Desmond Doss believed that it was against God’s law to kill another human being. He applied as a conscientious objector in World War II. Exempted from carrying a rifle, he was made an army medic, and became the first man in American History to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. The movie, Hacksaw Ridge, tells his story.
He is not the only one. Thomas Bennett served as an army medic in Vietnam. Killed in action, he became the second conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. That same year (1969) Joseph LaPointe Jr. also posthumously became the third such hero.
These three held doctrinal positions that are not representative of all Christians. But, when recognizing the right of conscientious objectors, civilized societies do not evaluate the rightness or wrongness of the belief. Rather, they uphold the right of every man to be guided by his own conscience and not another’s.
Logic alone teaches that we, who have minds persuadable by words, must be so governed. Coercion to harm others knowingly violates human nature. This principle is also taught in the Christian Scriptures. St. Paul makes clear that, even if an activity is permissible in the eyes of God, no one should be made to participate in action that he believes to be sin. You can read his reasoning in 1 Corinthians 8:4-13.
As Doss, Bennett, LaPointe and thousands of other examples show, those who follow the dictates of their own conscience are superior citizens and braver soldiers than those who violate their own principles. This is why generals should resign their commissions rather than execute orders that violate their sense of justice. It is why just societies accommodate conscientious objectors. It is why healthcare workers must never be forced to fill prescriptions, perform procedures, or participate in treatments that they believe to be harmful to the patient. And it is why patients should never be forced to submit to a procedure without informed consent.
The principle behind conscientious-objector status has also produced laws like the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City policy that protect taxpayers from supporting the abortion industry. One of the most important conscience laws is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed almost unanimously in 1993. It requires that any American who has a sincerely held religious belief be protected from government coercion.
If a citizen has religious qualms about following any governmental law, policy, or regulation, RFRA gives him his day in court. There the government—not the citizen—has the burden of proof.
According to the Department of Justice, it must prove, first, that the policy at issue addresses a “compelling government interest.” If it can demonstrate this, it must further show that the policy accomplishes this interest in the way that is least burdensome to those whose conscience is violated. This usually involves some sort of accommodation for those who have religious objections to the “one-size-fits-all” policy of the government.
All these strong conscience protections are currently under assault. Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3755. This bill, together with H.R. 5, passed by the House in February, would force doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other entities to participate in harmful medical procedures without recourse to the courts. Specific language strips RFRA protections from anyone who might object to the destruction of healthy babies, the amputation of healthy organs and the prescribing of harmful drugs.
Also last week, whistleblowers leaked a memo from the Department of Defense that instructs chaplains to participate in the persecution of anyone who might seek a religious exemption from military “vaccine mandates.” This violates the First Amendment in two ways.
First, this memo violates the free-exercise clause by requiring the applicant to be grilled by a chaplain and a doctor with theological and medical argumentation. If a soldier even mentions some non-religious consideration in the process of explaining his sincerely held religious belief, the chaplain is required to document the slip and use it against him. Similarly, if a soldier ever once sinned against any sincerely held religious belief, the sincerity of all of his beliefs are to be treated as suspect. These false moral equivalencies make the theological orientation of the interrogator more important than the conscience of the soldier.
Second, the memo violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause by threatening chaplains with discipline and dishonorable discharge if they help conscientious objectors navigate this draconian process. Thus, they are required to be the preachers of a particular version of religion established by the government. Chaplains who follow the dictates of the memo are no longer ministers of the Word of God, but only of the word of the DOD.
These cascading attacks on religious freedom are, of course, harmful for conscientious soldiers, chaplains, and medical professionals. But it is not only they who are harmed by such policies. All of American society is weakened by these attacks. Conscientious service, whether in the military, medicine or in society is a force multiplier. It turns the eyes of soldiers and citizens to see their service as service to God Himself. The mundane becomes divine. And ordinary people become extraordinary heroes.
That is why we should welcome and encourage those who are standing up against the onslaught of attacks on conscience provisions. All Wyomingites should applaud the board of the Campbell County Health that publicly vowed to stand against the “gross federal overreach” of vaccine mandates that the U.S. Department of Labor is threatening against its 1,100 employees. Other hospitals should do the same.
Wyomingites should flood Senators Lummis and Barrasso with calls, letters and emails thanking them for standing against H.R. 5 and H.R. 3755, now under consideration in the U.S. Senate. Ask them, not only to vote against these draconian bills, but also to use whatever influence they have with fellow senators to oppose any bill that would undermine long-standing conscience protections.Finally, while the Department of Defense can only be reined in by the federal government, the Wyoming National Guard remains in the complete control of its Commander and Chief, Governor Gordon. Contacting him and Adjutant General, Greg Porter, can encourge them shield Wyoming’s soldiers and chaplains against many blatant violations of federal law. Together, we can defend the Republic that Doss, Bennett and LaPointe defended with the resolve and ferocity that earned them the Medal of Honor.