital to fight the war on terror. One of these methods was "water boarding".
Many people say these CIA agents should be tried and convicted for their actions. Excuses that they were "just following orders" and the "ends justified the means" do not make them innocent. Their consciences should have made them stop and question their tactics.
We all hold firmly to the belief that you and I have a responsibility to follow our conscience and prevent "wrongdoing" or "horrific actions" when we see them occur. We believe that people should be held accountable for their actions even if they were "just following the law". In short we believe in the duty, or responsibility, of conscience.
This is such a strong belief in America that we have laid clear boundaries respecting the right of conscience - the flip side of the responsibility of conscience. Since the founding of this nation, we have valued the right of individuals to follow their conscience even when it violated a law or statute. There are conscientious objectors who did not have to serve in the military when we had a draft. Amish students are exempt from truancy laws after a certain age. And up until recently, nurses could not be forced to participate in abortions if it violated their conscience.
We have long understood that we are ultimately accountable to God and society for our actions, good or evil, regardless of what the law requires. We resonate with the warning given by James, the half-brother of Jesus, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."
But the right of conscience has been challenged. In February 2011, the Obama administration revoked the right of conscience for healthcare workers to "opt out" of procedures they found morally questionable. Then earlier this year, the administration refused to extend the right of conscience to individuals providing health care coverage for their employees. Employers MUST now provide government defined insurance coverage even if that includes procedures and medication that violates the provider's conscience.
But that forces us into a dilemma: We can't deny the rights of conscience to medical workers and insurance providers, and at the same time hold former Nazi guards and CIA agents responsible to what we think their conscience should have demanded. We must choose.
Choice #1: We can grant the right of conscience to anyone who claims it, and retain the right to hold individuals accountable to their conscience when they make choices that are obviously evil.
Choice #2: We can deny the right of conscience to individuals to who claim it, and lose the right to hold ex-Nazi guards and CIA agents accountable.
We cannot have it both ways. Having it both ways would be what the founders called "tyranny" - the arbitrary exercise of power.
A consistent, stable society requires recognition of the rights of conscience. Without that right, we will be reduced to tyranny.
The right of conscience must be defended vigorously, even when we disagree with those claiming it. If we deny the rights of conscience to others, it will not be there when we need it, even when facing death camps and water boarding. If we are to defend the right of conscience then we must repeal and replace Obamacare and encourage our President to repeal Executive Orders that strip medical professionals of this basic constitutional right.
On November 6th you have the opportunity to defend the right of conscience by voting for people who understand and who will defend that right. No one else can do it for you.
The choice is yours. Choose well.
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