Monday, July 30, 2012

The Battle Over Marriage and Religious Liberty: Why No Compromise Is Possible

Remember all the assurances that same-sex marriage would have minimal effect on the rest of society and even on the institution of marriage?  In this post from Public Discourse, Robert George explains why the notion that a grand bargain could be struck between supporters and opponents of SSM - such that SSM would be legally recognized but its proponents and the law would respect the right of supporters of marriage as traditionally defined to act on their consciences without penalty - was always an illusion.

There is, in George's opinion,
no chance—no chance—of persuading champions of sexual liberation (and it should be clear by now that this is the cause they serve), that they should respect, or permit the law to respect, the conscience rights of those with whom they disagree....
The lesson, it seems to me, for those of us who believe that the conjugal conception of marriage is true and good, and who wish to protect the rights of our faithful and of our institutions to honor that belief in carrying out their vocations and missions, is that there is no alternative to winning the battle in the public square over the legal definition of marriage. 

Marriage, religious liberty, and the “grand bargain”
Robert P. George
July19, 2012
In the name of “marriage equality” and “non-discrimination,” liberty—especially religious liberty and the liberty of conscience—and genuine equality are undermined.
It was only yesterday, was it not, that we were being assured that the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex partnerships would have no impact on persons and institutions that hold to the traditional view of marriage as a conjugal union? Such persons and institutions would simply be untouched by the change. It won’t affect your marriage or your life, we were told, if the law recognizes Henry and Herman or Sally and Sheila as “married.”
Those offering these assurances were also claiming that the redefinition of marriage would have no impact on the public understanding of marriage as a monogamous and sexually exclusive partnership. No one, they insisted, wanted to alter those traditional marital norms. On the contrary, the redefinition of marriage would promote and spread those norms more broadly....

No one, they assured us, would require Catholic or other foster care and adoption services to place children in same-sex headed households. No one, they said, would require religiously affiliated schools and social-service agencies to treat same-sex partners as spouses, or impose penalties or disabilities on those that dissent. No one would be fired from his or her job (or suffer employment discrimination) for voicing support for conjugal marriage or criticizing same-sex sexual conduct and relationships. And no one was proposing to recognize polyamorous relationships or normalize “open marriages,” nor would redefinition undermine the norms of sexual exclusivity and monogamy in theory or practice.

That was then; this is now.

Abp Chaput on Growing a Culture of Religious Freedom

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia gave this thoughtful address at the Napa Institute.  He argues that "America is now mission territory. Our own failures helped to make it that way. We need to admit that. Then we need to re-engage the work of discipleship to change it."

Building a Culture of Religious Freedom (6204)
Address Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia gave at the Napa Institute on July 26.
Transcript of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s keynote address given at the Napa Institute on July 26. 
A friend of mine, a political scientist, recently posed two very good questions. They go right to the heart of our discussion today. He wondered, first, if the religious freedom debate had “crossed a Rubicon” in our country’s political life. And, second, he asked if Catholic bishops now found themselves opposed — in a new and fundamental way — to the spirit of American society.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hercules shows strength, halts Obama abortion pill mandate

Cost of freedom to Colo. family business could be millions of dollars if Obama administration ultimately prevails
Friday, July 27, 2012
Attorney sound bite:  Matt Bowman
DENVER — A federal court issued an order Friday that halts enforcement of the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate against a Colorado family-owned business while an Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit challenging the mandate continues in court. The mandate forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy penalties.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys obtained the first-ever order against the mandate on behalf of Hercules Industries and the Catholic family that owns it. The administration opposed the order, arguing, contrary to the U.S. Constitution, that people of faith forfeit their religious liberty once they engage in business. The mandate could subject the Newlands to millions of dollars in fines per year if they don’t abide by its requirements.

“Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith. For the time being, Hercules Industries will be able to do just that,” said Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The cost of freedom for this family could be millions of dollars per year in fines that will cripple their business if the Obama administration ultimately has its way. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that Washington bureaucrats cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living. Americans don’t want politicians and bureaucrats deciding what faith is, who the faithful are, and where and how that faith may be lived out.”

In his order, Senior Judge John L. Kane of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado said that the government’s arguments “are countered, and indeed outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion. As the Tenth Circuit has noted, ‘there is a strong public interest in the free exercise of religion even where that interest may conflict with [another statutory scheme]….’ Accordingly, the public interest favors entry of an injunction in this case.” Kane explained that the government’s “harm pales in comparison to the possible infringement upon Plaintiffs’ constitutional and statutory rights.”

According to the brief Alliance Defending Freedom filed along with the motion requesting the injunction, “the mandate disregards religious conscience rights that are enshrined in federal statutory and constitutional law.” It also violates the First Amendment “due to its massive inapplicability and its discrimination among religions,” the brief explains.

Hercules owners William Newland, Paul Newland, James Newland, and Christine Ketterhagen, and its vice-president, Andrew Newland, desire to run their company in a manner that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs, including their belief that God requires respect for the dignity of human life and sexuality. Their lawsuit, Newland v. Sebelius, was filed April 30 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

Mark Regnerus, Academic Freedom, and Sociology's Heresy Hunt

The judicial murder of a promising and honest academic’s reputation
An eminent historian said in a lecture I heard the other day, something to the effect that writers on history are always taking contrary views of each others’ work – that’s the way the debate progresses, that’s the way the system works. It’s an adversarial process for getting at the truth. At least one hopes it gets us nearer the truth. By and large it is a good one and one that should offer, over time, act as a defence against the crime of twisting an manipulating the truth to serve the purposes of ideology.

He was referring to historical writing but this process is one which serves all academe equally well. Modern historiography has benefited greatly from the honest rigour which this process has generated within it and few writers will now get away with the excesses of some of the historians writing 100 years ago or more.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for other more modern disciplines in the academic field. Just now the feeding frenzy being indulged in by the ideologues circling, snapping at and ready to devour the sociologist Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas, Austin, is a sad example of the level to which academics can lower themselves – leaving aside the scavenging media elements feeding on the scraps of Regnerus’ reputation flying around from the mauling being given to him by his erstwhile colleagues.

