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KNIGHT: Recollecting the requirements of conscience

Why big government is the goliath to be feared

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2013

A 10-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis has given us a snapshot into the brave, new world of big government and why we should fear it.

The parents of Sarah Murnaghan asked to put her on an adult waiting list for a lung transplant, but health authorities said she wasn't 12, the minimum age. It took a court order amid public outrage to reverse what amounted to a death sentence.

Contrast this with the government's waiving of all rules when a major Democratic donor with cancer wanted access to a new drug that the Food and Drug Administration was years away from approving.

Discrepancies happen when power is concentrated, especially the power over life and death.

Last year, Catholic bishops were shocked that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' gargantuan agency ordered faith-based hospitals and other institutions under Obamacare to violate their conscience and provide abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilizations. Perhaps the bishops thought their crucial support for passage of Obamacare would buy them consideration.

George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

The following is drawn from William L. Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." It's meant only as a cautionary tale with some disturbing parallels. I am well aware of the latter-day maxim that the first person to bring up the Nazis loses the argument, but I'll risk it.

On July 20, 1933, the Vatican signed a deal with the newly elected Nazi government in Germany that guaranteed the "right of the church to regulate her own affairs." Article 24 of the party's platform had promised "liberty for all religious denominations in the State so far as they are not a danger to the moral feelings of the German race." However, "moral feelings" can change.

Only five days later, Adolf Hitler's government enacted a sterilization law that the church expressly opposed. Hospitals began killing the weak and defenseless. Five days after that, as related by Shirer, "the first steps were taken to dissolve the Catholic Youth League." Young people would no longer be instructed in views that might clash with those of the government.

"During the next year, thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and lay leaders were arrested, many of them on trumped-up charges ." In the spring of 1937, Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical condemning the Nazi regime. By then, Germany's Jews were being openly persecuted.

Hitler also purged the much larger Protestant churches with a "German Christian" movement to supplant biblical Christianity. Opposed was the confederation known as the "Confessional Church," headed by the Rev. Martin Niemoeller, a disillusioned Hitler backer now known for his "first, they came for the Jews" lament.

"In between, lay the majority of Protestants," writes Shirer, "who seemed too timid to join either of the two warring groups, who sat on the fence and eventually, for the most part, landed in the arms of Hitler, accepting his authority to intervene in church affairs."

Eventually, a National Reich Church was established, whose 30-point program called for "immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany."

"It would be misleading to give the impression that the persecution of Protestants and Catholics by the Nazi State tore the German people asunder or even greatly aroused the vast majority of them," Shirer writes. "It did not. A people who had so lightly given up their political and cultural and economic freedoms were not, except for a relatively few, going to die or even risk imprisonment to preserve freedom of worship."

Meanwhile, persecution of Germany's Jews began with ridicule in the cinema and cartoons, which gave way to vandalism and beatings by Ernst Roehm's Brownshirts. Then came the Jews' loss of all civil rights, seizure of property, and finally the death trains to Dachau and later to Auschwitz and Treblinka, where millions perished.

How did this happen in one of the most sophisticated nations in the world? World War I left Germany humiliated, its economy and institutions shattered. Berlin became a cesspool of decadence, as brilliantly depicted in the 1972 movie "Cabaret." Hitler promised — and delivered — order and prosperity. He seduced the church by pretending to favor Christianity despite condemning it harshly in his book "Mein Kampf."

Neither the Jews nor the Christians believed the government would actually become tyrannical. America is not Germany — not by a long shot. But some recent developments should give us pause.

In 2010, the national government took over America's health care system.

On May 23, the Boy Scouts of America, the largest nondenominational youth group teaching traditional values, caved to corporate and media pressure and abandoned its 103-year-old "morally straight" code.

The Internal Revenue Service has criminally suppressed the Tea Party movement and other conservative groups. The IRS has also targeted Jewish groups, such as Z Street, which raises funds to support Israel.

The National Security Agency has seized millions of phone records from the three major carriers — Verizon, AT&T and Sprint Nextel Corp. — and has data on an estimated 20 trillion calls and emails by U.S. citizens.

The U.S. Justice Department has grossly violated the First Amendment rights of journalists.

Power in Washington is growing exponentially, but even now, most pastors are not warning their flocks of the danger.

They could start by participating in the Alliance Defending Freedom's Pulpit Freedom Sunday events. And they can start talking about the little girl who was nearly condemned to death for being 10 years old.

Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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