Federal Proposed Rule, excerpt: Historical Role of Conscience & Contemporary Distortions

The Office of Civil Rights called for public comment on the ‘Proposed Rule Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority‘  referenced as ‘The Document’ to protect the right to exercise our conscience in some health care aspects that receive Federal Funding.  The comment period began in January, 2018, and closed March 27, 2018.  over 72,000 American’s responded and commented.

PK Willey made general and specific comments on the proposed rule, with appendices and references, focusing specifically on the historical role of conscience in our country, and the exercise of conscience in  vaccination, extended research on societal effects of legalized euthanasia, and a call for the exercise of conscience in sexual health and gender issues.

This excerpt focuses on the Historical references to Conscience, and what have become contemporary distortions on that understanding.  It provides universally applicable definitions of terms  as ‘conscience’, ‘moral’, ‘immoral’, ‘civilization, ‘moral discipline, integrity’, and seeks to see the discussion of conscience, while traditionally understood to be embedded in religion, as also universally existent outside of varying religious prescription.

General Comment. We need to move forward in The Document for the protections of the exercise of Conscience rights while maintaining the Precautionary Principle. Defined as:

If a threat of serious or irreversible damage to the environment or human health exists,
steps to prevent further damage or to begin remedial steps to repair damage, should not be prevented, despite a potential lack of full scientific evidence. (As suggested by:


We are faced with a prevailing social atmosphere, kept inflamed by media that not only discourages the development of personal philosophical and ethical standards for enhancing the  exercise of conscience, but one in which human life, a short gift in our awareness as we know it, is  codified, evaluated, and determined to be of financial value or not.

Section: Conscience
The Document states:
George Washington wrote,

“Government being, among other purposes, instituted to protect the Persons and Consciences of men from oppression, it certainly is the duty of Rulers, not only to abstain from it themselves, but according to their Stations, to prevent it in others.”

(pg.3916)Comment: Clarifying Historical Use. A Conscience can exists in the Person, and in the collective sense, seen and known through our national mind, our national conscience (as evoked  by Dr. King Jr. and others at various times in our history). It would be incorrect to intellectually divide  the word ‘Persons’ from ‘Consciences’, to imply that one meant property.

In an address to Quaker Friends, George Washington demonstrated his understanding of the
protections of conscience as essential for the interests of our nation, our American civilization:

Founding Father George Washington. by Gilbert Stuart, 1797.

I assure you very explicitly that in my opinion the Conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy & tenderness, and it is my wish and desire that the Laws may
always be as extensively accommodated to them, as a due regard to the Protection and essential Interests of the Nation may Justify, and permit. (please see: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0188)

Our forefathers lived in a time when Thomas Jefferson’s Bill of Rights, particularly the rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ were understood differently than the present. A person who violates or is forced to violate his conscience cannot know happiness but experiences a deep bitterness. This bit of common sense should not be ignored in

Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Bill of Rights. By Rembrandt Peale.

understanding ‘pursuit of  happiness’. