Voices

One choice fits all

Americans are losing the right not to support certain behaviors

Issue: "Africa: The new frontier," July 16, 2005

So if you were for any reason under the impression that the United States has become something of a more pluralistic society, open to people of a whole variety of worldviews and ideologies, ask Luke, Jim, and Matt. "Don't kid yourself," I think they'd say.

All three, in very different ways, are learning that their own kind of individualism is not just frowned on-but may even be against the law.

Luke Vander Bleek is a pharmacist at Fitzgerald's Pharmacy in Morrison, Ill. He gained national publicity a few days ago because of his commitment neither to stock nor to fill any prescriptions for the so-called "morning-after pill," a birth-control pill that works as an abortifacient that purposely destroys a fertilized egg. "I don't know of any other instance where people are required to provide abortions, do you?" Mr. Vander Bleek asked a reporter from WTTW-Chicago who was interviewing him for airing on PBS. "I mean is there any other place in the United States where people don't have the right of conscientious objection to that practice?"

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But right now in Illinois, Mr. Vander Bleek apparently no longer has that right. On April 1, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed what he called an "emergency regulation" that requires all pharmacies that sell contraceptives of any kind to fill prescriptions for the morning-after pills as well. "No hassles, no lectures, just fill the prescription," says the Democratic governor.

Mr. Vander Bleek says he will stop stocking any oral contraceptives if that's what it takes to stop dispensing the morning-after pill. "We'll do that first, you know, before we go out of the pharmacy business. But it comes to, you know, where this aggressively gets enforced and the license becomes revoked as a result of it, we'll stop the practice of pharmacy, because that's not what I'm here to do." Along with five other pharmacists, Mr. Vander Bleek has sued to have the governor's order set aside.

Halfway across the country, near Montpelier, Vt., Jim Smith (his real name is right now being withheld for legal reasons) runs a 24-unit inn-which he manages to do because his wife Mary and their eight children all pitch in to make it a welcoming, homey place. Especially when it comes to hosting wedding rehearsal dinners and receptions, the family has a reputation for going all out to help make the events memorable in every way.

All of which became something of a problem when a pair of homosexual men sought to schedule a reception for their "civil union" at the Smiths' inn. Mr. Smith, a practicing Roman Catholic, explained that although the inn would agree to host the event, he would have a hard time putting his heart into the project the way he liked to for his clients. It wasn't long before word came that Mr. and Mrs. Smith were facing a discrimination charge from the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

Mathew Staver, head of Liberty Counsel, responded by offering to provide legal representation for the Smiths, and said: "This case seeks to authorize the government to become thought police. . . . Forget tolerance-this case is about forcing others to endorse same-sex unions."

Back in Illinois, J. Matt Barber was until recently a manager for the insurance giant Allstate. But Mr. Barber made the mistake of writing a column in his local paper critiquing same-sex marriage. No one disputes the fact that he wrote the column on his own time, and without publicly identifying himself in any way with his employer. But that wasn't good enough for Allstate, who for a few days suspended him from his job (with pay), and then fired him specifically for having written the article.

Outrageous as the three episodes are, none is so extraordinary any more in the run of any day's news. Behavior that was just a generation ago viewed by nearly all of society as objectionable, or at best barely tolerable, has in those few years become so protected that its critics are now the ones who must be ostracized. And the protectors of such behavior are not satisfied merely to make us a minority-which we almost certainly have become at this point. We must also be made a minority whose rights of expression will be silenced.

For much of the last three decades, many of us have resisted the idea of "choice" in the formation of public policy simply because we thought some of the options being proposed were so bad. Little did we know that what the proponents of those options really had in mind was to say that their way was the only way.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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