RALEIGH -- Sometimes irony is like getting smacked by a two-by-four: It hurts like heck when you get hit, but, oh, the lesson you'll learn.
Just one day after the federal Health and Human Services department tried again to convert religious employers into thinking Obamacare doesn't violate their beliefs, even though it forces them to help provide abortion-inducing drugs to employees, I was confronted by a sign in a history museum that showcased these inspirational words from the Declaration of Independence.
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
I understand that historians and constitutional experts debate the meaning and motivation behind "the protection of divine providence" phrase. But there is no dispute that it is one of four references in the Declaration to a power greater than man. These men understood they are not the ultimate authority.
As I stood reading and rereading that museum sign, irony's two-by-four whacked me hard. What was once respected as a basic human right -- to practice one's religion without interference from government -- is considered by many today to be a privilege that can be taken away. And while it happens, powerful men and women are standing by -- eyes shut, voices silent -- to the threat. I don't expect nonbelievers to understand or endorse what I believe, but I do expect them to defend my right to live in accordance with my beliefs.
I am saddened that in 2013 America, many believe rights are bestowed on citizens by government. Many believe the individual is subservient to the state. As President Obama put it in his inaugural address, "For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action."
That brings me to the lesson from this whack on the head.
We are faced with a simple but profound choice. We will either believe in the individual's right to grow, prosper, achieve, and worship, or not worship, as one chooses, or we will embrace collectivism, through which government runs our lives, doles out rights, and takes them away at will. That is what HHS, through Obamacare, is seeking to do by forcing religious employers to help provide abortion-inducing drugs that violate their religious and moral teachings. No shuffling of the paperwork will change what the mandate requires believers to do.
Forty-four lawsuits are challenging the HHS mandate, including the suits filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on behalf of North Carolina's Belmont Abbey College and craft store Hobby Lobby, which operates in our state. Recently the Becket Fund analyzed the latest HHS "accommodation" and laid it bare with these four bullet points:
* The proposed rule provides no coverage for family businesses like Hobby Lobby.
* The proposed rule does not meaningfully expand the "church-only" exemption -- which is the real relief that our clients are entitled to under our Constitution.
* For other religious nonprofits, HHS proposes a convoluted "accommodation" that may not resolve religious organizations' objections to being coerced into providing contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees.
* Finally, the long-awaited rule provides no concrete guidance for religious groups that are self-insured.
Some conservatives want defenders of religious liberty to fight this fight behind the scenes. It's not a winner with media, they say. They want attention focused on economic conservatism. I support the commitment to economic freedom and am buoyed that momentum is growing in our state for paring back government, reforming outdated policies, streamlining bureaucracies, and returning North Carolina to a position of economic strength and prosperity.
But that doesn't mean I'll be silent about the threat to religious freedom enshrined in Obamacare. To those who stand on the sidelines while HHS steamrolls, I say this: If the Obamacare mandate on religious employers survives, don't be surprised when the next right taken away by government is yours.
Donna Martinez (@freemktmartinez) co-hosts Carolina Journal Radio.