Regnerus published an article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research which reported findings that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. Those results are clearly counter-cultural in terms of gay ideology and he is not going to be let get away with it. The media smearing is relentless, as are the charges of scientific misconduct  being presented to his university. As a result he is now being subjected to an inquiry.

Regnerus, ideologically unattached himself, has committed a political offense. He can’t be charged with that so the academic arsenal is being riffled to find a pretext for some trumped up charges to bring him to “justice”. What we have staring us in the face is the judicial murder of a promising and honest academic’s reputation, pure and simple.

Christian Smith, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, defends Regnerus and says,

In today's political climate, and particularly in the discipline of sociology—dominated as it is by a progressive orthodoxy—what Regnerus did is unacceptable. It makes him a heretic, a traitor—and so he must be thrown under the bus.

Regnerus's study was based on a nationally representative sample of adult Americans, including an adequate number of respondents who had parents with same-sex relationships to make valid statistical comparisons. His data were collected by a survey firm that conducts top studies, such as the American National Election Survey, which is supported by the National Science Foundation. His sample was a clear improvement over those used by most previous studies on this topic.

Those who are attacking Regnerus cannot admit their true political motives, so their strategy has been to discredit him for conducting "bad science." That is devious. His article is not perfect—no article ever is. But it is no scientifically worse than what is routinely published in sociology journals. Without a doubt, had Regnerus published different findings with the same methodology, nobody would have batted a methodological eye. Furthermore, none of his critics raised methodological concerns about earlier research on the same topic that had greater limitations, which are discussed in detail in the Regnerus article. Apparently, weak research that comes to the "right" conclusions is more acceptable than stronger studies that offer heretical results.

Who is Mark Regnerus? He was trained in one of the best graduate programs in the U.S. and was a postdoctoral fellow under an internationally renowned scholar of family, Glen Elder, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The article in question underwent peer review, and the journal's editor stands over it. Regnerus openly acknowledges some limitations of his study in his article. Furthermore, another recent study relying on a nationally representative sample also suggests that children of same-sex parents differ from children from intact, heterosexual marriages.

It is quite clear that what has happened here is that advocacy groups and academics who support gay marriage view Regnerus's findings as threatening, not to the truth but to their own ideology. More importantly, however, the case itself reveals a deeper malaise within the academic world, nothing less in fact than a betrayal of fundamental academic integrity. Christian Smith argues:

The Regnerus case needs to be understood in a larger context. Sociologists tend to be political and cultural liberals, leftists, and progressives. That itself is not a problem, in my view. (I am not a conservative.) A critical progressive outlook is part of sociology's character and contribution to the world, making it an interesting and often useful discipline, especially when it comes to understanding poverty and inequality, determining whether social policies are effective, and establishing why education systems succeed and fail. But the ideological and political proclivities of some sociologists can create real problems.

The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify "problems" with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not "correct" are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—"scholarly weaknesses" or "not fitting in well" with the department.

To be sure, there are many sociologists—progressives and otherwise—who are good people, scholars, and teachers. But the influence of progressive orthodoxy in sociology is evident in decisions made by graduate students, junior faculty, and even senior faculty about what, why, and how to research, publish, and teach. One cannot be too friendly to religion, for example, such as researching the positive social contributions of missionary work overseas or failing to criticize evangelicals and fundamentalists. The result is predictable: Play it politically safe, avoid controversial questions, publish the right conclusions.

If that is so it is indeed a sad and worrying scenario to have to admit. History and historical research has grown up and historiography is now a mature and very enlightening debate. Ideological rubbish may still have to be sniffed out but this is routinely done. Clearly many sociologists still have a long way to go in learning how to deal in a mature and fair way with the inconvenient propositions presented to them by their colleagues if the treatment being meted out to Mark Regnerus is anything to go by.

This article is published by Michael Kirke and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

European democratic deficit again?

Michael Kirke | 25 Jul 2012 | 

One would think that the European Commission, given its already notorious reputation for its high-handed and undemocratic dealings with its citizens, - not to talk of its free-and-easy ways with their money - should be a little more careful. Without as much as a “by-your-leave”, or even an effort to test its right to do so in its court, it is funding the campaign of the gay “marriage” lobby – and murdering language, truth and logic in the process.

Back in May, the European Commission’s headquarters at the Berlaymont building in Brussels hosted a photo exhibition organised by ILGA-Europe (the International Lesbian and Gay Association) and provided “generous financial support” for the event, which took place under the patronage of Viviane Reding, the Commission’s Vice-President. The Commission seems to have provided similar financial support to ILGA-Europe on other occasions. In a speech given in Warsaw in 2007, Caecilia Malmstrom, then Swedish Minister for Equality, said “the EU is financing two thirds of ILGA's activities”.

Among the allegations made in this poster exhibition is one stating that European states which have not legislated for same-sex “marriage” are, as a consequence, denying one of the fundamental rights of European citizens, freedom of movement within the Union. Their argument goes as follows:

Many EU countries have laws recognising same-sex marriage and registered partnerships, but most do not recognise each others’ laws.

For example, two lesbians are married in Belgium. To continue to benefit from the rights, responsibilities and protections outside Belgium, they can only move to one of a few EU countries which currently recognise their marriage. The lack of mutual recognition results in serious violations of one of the most fundamental EU principles – freedom of movement of citizens.” (Source: ILGA Europe)

European Dignity Watch, which has highlighted this dubious Commission-supported propaganda by the ILGA, explains that the right of freedom of movement and of residence, fundamental rights accorded to every citizen of the EU, are in no way denied to gay people. Furthermore, discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Therefore, gay and lesbian people in the EU do enjoy freedom of movement in the same manner and extent as any other EU citizens. The poster’s text misinterprets the meaning of “freedom of movement”, EDW points out.

