As documented by Americans
United for Life from the Annals of Congress, an early draft of the
First Amendment written by James Madison included the following: The
Civil Rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or
worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the
full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext
infringed" (emphasis added). Though not specifically included in the
finally adopted version, this wording indicates the intent of the Founders
and a fundamental principle of the First Amendment.
Perhaps that expression of
principle influenced the framers of the Nebraska Constitution in 1875,
because the principle is captured and set forth in a similar manner. Article
I, Section 4 on religious freedom presents this statement of guiding policy:
"No person shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of
worship against his consent, and no preference shall be given by law to any
religious society, nor shall any interference with the rights of
conscience be permitted." (emphasis added)
The state constitution also
includes this significant provision as Article III (Legislative Power), Sec.
30: "The Legislature shall pass all laws necessary to carry into effect the
provisions of this constitution."
These two provisions of the
Nebraska Constitution are relevant to a compelling and escalating concern;
namely, protecting the religious freedom and rights of conscience of health
care providers, both individuals and institutions. Ideological and political
aggressiveness regarding health care and health professions, particularly in
relation to morally problematic services, such as abortion, sterilization,
contraception, artificial insemination, euthanasia, assisted suicide and
counseling to affirm and enhance immoral relationships, increasingly
threatens to penalize and drive away persons of faith and conscience.
Discrimination in employment and governmental coercion in licensing are
mechanisms by which health care providers can be forced to choose between
their professions and their convictions of conscience.
This is not about who pays for
health care. That’s another context involving threats to conscience. This is
about providers and their rights of conscience.
A number of organizations and
websites provide evidence of attacks on the freedom of health care providers
and institutions to provide health care without violating their religious
beliefs and moral convictions. Pharmacists have been targets, as abortion
advocates seek to require them to dispense "emergency contraceptives" and
others that have post-fertilization, life-ending mechanisms of action.
Here in Nebraska, for instance,
licensing boards for Mental Health Practice and Psychology have shown intent
to require licensees to provide, or be complicit in providing, counseling
services to affirm and enhance same-sex relationships.
Nebraska public policy is limited
with regard to protection for religious freedom and rights of conscience
throughout health care. The cited provisions of the Nebraska Constitution
notwithstanding, the Legislature has not acted to prevent interference with
rights of conscience comprehensively. Except in limited instances involving
abortion, such rights have not been codified or provided with remedies.
as proposed to be amended by its sponsor, Senator Pete Pirsch of Omaha,
would establish by statute that individual health care providers have the
right not to participate in any health care function that would violate
their religious beliefs, moral convictions and/or ethical principles.
Likewise, the proposed amendment would establish that health care facilities
have the right not to participate in any health care function that would
violate their institutional conscience as determined by reference to its
existing mission statement, constitution, bylaws, etc.
For purposes of the legislation,
"participate" and "health care function" are defined comprehensively.
The amendment protects health care
providers and institutions from being required by employers, or
governmentally coerced, to participate in any health care function. In this
context, it would prohibit discrimination in employment and immunize
providers and facilities from civil, criminal and administrative liability.
Authorized remedies would include civil causes of action for damages and/or
Sen. Pirsch’s sound amendment is
awaiting action by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Efforts are being
made to address sincere concerns about the scope and wording of the
amendment, and to separate legitimate concerns from misconceptions,
exaggerated reactions and bogus interpretations of the legislation.
Unfortunately, time is running short on the
session—only 14 working days remain. The matter is urgent.
Nebraskans—especially those involved in health care—who wish to see these
basic rights protected in law, to see the guiding principle in the state
constitution brought alive with substance, should contact state legislators,
especially members of the Judiciary Committee, and express support for the
amended version of LB 461. Contact information is available at the
Legislature’s website (www.nebraskalegislature.gov).
More information is available at: