March 2018
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Constitutional Corner – Freedom of Conscience

Who can forget the despair, the hopelessness we felt when Jack Nicholson’s character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” came out of the lobotomy lab exhibiting the zombie-like expression that confirmed the procedure was a success; one more “rebel” brought into line by the power of the state; one more mind turned to mush.


We are starting to see the signs that some today would use the power of the state to turn us all into “right-thinking” zombies spouting the party line.  Some who dare think certain activities un-natural or, dare we say it, “sinful,” must be brought into line.


While actual lobotomies are, to the best of my understanding, illegal today, the same result can be achieved through the skillful use of language.  Consider how suddenly a centuries old definition of the word “marriage” has been rendered almost meaningless. Now we have talk of fathers demanding to “marry” their daughters and others “marrying” their cats.


“Newspeak,” George Orwell fans will recognize, is the fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a language created by Orwell’s totalitarian state as a tool to limit freedom of thought.  Any ideas that pose a threat to the regime; such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, and peace are not to be condoned, but rather co-opted through language. Forms of thought which do not comport with the party’s PC-correct concepts are classified as “thoughtcrime.” Although Orwell missed his timing mark by a mile, his idea is being implemented as I write, little by little.


 “Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;…”so begins the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, enacted on January 16, 1786 after seven long years of foot-dragging by the Virginia Assembly.  Thomas Jefferson, its primary author, thought it one of his three greatest accomplishments (along with the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia), which speaks volumes considering his lifetime of honorable service in a veritable cornucopia of elected and appointed offices.


After declaring the mind free, and reminding us of the reason this is so, Jefferson next warns of the danger posed by attempts to change this truth:


“That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do.

Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission  should take a lesson from Mr. Jefferson, but I doubt they are interested.  The Commission’s focus seems to be on making everyone think alike on a certain issue, and if someone doesn’t, well, “there’s an app for that,” or as Jefferson would say: a “civil incapacitation.”


Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in Lakewood, Colorado, had the audacity to think homosexuality sinful and, in a fit of individuality, chose not to celebrate it with his cakes.  As a result he was directed by the Commission to attend, along with the rest of his staff, sensitivity training sessions; his mind, it seems, was entirely too free for the liking of the Commission.


In addition to the sensitivity training, for the next two years Phillips is also required to “submit quarterly reports to the commission confirming that he has not turned away customers based on their sexual orientation.”


I hope that at the end of his time in the “penalty box,” Mr. Phillips mind is just as free as it once was to think as he chooses; at least I pray that it is.


Virginia had its version of Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission.  Established in 1987, the Virginia Human Rights Council was created to “enforce the policy of the Commonwealth to safeguard individuals from unlawful discrimination.”  In 2012, the functions performed by the Council were transferred to the Office of Attorney General under our good friend Mark Herring. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, the policy to be enforced does not include sexual orientation as a protected class.  “Unlawful discriminatory practices” are confined to “conduct which violates any Virginia or federal Statute or regulation governing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, disability.”


The Framers didn’t mention freedom of conscience when they drafted the Constitution or the “Bill of Rights,” most certainly because they considered it to be such a fundamental concept — akin to stating that the Congress should use “quill and ink” when crafting legislation.  The concept, of course, can still be found with little effort imbedded in the right of free speech, religious expression, and others.  If you don’t see it there, try the Ninth Amendment.


The Oxford Dictionary defines Freedom of Conscience as “The right to follow one’s own beliefs in matters of religion and morality” (emphasis added), and this definition is rigorously defended by those on the left — so long as the beliefs in question conform to their own.

To “follow” implies action, i.e., putting “legs” on one’s beliefs.  That’s why the Left holds up as heroes domestic terrorists such as Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, they were only following their conscience, you see.  But let someone on the right take less deadly actions of conscience, such as demonstrating outside abortion clinics, or refusing to help celebrate homosexual weddings, and up pop the “re-education camps.”


The Hobby Lobby decision proved that the Supreme Court still feels freedom of conscience should be protected, at least as regards those opposed to compelled purchase of abortificants in healthcare plans.  I wonder when the court will get around to extending the same protections to those opposed to same-sex “marriage?”

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The WFYL “Constitution Matters” panel will be discussing essays live on Friday morning, 7-8am EDT. You can listen to the live broadcast via  Click on “Listen Live.”  Podcasts also available.


Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc., a project to inform Americans about the Founder’s view of their Constitution.  Comments on this essay and ideas for future essays should be sent to

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