What freedom of movement of EU citizens really means is that EU citizens have the right to move and settle in any other member state — provided they have a job and a domicile. It doesn’t mean any more or any less than this. It does not require an EU member states to receive citizens from other member states who do not fulfil these requirements and then provide them with social security or other similar benefits.

Matters of marriage and family are the exclusive competence of each EUmember state, it is still perfectly legitimate for a member state not to recognise same-sex marriages, whether conducted in another EU member state or in a non-EU country.

The European Commission, in giving its support to this kind of propaganda is ignoring its obligations to all its member states. It should be seeking to protect the legitimate autonomy which the Treaty of union gives them rather than seeking to undermine it.

As EDW points out, it is the biased position promoted by the poster that would result in violations of the EU Treaty, not the refusal of certain EU member states to recognise same-sex marriages.

If the European Commission really believed that a given member state’s refusal to recognise same-sex marriages conducted abroad violated the fundamental right of freedom of movement, it would already have had the courage to accuse that state before the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The truth is, however, that the Commission has never taken such legal action.

In the meantime, in the absence of an ECJ judgment on the matter, it is inappropriate for the Commission to lend its support to a publicity campaign that makes the allegation that some EU member states are committing “serious violations” of the EU’s freedom of movement principle.

This article is published by Michael Kirke and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Conscience and the Catholic Social Worker

Paul Adams

Here is the paper I just presented in Indianapolis on the significance of conscience in social work and professional ethics in general. It asks whether the discounting and trivialization of conscience in social work - a result of conceptual confusion and partisan passions - is deprofessionalizing the field by turning social workers into the moral equivalent of robots or vending machines.

Conscience and the Catholic Social Worker

Paper presented at the
Catholic Social Workers National Association 2012 National Conference
Indianapolis, July 20-22, 2012
Paul Adams
Here is a typical passage from the regular column of Director of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Dr. Elizabeth Clark, in NASW News, for May 2012:
In the last few months, we have seen the worst attacks on women’s rights since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973.  These attacks have come in many guises and from oblique directions.  They have been couched in outcries of religious freedom, conscience clauses, cost containment and paternalism.  We have seen restrictions in Plan B, the emergency contraception pill,, for younger women, a challenge to insurance coverage for working women, and proposals for required ultrasound procedures....
American women and women’s groups have not been silent during this turbulent spring.  We watched women challenge the decision of the Susan B. Komen Foundation to defund Planned Parenthood.  We were appalled....  We were further outraged by....
On the other hand, we cheered with the defeat of the Blunt amendment to allow religious groups to decline insurance coverage they morally oppose.
And so on and on, with the full stock of Democratic Party/Planned Parenthood talking points supporting their “war on women” narrative.  Such partisan, unnuanced rants in which our professional association’s executive director purports to speak, not only for all social workers but all women too, ought not, by now, to surprise us.  For a response from women for whom Clark, the DNC and Planned Parenthood do not speak, see this letter.  Nor by the unsupported and indeed counterfactual assumption that abortion and contraception are goods for women (see, for evidence to the contrary, Eberstadt’s (2012) Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution.
Set aside for the moment the particular issues that exercise Clark here and what still startles is the casual dismissal of all talk of religious freedom and conscience.  Such blankness of incomprehension here and consistently through NASW’s statements is a debased understanding of the very concept of conscience.  No other profession gives such short shrift to conscience or has so little regard for the conscience rights and protections of its own members.
The threats to conscience and religious freedom confronting Catholic social workers have become more evident and pressing since I submitted the proposal for this session. There has been a flood of writing about the subject covering everything from individual legal cases to the HHS mandate to the Fortnight for Freedom launched by the U.S. bishops.  
Here I will limit myself to developments most directly related to social work practice and to the threat posed to conscience by the very way in which the social work literature frames the discussion of conscience exemptions and conscientious objection.  As Catholic social workers, I want to suggest, we need to understand some important distinctions in the realm of conscience in order to argue our case with colleagues and legislators, as well as to consider our own options.
Catholics and others in social work and related fields who adhere to the religious orthodoxy of the Judeo-Christian tradition in matters of life, death, sex and marriage face threats to conscience at every level.  The secular-liberal orthodoxy in these areas aims not at tolerance or pluralism, but seeks a monopoly in the public square (George, 2002)
In 2009 Julea Ward was dismissed from her counseling program at Eastern Michigan University after she sought to refer rather than treat a potential client who was seeking counseling about a homosexual relationship.  The university’s insistence that Ward needed “remediation” to help her abandon her beliefs about homosexual behavior and act against her conscience led to her dismissal from the program and resulted in a series of university and judicial hearings and appeals.  In June 2012, the Michigan House passed Bill 5040, known as the Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act, prohibiting religious discrimination against college students studying counseling, social work, or psychology.
In its review of ten social work education programs, the National Association of Scholars found many examples of the coercion of student consciences, legitimated by a narrow reading of the NASW Code of Ethics.  The cases involved requiring students to advocate and lobby for positions to which they were opposed in principle and as a matter of conscience.  Again and again, we find students coerced into a morally degrading performance that requires public avowal of belief contrary to their own belief, conscience, and faith.
The issue of coercing the conscience of professionals in the health and helping professions has come to the fore in recent years as a result of the discovery, invention, or promulgation of new rights in matters of life and death, sex, marriage, and family.  Behaviors that were illegal or socially stigmatized for millennia have been declared legal and become rights.  This is not simply a victory for tolerance against the views and values of the majority of the population.  It is a claim, supported by the force of law, for equal recognition and respect, subject to anti-discrimination measures equivalent to those that apply in the case of sex and race.
For more than two millennia, physicians have sworn by the Hippocratic Oath not to engage or collude in practices like abortion, euthanasia, or assisted suicide.  In the wake of the egregious violations of the Hippocratic ethic by Nazi physicians, the World Medical Association’s 1948 Physician’s Oath affirmed “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception, even under threat." The legally binding United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the 1959 UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child affirm the rights of the child before as well as after birth (Joseph, 2009).
With astonishing speed, all these and other legal protections have been swept away either in letter or spirit.  UN officials have been criticized for attempting to pressure sovereign member states to establish abortion as a legal right (Tozzi, 2008). 

