Can Obama Order Grocers to Give Away Bread?

In October 2009, I published a column titled, “Can Obama and Congress Order You to Buy Broccoli?”

Now I need to ask a follow-up: Can Obama order grocers to give away bread?

I wrote the broccoli column after Sen. Orrin Hatch raised serious questions in the Senate Finance Committee about the constitutionality of President Obama’s proposal to force people to buy health insurance.

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“If we have the power simply to order Americans to buy certain products, why did we need a cash-for-clunkers program or the upcoming program providing rebates for purchasing energy appliances?” Hatch said. “We could simply require Americans to buy certain cars, dishwashers or refrigerators.”

Inspired by Hatch’s argument, I wrote in my column: “This is not a question about nutrition. It is not a question about whether broccoli is good for you or about the relative merits of broccoli versus other foods. It is a question about the constitutional limits on the power of the federal government. It is a question about freedom.

“Can President Obama and Congress enact legislation that orders Americans to buy health insurance?” I asked. “They might as well order Americans to buy broccoli. They have no legitimate authority to do either.”

I later interviewed Hatch about the issue. “If that is held constitutional — for them to be able to tell us we have to purchase health insurance — then there is literally nothing that the federal government can’t force us to do” Hatch said. “Nothing.”

Orrin Hatch spoke prophetically. Yet Obama’s escalating attacks on American liberty in the post-Obamacare era are nonetheless shocking — for they reveal a president full of zeal in trampling God-given rights.

Last August, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a proposed regulation that would force virtually all health care plans to cover sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortion.

Because Obamacare mandates that all Americans must purchase health insurance, this regulation would require Catholics — whose church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are wrong — to act against the teachings of their faith.

Obama was unambiguously attacking the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

America’s Catholic bishops quickly denounced Obama’s regulation as “an unprecedented attack on religious liberty.” They called on Catholics to speak out against it and urged the administration to rescind it in its entirety.

On Jan. 20, Sebelius announced that the final regulation would take effect for individuals and business owners this Aug. 1, and for Catholic hospitals, universities and charities next Aug. 1. Thus, the government was giving Catholic individuals and business owners seven months, and Catholic institutions 19, to submit to a federal edict that they act against their faith.

The bishops responded by asking their priests to read letters from the pulpit at Sunday masses. Most of these letters boldly stated: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.”

On Friday, Obama announced what he called a “solution:” The federal government will still order all health insurance plans to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients without any fees or co-pay. But insurance plans covering workers at religious institutions that object to these services will be required to provide sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients to those workers “free of charge.”

Thus, Obama is still ordering Catholic institutions to provide insurance plans that cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients. And he is still ordering Catholic employees, private business owners, and private insurers to buy and/or provide these things, even if means they must act against their faith.

Obama’s “solution” escalates his attack on freedom: He is now ordering private companies (in this case insurers) to provide a product for free — even if they find it morally objectionable.

If Obama had the constitutional authority to tell insurance companies they must provide contraceptives and abortifacients for free, he could also tell grocers they must provide meat and bread for free.

He could tell doctors they must provide abortions for free and drug companies they must manufacture and distribute contraceptives for free.

Of course, Obama won’t order these last two things because he wants to retain a national supply of doctors who will do abortions and drug companies that will manufacture contraceptives. His acts of tyranny are strategically targeted.

In a powerful column published last month, Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles pointed out that the Catholic Church is unique among American religious groups in its teaching against artificial contraception.

“So it is hard to escape the conclusion that the government is singling out the church with this new mandate,” he wrote.

“But the issues here go far beyond contraception and far beyond the liberties of the Catholic Church,” the archbishop concluded. “They go to the heart of our national identity and our historic understanding of our democratic form of government.”

Today, Obama is especially attacking the liberty of Catholics. But, in doing so, he has attacked liberty itself.




  • Terence Jeffrey

    Terence P. Jeffrey started as editor in chief of in September 2007. Prior to that, he served for more than a decade as editor of Human Events, where he is now an editor at large.

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