The Engage Family Blog

Official Blog of The Family Policy Council of West Virginia

Big Brother is Watching You

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Could you ever imagine living within the super-state of Oceania as fictionally portrayed by George Orwell in his book 1984?  Oceania is a place where the government does not tolerate anyone with differing opinions.  A place where this totalitarian government monitors, controls, and even punishes anyone who speaks, acts, or thinks in defiance to their governing rule.  For most, this is hard to imagine.  For some, this is a glimpse of the future. 

From the afterword of 1984, Erich Fromm relates how Orwell

is actually talking about a development which is taking place in the Western industrial countries also, only at a slower pace than it is taking place in Russia and China.  The basic question which Orwell raises is whether there is any such thing as “truth” (1984, pg. 320).      

A development by which, 

The Party (governing authorities) holds to be truth is truth (ibid., pg. 320). 

Orwell’s book and Fromm’s afterword begs the question,

What if I believed something was morally wrong or against my religious beliefs and the government requires me to think, say, or do what goes against my ‘conscience’?   

What follows is not a comprehensive answer to this question, but rather brief remarks that attempt to define what “conscience” is, how our “consciences” are being attacked, and how these attacks will affect us individually.

What is “conscience?” 

What is “conscience?”  Our “conscience” is our sense of what is right and wrong that guides us in our decision making.  In some measure there is an external moral law that exists apart from our individual preference, communities, governments, militaries, or religious organizations (It is important to note that I am coming from a Judeo-Christian perspective). 

The difference between right and wrong, good and bad, is practiced by the vast majority of people.  In addition to individuals, nearly every civilization has practiced some form of law. 

For example, if we were to travel to a remote part of the world where people – living outside of the influence of any religion or developed country – we would see that they practice some form of law that determines the difference between what is right and acceptable to what is wrong and punishable.  The existence of this external moral law is not determined by our own desires or a court of law is seen in the evidence of people from all walks of life and religious beliefs or lack thereof. 

Attacks on Conscience

Regardless of one’s view of “conscience” and where it derives from, the notion of “conscience” and choosing between what is right and wrong is under attack.  From an Associated Press article written on June 4th, 2008, we read:         

The right to practice choice of conscience is being debated in the California Supreme Court.  Justices recently heard oral arguments between lawyers for a homosexual woman who wanted to be artificially inseminated and those for the Christian doctors she sued who refused the procedure.  Attorney Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom arguedon behalf of doctors Christine Brody and Doug Fenton that the procedure was denied because the woman was unmarried. The woman, Guadalupe Benitez, claims she was denied for religious reasons.

Tyler says that Dr. Brody informed Benitezfrom the beginning that she has a policy that “based upon her faith, she would not inseminate an unmarried woman.” California law allowed that factor to be considered at the time, but now it no longer does. 

You see, Guadalupe Benitez’s suit,

is based on new state anti-discrimination laws affecting businesses — laws that clash with religious freedom and conscience rights for medical caregivers…According to Tyler, that scenario would make California much more like Canada than the U.S. The attorney argues to the contrary that doctors “should have the right, under constitutional law, to decline to perform an elective medical procedure because they want to adhere to their faith, and their conscience would dictate that it would be immoral for them to perform that particular procedure.

From a Los Angeles Times article written on Tuesday, the 19th of August, 2008, we read about the status of the court’s decision:

Doctors may not discriminate against gays and lesbians in medical treatment, even if the procedures being sought conflict with physicians’ religious beliefs, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Monday.In its second major decision advancing gay rights this year, the state high court ruled that religious physicians must obey a state law that bars businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation (For the entire story click here). 

Writing for the court, Joyce L. Kennard wrote, 

The 1st Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt defendant physicians here from conforming their conduct to the . . . antidiscrimination requirements…” (For the CA Supreme Court ruling on this case click here). 

With such a ruling taking place in CA, it is important for us in West Virginia to consider how this could possibly affect us here.  

How this could affect us here in WV

How can such an attack on conscience in CA affect us here in WV?  There are many different ways this could impact our state as well as us individually.  What follows is just a few examples. 


When – not if – a similar case is argued within our state borders it is quite possible that the WV Supreme Court would rule against the practicing physicians “conscience,” just as the CA Supreme Court did.  Why?  Because the WV Supreme Court has never articulated what standard is to be utilized in such cases (Neither has the legislature for that matter). 


Moreover, the WV Supreme Court could rule against Pharmacists that refuse to distribute the morning after pill on grounds of “conscience” and religious beliefs.  Therefore, the judicial branch could enforce penalties, fines, or even revoke their licenses for not distributing the morning after pill. 


In addition, if a parent and/or student objects to homosexuality being taught in Sexual-Education at school, it is unclear what level of protection they would receive from the court based upon their objection on grounds of conscience or religious beliefs.   

Where to from here? Duty bound to “conscience” or the State?   

As freedom of speech, religion, and conscience is being infringed upon in CA, we must know how our “conscience” is to determine our level of submission to the government.Our conscience sets a limit on what we do and shouldn’t do.  For what is against conscience should not be done.  Therefore, if one – such as the government – requires us to do something that our conscience or religious faith forbids then we must adhere to our conscience and the dictates of our religious convictions.    

Nonetheless, our nation is one that is governed by laws and not men (John Adams, Massachusetts Constitution).  Why?  Because we as people tend to be fickle and easily given over to one vain philosophy to another.  Since we as people can be so unstable at times, law must be based upon something more than our whimsical desires.  Law must be based upon something that supersedes legislators and governors, presidents and senators – something that gives weight and moral backing to what is instituted.     

If law is set upon a foundation of absolute truth, then law should never violate one’s conscience.  In reality, how could it?    


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Jesse Wisnewski serves as the Executive Administrator of Perrow Church in Cross Lanes, WV.  Jesse is married to his best friend Jessica, and they have two sons, Peyton, 10 and Jude, 9 months.  He is currently attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – Charlotte and is completing coursework towards a Master of Divinity. 


Written by Jeremy Dys

September 5, 2008 at 2:21 pm

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  1. […] Big Brother is Watching You […]

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