Hippocratic and other oaths have been revised to eliminate the prohibitions on killing—whether through abortion, euthanasia, or assisted suicide.  And, most disturbing of all, health care providers have transformed their own professional ethics from forbidding abortion and other life-terminating measures to all but making direct or indirect participation in them a requirement of professional practice. 
In recent years, the threat to conscience rights has widened beyond abortion and the duties and conscience rights of physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to areas in which social workers are more directly and routinely involved.  Among these are counseling or psychotherapy and foster care and adoption, where practitioners and agencies are expected to affirm same-sex sexual relations and, in a growing number of states, same-sex “marriage,” as equivalent in moral status, social honor, and appropriateness as family environments for children, to conjugal relations between husband and wife. 
One driver of these developments, Alvaré (2012) argues, is the vigorous promotion by the Federal government of a new moral orthodoxy, an ideology she terms sexualityism or sexual expressionism.  Against what social science tells us about human happiness, as well as against the defense of religious freedom, “the government is promoting sexualityism—a commitment to uncommitted, unencumbered, inconsequential sex.”
The HHS mandate stands on this theory. In a world of easy availability of birth control and abortion, the only reason for a federal mandate for a “free” and universal supply is to try to send the sexualityism message. The White House has all but come out and said: “women of America, vote for the incumbent this presidential election year because he supports women’s equality and freedom, which he understands to include at the very least nonmarital and nonprocreative sexual expression.” Why else choose Sandra Fluke—an affluent, single, female law student, who demands a taxpayer-subsidized, 365-day supply of birth control as the price of female equality—as your spokeswoman?
The HHS mandate requiring all employers, with narrow exceptions, to provide “insurance” coverage of abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization, threatens the religious freedom of all Catholic employers and organizations.  My own hometown is built around a university that has made it clear it will not comply with the mandate.  Nor will the local Catholic school, the only school in town. The threat is to the existence of the whole town, which cannot survive as a Catholic community without these Catholic institutions at their heart.  
In general, either Catholic organizations will violate the Church’s authoritative teaching and effectively cease to be Catholic, or they will be closed down, sold off, or fined (that is, “taxed”) out of existence .  As Cardinal George of Chicago put it, “a governmental administrative decision now mean[s] the end of institutions that have been built up over several generations from small donations, often from immigrants, and through the services of religious women and men, and others who wanted to be part of the church’s mission in healing and education.”
One result of the stripping of these health and social service programs from the Church would be to deprive Catholic social workers of even the possibility of practicing their profession in a Catholic context, that is as part of the Church’s corporate response to the needs of the poor, sick, homeless, and oppressed - an organized activity and duty of the Church from the beginning.
Among the health and helping professions, social work stands out for its opposition to conscience exemptions for its own members.  More than two-thirds of respondents in Sweifach’s (2011) study believed that laws protecting some health care providers should not be extended to social workers.  In contrast, and despite ongoing attacks on conscience exemptions within the professions, other fields give more weight to professional judgment and discretion in choosing whom to serve and how to serve them.  The American Pharmacists Association (2008) recognizes an individual pharmacist’s right to conscientious refusal.The AMA’s (2006) Code of Medical Ethics states that “A physician shall, in the provision of appropriate patient care, except in emergencies, be free to choose whom to serve.”  According to the American Nurses Association, nurses have a right to refuse to participate in a procedure, but the conscientious objection must apply to the procedure, not the patient.  Lawyers also assert the right to refuse representation in cases they consider morally repugnant, though they seem not to have the right to exclude whole categories of clients, such as men in divorce cases (Harpaz, 1998).
In social work, in contrast, the tendency is to address the conflict in ways similar to that of the Eastern Michigan counseling program - treat or exclude the practitioner.  Tellingly, Sweifach (2011) cites the NASW code of ethics insistence on the social worker’s primary responsibility to promote the well-being of clients, as though the practitioner’s judgment of that matter were necessarily subordinate to the client’s.  “Commentators explain that when clients’ behaviors and practices conflict with a social worker’s personal morals or religious beliefs, the social worker may be in need of peer support, supervision, or values clarification training to responsibly serve clients.”  Conscience is thus reduced to “personal values,” and the professional as moral agent to a cipher.
In part, the failure of professional organizations like NASW to protect the conscience rights of their members is justified by an implicit rejection or belittling of the very concept of conscience as traditionally understood.  In its place we find a contrast of public (or professional) and personal “values.”  Here values have no intrinsic authority or foundation beyond being the subjective opinions or beliefs of those who hold them.  If this is so, then why should the personal opinions (values) of a practitioner not be subordinated to those of the state that licenses and funds the professional or institution?  
Much social work literature on the subject frames issues of conscience as a conflict between personal and professional values.  In a recent article, Sweifach (2011) gives several examples from the literature as well as himself framing the issue of conscience and conscientious objection in those terms.  For example, Linzer (1998) suggests that “in conflicts between personal values and professional values, the professional is duty-bound to uphold professional values.  Upholding professional values represents ethical action” (p.28). According to this view, it is ethical, in these circumstances, to act against your own conscience.
As Catholic social workers come under increasing pressure to cooperate with evil in the name of professional duty, the question of conscience becomes correspondingly urgent.  Recent statements from NASW, its executive director and its Legal Defense Fund, make it clear that our professional organization will not defend the conscience rights of its own members when policies they support are involved. 
Opponents of conscience exemptions give little or no weight to the gravity of requiring someone either a) to act against their conscience or b) to leave their profession or be denied admission to it and hence to its schools.  But the choice to act against your conscience can never be right.  It is to choose to do what you believe to be wrong, and in the case of abortion, gravely wrong.  For a Christian, it means to put your immortal soul in jeopardy; for a Catholic Christian, it means to excommunicate yourself from your Church and its sacraments.  
