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Unwarrantable usurpation

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As we finished the fortnight of prayer for religious freedom, I was reminded of two historic warnings about the dangers of government overreach.

In the period of the judges over 3000 years ago, the people of Israel demanded that the prophet Samuel give them a king to rule over them. Samuel consulted the Lord, who agreed to their demand, but also said, "It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king."

Samuel granted their request, but warned them of the consequences, listing the demands a king would make on them. Among other things, "He will take a tenth of your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer."

The prophesy proved true and while there were times of prosperity and some virtuous kings, there were kings who did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, like King Ahaz, who among many other evils sacrificed his son in fire to false gods. Eventually, the Lord's patience came to an end. Israel and Judah were conquered and the people sent into exile.

On the fourth of July, the final day of the fortnight of prayer, a group of friends gathered at my home to celebrate. To mark the occasion we read the whole Declaration of Independence -- not just the "We hold these truths..." part we all know by heart, but the long list of abuses that provoked the revolution. Among our forefathers' grievances was the complaint that the king "had erected a multitude of New Offices and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."

Here is the problem with big government: it may solve some of the problems some of the time, but in the process it gives power to those who may turn and use that power for evil. A powerful government, no matter how many goodies it promises, attaches strings to its benefits. If the strings fall into the hands of those who choose to use their power to further their own agendas, the freedom of the rest is compromised. Surely this is what has happened here. The health care law put the power into the hands of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to decide what constitutes preventive health care, and she decided that it included abortifacient drugs, sterilization, and artificial contraceptives. Not only must these be provided to everyone, they must be provided without co-pay.

Those with a religious objection were given a sop -- let the insurance company pay for this coverage, but who pays the insurance company and what about institutions that are self-insured? The government also claimed the right to decide what constitutes a religious ministry and to limit of the rights of conscience of employers and individuals who cannot in good conscience support what they know is evil.

Freedom of religion is the first freedom enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Those who were called on to ratify the Constitution immediately recognized that something was missing. They wanted to be sure the government they were establishing did not abuse the powers granted to it, therefore they included a list of rights meant to constrain government. The Preamble to the Bill of Rights reads: "The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added..." The first of these reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The free exercise of religion is not just the right to gather for worship. It includes the right to participate as equals in the public square, the right to engage in education and charitable activities, and the right to refuse to participate or support actions deemed immoral.

These rights were not granted by the state, but given us by our creator. We must not, in the words of the Declaration, allow the government to "extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us." We must "disavow these usurpations."

Dale O'Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality."

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