In its hotly disputed Opinion #385, entitled “The limits of conscientious refusal in reproductive medicine,” the Committee on Ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2007) takes the position that pro-life physicians must refer patients seeking an abortion to other providers, must tell patients in advance of their views though not explain or argue for them, and must in emergency cases involving the patent’s physical or mental health, actually perform abortions.  It treats conscience as one value among others, which means it can and should be overridden in the interest of other obligations that outweigh it in a given circumstance.  That is, not only the hospital or clinic, but also the individual physician, is called upon to override the physician’s conscience.
A prevalent idea of conscience, implied by this opinion and most of the social work literature, minimizes its claims by treating it as only one thing among others that the practitioner must take into account in deciding how to act.  Conscience becomes a matter of personal values that must be left at the office door when duty calls.  At least, as it is put in one formulation, professional duty trumps personal conscience.  
But this account trivializes the very concept of conscience and renders it incoherent.  It runs counter to the traditional understanding of the term, according to which conscience is the supreme and final arbiter for an individual’s actions precisely because it represents the agent’s best ethical judgment all things considered.  All things here must include considerations of what the agency or the state or professional codes of ethics tell us our duty is.  It could never be right to act against one’s own conscience.  It is hard to see how a notion of conscience as one value among others from which a professional should choose could be other than incoherent. On what ethical basis could such a choice be made?  What is to be counted after everything has been counted?
Not only has the Nietzschean term “values” become a rhetorical device for subjectivizing and relativizing moral discourse, but conscience itself has become “the ghostly inner voice telling an individual what he or she should or should not do” (Moreland, 2011, p.320).  When conscience is conceptualized as a faculty of the individual, its claims too readily become detached from judgments of practical reason about the right thing to do.  McCabe (1986, quoted by Moreland, 2011) draws the contrast with the older Catholic tradition: “Aquinas does use the word conscientia, but for him it is not a faculty or power which we exercise, nor a disposition of any power, nor an innate moral code, but simply the judgment that we may come to on a piece of our behavior in the light of various rational considerations” (p.322).
Conscience in this view is not subjective opinion, a matter of autobiography, but involves knowledge and judgment, and is thus open to rational inquiry.  It is not a conversation stopper, like the subjective preference for vanilla over chocolate ice cream.  As Moreland explains, “A person is said, then, to act in accord with a good conscience with truthful knowledge, which, in turn, habituates one into the cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, fortitude, and especially prudence” (p. 322).  For Aquinas and the Christian tradition, conscience--applying the general principles of practical reasonableness to specific circumstances--is closely linked to the classical virtues (above all prudence) acquired by experience and habituation.
We thus ought to follow our conscience not because it is a uniquely authoritative autonomous inner voice but because it is our best practical judgment of right action all things considered.  It is a necessary but not sufficient condition of acting well.  As Anscombe ([1958] 2005) puts it in her justly renowned critique of “Modern Moral Philosophy,” “a man’s conscience may tell him to do the vilest things” (p.170).
Karl Jaspers gave the example of a young German concentration guard he met in hospital at the end of WWII - the man’s conscience tortured him still because he let a Jewish boy escape instead of doing his duty of rounding him up and sending him to the gas chamber.  Our conscience is our last defense against cooperating with evil in the name of duty, but conscience can itself be wrong and direct us to do evil.  We must both follow our conscience in all matters and also form our conscience well by following reliable authorities and the advice and models of prudent persons.  As Anscombe ([nd] 2005) - in unpublished notes for a lecture - explains the dilemma,
If you act against your conscience you are doing wrong because you are doing what you think wrong, i.e., you are willing to do wrong.  And if you act  in accordance with your conscience you are doing whatever is the wrong thing that your conscience allows, or failing to carry out the obligation that your conscience says is none.  
There is a way out, Anscombe concludes, but you have to know that you need one and it may take time.  The way out is to find out that your conscience is a wrong one (p.241).
In social work we do wrong both when we act against our conscience and when we follow a badly formed conscience into evil actions thinking they are good or morally neutral.  The wrong in the second case is not that we followed our conscience, but that we failed to form our conscience correctly.  We are obliged, as John Paul II (1993) says in Veritatis Splendor, both to inform our conscience and to follow it.  We can be at fault at either stage.
Preferences and Obligations
Whether conscience is treated as one factor among several to be taken into consideration or as a subjective, non-rational inner guide or faculty, it appears reasonable in either case to reject or minimize the claims of conscience in policy and law, even when a religious motivation is claimed.  For the late political philosopher Brian Barry, conscientious objections based on religious belief are simply preferences.  He asks why some, namely religious, preferences should be privileged in law or policy over others.  Why should the state bend over backwards to accommodate the preferences of a minority? Why should laws be crafted so that individuals and their associations will never be unnecessarily coerced into violating their consciences? 
As Moschella (2012) summarizes the argument (that she proceeds to rebut) advanced by the editors of the New York Times and many others, “opposition to the [HHS] mandate seems like an attempt to impose Catholic views about contraception on the rest of the society, or an unjustified request for special treatment. Why should a minority of Catholics ... determine public policy for the entire country? Yes, the government could provide free access to contraceptives without conscripting employers to do it for them through their health plans, but why should we bend over backwards to adapt our policies to the religious or moral sensibilities of a minority?”
No-one claims that the conscience of a given individual or group always trumps other considerations in policymaking. A conscience, even one that is shaped by binding religious obligation, may be badly formed and contrary to moral truth, as when a religion requires its members to offer human sacrifice or kill nonbelievers.  In those cases, the common good requires that such believers be coerced into violating their consciences.  
But the moral integrity of persons is itself constitutive of the common good.  Absent an absolute necessity to coerce the consciences of some in order to protect public order and the rights of others, the common good also requires respecting the claims of conscience.
The blurring of the distinction between preferences and obligations is one aspect of the trivialization of conscience in much discussion on these issues.  As Moschella (2012) argues, 
[T]here is a world of difference between a law that makes me do something I don’t want to do, and a law that makes me do something I have an obligation not to do. The former is an annoyance, the latter an assault on my moral integrity. I may not want to follow the speed limit, but that doesn’t give me a claim to be exempted from the law. On the other hand, if I believe that killing animals is morally wrong, no law should force me to serve meat in my business’s cafeteria, or give my employees gift certificates to a steakhouse, even if encouraging people to eat more high-protein foods would promote public health.
Here we might add that there is also an important difference between my deciding whether or not to meet my religious obligation to attend Mass on Sundays or have my sons circumcised and the state’s compelling me to do or not to do so.
As Moschella (2012) argues, “laws that forbid individuals to act in accordance with the dictates of their consciences place a burden on those individuals that differs not only in degree, but in kind, from the sort of burden involved in forbidding someone to act in accordance with mere preferences, however strong.” Such laws distribute the burdens and social benefits of social cooperation unequally.  It is a difference in kind of burden imposed, not merely of degree.
We may see this by looking at the notorious precedent created by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B.C.  The tyrant required his Jewish subjects to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols and not to perform circumcisions.  Those who refused to violate their consciences in this way “were to be broken on the wheel and killed” (4 Maccabees 5:3).  The edict imposed a radically different burden on observant Jews than on others.  It was a gratuitous act of forced submission, a brutal assertion of secular power against a people of faith.  As Paulsen (2012) puts it, the story remains “a remarkable two-thousand-year-old parable about tyranny and conscience, about cram-downs, accommodations, deception, and adherence to principle.”  Like the HHS mandate, it was an unnecessary cram-down, a case of a government insisting “on vindicating its authority and overriding religious conscience for its own sake—purely for the symbolism of power prevailing over conscience.”
Redefining Religion
An important element of the current assault on religious freedom is the administration’s effort to redefine the place of religion in public life by reducing religious freedom to freedom of worship.  The HHS mandate promotes a false but prevalent idea of religion as a private and marginal activity, the practice of which involves only co-religionists.  Thus the state takes it upon itself to redefine religion, and to do so in ways that exclude essential elements of Christianity and other universal religions from their beginnings.  The mandate’s exemption covers only religious organizations that have religious function as defined by the state and that serve primarily co-religionists.  
From this perspective, put bluntly by the British Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief, Trevor Phillips, religious beliefs end “at the door of the temple.”  For Catholic Christianity, the duty to evangelize non-Christians and to serve the poor, sick, homeless, prisoners, widows and orphans - both Christians and non-Christians - is not an optional add-on to the free exercise of religious faith.  It has been a corporate, not just individual responsibility of the Church from the very beginnings.  
Conscience and Duty
The argument against conscience exemptions for health care and social service professionals (physicians, nurses, social workers) is typically framed as a conflict between an individual’s (or institution’s) right to decide what services or treatment it will provide and patients’ rights to treatment, which is said to imply a duty to treat. 
The client’s right to treatment, to a full range of services, may be linked to professionals’ willingness to provide them, especially in rural areas.  As the chair of the ethics committee of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology put it, the “reproductive health needs” of women should trump the moral qualms of doctors (see Bioedge, January 2, 2009).  (Here I leave aside the tendentious way in which advocates of abortion, contraception, and sterilization--where these are not medically indicated--describe these interventions as part of “reproductive health care,” although they are anti-reproductive, seldom have anything to do with the health of either mother or child, and in the case of abortion involve by definition not care but killing one of these patients.
In this discourse, the personal is contrasted with the professional, the idea being that a professional has a duty to provide whatever services are legal and demanded by clients.  The conscience of the professional is invariably given short shrift and subordinated to the supposed rights of the client to treatment.  I say “supposed” because it is not clear how the legal right to have an abortion, for example, in itself gives anyone a legal right to demand its provision, let alone legally obliging anyone else to carry it out or pay for it.  In a shift characteristic of contemporary rights discourse, a right to freedom from state interference (a “right to privacy”) is transformed into a claim on public provision (Arkes, 2002). 
Some opponents of conscience exemptions respond by saying fine, if you cannot in conscience meet the expectations and duties of the profession, leave it or choose a different line of work.  This may indeed be the only option facing conscientious individuals where no accommodation is made.  Conscience also trumps career.
Exclusion of pro-life physicians, nurses, social workers, and pharmacists from their professions and the closing down of institutions that respect life and adhere to Hippocratic ethics has practical consequences.  But my argument here against exclusion does not depend on the empirical reality that religious professionals and institutions—e.g., Catholic physicians, nurses, social workers, and pharmacists as well as hospitals and clinics—play an important role in the American health care system.  Their exclusion would involve a tremendous loss of talent, knowledge, skill, aptitude, and dedication for the healing professions.  It would also substantially reduce health care services of all kinds and therefore the access of patients to such services.  The argument here, rather, is that the coercion of conscience of professional health care and social work providers is morally corrupting for the profession concerned and its practitioners. 
Compared with simply allowing the professional participation of members in abortion, to take the clearest case, mandating such participation makes the profession even more complicit in a culture of death that betrays social work’s (as well as the medical and nursing professions’) core values.  It is a culture in which the dignity of the human person is restricted in ways that exclude precisely the most vulnerable and dependent members of society—born and unborn babies, those with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, those whose quality of life others deem inadequate. 

Justifying such an abdication of the defense of human dignity as a core social work value entails a kind of self-deception. The view that the child in the womb is not a person or a human being seems not more but less and less tenable in light of scientific advances since Roe v. Wade.  These show ever more clearly that the unborn child is a separate being with his or her own DNA and own principle of existence (George & Lee, 2005; George & Tollefsen, 2008; Lee, 2010) .  It seems a truth not easily evaded without a level of self-deception that is itself morally corrupt, that the fetus is the baby we all once were and we are alive now in part because our mothers did not have us killed at that stage of our lives (George & Tollefsen, 2008). 

In any case, if the profession as a whole accepted the evidence and logic of the position that children in the womb were as fully human as those with severe disabilities or those just born or close to death or suffering advanced dementia, but abortion remained a legal right of pregnant mothers, would NASW require its members to refuse participation, direct or indirect, in the taking of human life in any or all of these conditions? Or, on the contrary, would it still fail to defend either the most vulnerable among us or the conscience rights of its members?  Would the legal right to engage in  a gravely evil act as the profession itself now saw it be sufficient to require practitioners’ participation in the evil, whether on the grounds that client self-determination should drive professional decisionmaking or that a state license makes a practitioner an agent of the state?  This is not a far-fetched thought experiment, given the history of dehumanizing language that was and is being used to justify violent acts against vulnerable people, including not only fetal children but also African Americans, the elderly, women, and Jews (Brennan, 2000).  In particular, American liberal progressives and not just Nazis, have a long and disreputable history of objectifying and dehumanizing vulnerable persons in the name of eugenics (Largent, 2011 ;  Gallagher,1999; Sandel, 2009; Goldberg, 2008).
The Moral Agency of the Practitioner
The idea that if an action is legally permissible and demanded by a client, the social worker (or other health professional) has the duty to provide or participate in providing the requested service itself represents a fundamental shift in the balance of rights and powers between professional and client.  It strips the professional of her full moral responsibility and reduces her to a kind of machine or robot that delivers what the customer demands.  The professional’s right and duty to use her judgment about what is required or indicated or morally permissible in the situation is stripped away in favor of a kind of client “empowerment” that radically disempowers, even dehumanizes the social worker.  As the former governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle put it when vetoing a conscience bill for health care providers, “you’re moving into very dangerous precedent where doctors make moral decisions on what medical care they provide” (Vischer, 2011).  The practitioner is reduced to a kind of vending machine, like those increasingly found in college dormitories with the function of dispensing contraceptives.
Opponents of conscience clauses and exemptions sometimes pose the matter in terms of the desire by professionals who are religious to impose their personal views or morality on clients or patients.  This is a misunderstanding.  None of the case for conscience exemptions has anything to do with imposing my will on the client.  Patients and clients have an uncontested moral right to informed consent and informed refusal.  
But this is not the issue. The client may find abortion morally permissible and it is certainly legally permissible at present in the United States.  I respect the client’s right under law to decide to have an abortion and will not condemn, moralize, or argue with her.  My right not to participate in what I believe is grave wrongdoing does not imply or depend on a right to impose my belief on the client.  “Conscientious objection, “ as Pellegrino (2008) says, “implies the physician’s right not to participate in what she thinks morally wrong, even if the patient demands it.  It does not presume the right to impose her will or conception of the good on the patient” (p.299).
The question whether someone’s right to engage in a behavior entails an obligation on anyone else’s part to assist her in the process has important implications for all professionals, but especially those supposed to be helping or healing their clients.  For any professional social worker from any faith tradition or none, such a legally mandated obligation is a serious potential threat to their conscience and as such, to their humanity as moral agents.  The issue, which applies to lawyers and physicians no less than social workers, is only in part whether a professional is obliged to treat or serve anyone who seeks her services.  Harpaz (1998), discussing the 1997 ruling of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ("MCAD") that a woman lawyer could not refuse to represent men in divorce actions under the state's public accommodation statute, shows that the issue of compelled service or representation is not simple or confined to the health and helping professions.  
For social workers, as for priests, it is common to serve clients whose behavior the practitioner finds morally repugnant.  The challenge to conscience arises not from the requirement to serve - or not to discriminate against - a particular kind of client, but from the expectation in certain cases that practitioners will act against their own judgment and collude or participate in what the practitioner determines is wrong or harmful, or simply because the client demands it.
The question is wrongly put in the form of whose conscience counts, the client’s or the professional’s.  No-one can be bound by someone else’s conscience.  The professional remains a moral agent, not a robot or vending machine, and so is responsible for following his or her own practical judgment about what is the right thing to do, all things (including the client’s wishes) considered.
Licensing and Professionalism
Another aspect of the opposition to conscience exemptions is a novel view of professional licensing.  In this view licensing, traditionally justified in terms of protecting the public by ensuring the competence of practitioners, becomes a process whereby professionals are transformed into public officials.  If the state decides to recognize same-sex marriage, then its public officials - e.g., those who issue marriage licenses - are bound to issue those licenses to whomever the state decides is now qualified under its rules.  Licensing of professionals, insofar as it transforms the practitioner into a public official obliged to do the state’s bidding, in effect becomes a process, not of safeguarding professional discretion while protecting the public, but of deprofessionalization.  Social workers, among the least secure in their professional status, are to that very extent less inclined to defend the scope and legitimacy of their own professional judgment and discretion against tendencies to subordinate them to bureaucratic-state or client demands.
There is an analogous process through which the state, by providing most of the funding of voluntary social service agencies like Catholic Charities, turns them into agents of the state.  Far from being a strength of civil society, of an institutional pluralism that protects the structures that mediate between state and individual, they become vehicles for increasing the reach of the state.  Rather than allowing for alternative visions of the common good in the associations that people with differing religious and moral commitments build over generations,  the state squeezes out the social space of civil society and becomes absolute sovereign of all. 
Conscience, Subsidiarity and the State
The coercion of Catholic consciences, then, is a threat not only to individual practitioners but also to the institutional pluralism that lies at the heart of subsidiarity and American society.  From this perspective, it is wrong to reduce matters of conscience to the state’s protection of individual rights, whether of consumer against provider, or professional against employer.  Conscience is not simply a matter of individual rights or individual autonomy vis a vis the state and civil society.  It is inherently relational.  
This case for the relational dimension of conscience, in contrast to an emphasis on individualist rights talk and the autonomous self, is persuasively made by Vischer (2010), who seeks to recapture the concept of conscience as shared knowledge.  He argues,
There is a clear need to recapture the relational dimension of conscience - the notion that the dictates of conscience are defined, articulated, and lived out in relationship with others,  Our consciences are shaped externally, our moral convictions have sources, and our sense of self comes into relief through interaction with others.  By conveying my perception of reality’s normative implications, my conscience makes truth claims that possess authority over conduct - both my own and the conduct of those who share, or come to share, my perception (p.3).
This argument has at least two important implications.  First conscience is not simply an internal oracle, with only biographical interest, like a preference in ice cream flavors.  It implies shared knowledge  and truth claims about right action.  And it binds those who share that knowledge and accept those truth claims.  
The shaping of our consciences is a matter neither of individual nor state, but of the subsidiary associational life that mediates between them, especially church and family.  These are sources of conscience formation, communities of discernment, and venues for expression.
When the state closes down avenues by which persons live out their core beliefs - and admittedly, some avenues must be closed if peaceful coexistence is to be possible - there is a cost to the continued vitality of conscience (p.4).
In this respect, Catholic social teaching offers a sharp contrast to the Hobbesian picture, in which “the sovereignty of Leviathan is absolute, so subsidiary units of the social order--churches, groups, smaller units of government--exist merely at the sufferance of the sovereign” (Moreland, 2011, p.325).
In the current attack on religious freedom and conscience, we see the relentless imposition of a new state orthodoxy and a growing intolerance of dissent on the part of subsidiary associations - even, in Canada, imposing the new sexual morality on the curricula of private religious schools and homeschooling families.
The issue of conscience, then, needs to be understood not only in terms of the rights of individuals, who must look to the state for relief or protection, but also and especially in terms of the scope for a rich associational life that subsists in tension with both individual and state.  A commitment to freedom of conscience, properly understood, “should underlie our legal system’s reluctance to restrict the independence of the myriad associations that make up the vast space between person and state” (Vischer, 2010, p.4).
From this perspective, driving Catholic organizations and professionals out of health care, education, and social services does great social harm on several levels.  Most directly, it threatens a tremendous loss of talent, knowledge, skill, aptitude, and dedication for the healing professions.  It would also substantially reduce health care services of all kinds and therefore the access of patients to such services.  In addition, the coercion of conscience of professional health care providers is morally corrupting for the profession and its practitioners.  Catholics are bound to follow their correctly formed conscience even if it means loss of job, career, profession.  Some will fail the test and be corrupted members of a profession that is corrupted by demanding such corruption - now called leaving your personal values at the door.  But a regime - like that of Antiochus IV Epiphanes - that requires such heroic sacrifice on the part of its members is also corrupt, falling as it must into what variously has been called a soft or liberal totalitarianism.
In this sense too, individual or group conscience is not at odds with the common good but constitutive of it.  The common good is not solely expressed or subsumed in the state, but requires a healthy institutional pluralism.
The HHS mandate, as Lee (2012) argues, “not only attempts to coerce Catholics to violate their conscience, it also insinuates a false redefinition of religion for our whole culture. But religion is not a creature of the state: it antedates the political community and has its structure independently of political laws and mandates.”
The Obama Administration’s narrowing of freedom of religion to freedom of worship reflects a notion of the state in direct opposition to Catholic social teaching on subidiarity.  It is a notion that, in the words of Scottish bishop Philip Tartaglia, “appears to have no respect for institutions, such as the family and the Church, which pre-exist the state, which straddle the private-public domain, and which have their own internal constitution. This is a state moving toward a kind of soft totalitarianism.”

Some Conclusions
So what is a Catholic social worker to do?
At an individual level and collectively, we have to recover the Catholic understanding of conscience as a matter of shared knowledge and truth claims, as developing moral reasoning and practical judgment in the application of general principles to particular cases.  It is about discerning the right thing to do, all things considered.  By definition, there cannot be other things to be considered in addition to conscience.  Nor can conscience be reduced to a kind of non-rational internal oracle that tells us what to do, in the manner of the voices in the head of a schizophrenic.
In this sense, conscience cannot be separated from rational argument about the right thing to do, as if it trumped or silenced such deliberation.  It is a matter of practical reasonableness.
Exemptions Not Enough
In terms of the issues at stake in current debates that divide society on matters of life, death, sex, and marriage, it may sometimes be necessary but is never sufficient to rely on conscience protections.  These issues are not matters of freedom of worship in the sense that attending Mass on Sundays is a rule that applies only to adherents of the faith.  Catholics with informed consciences object to demands that they pay for or collude in abortion, sterilization, abortifacient drugs, the normalizing of disordered sexual relations and the redefinition of marriage, assisted suicide, and so forth, not because these things are matters of right worship or religious belief that ends the temple door.  They involve truth claims about the common good and integral human development that the Church proposes - and justifies on rational grounds - to the larger society.
Without these caveats, appeals to conscience become what Barry, the New York Times, and others see them as, a call to privileged treatment and accommodation for certain beliefs just because they are strongly held or called religious.
As social workers, we are well placed to make the argument from subsidiarity - that health of a democratic pluralist society depends on maintaining the space between individual and state, for the associations, mediating structures, and natural, prepolitical institutions like marriage, family, religion, and market.  We have a tradition of empowerment that recognizes that problems are best resolved closest to the people involved and their culture and resources, that seeks to leave the caring capacity of families and communities stronger than we found it.  That tradition comports well with the arguments for subsidiarity advanced by Popes Leo XII, Pius XI and John Paul II.  In both cases there is a rejection of the Hobbesian Leviathan state that claims absolute power over the whole of society and its institutions and associations, disempowering individuals, families and communities even in the process of helping them.  Both Catholic social teaching and social work empowerment tradition, at least implicitly, reject the individualist hypertrophy of the autonomous unencumbered self no less than the hypertrophy of the state.  That space is the one in which conscience is shaped and the virtues on which it depends are developed through practice and habituation.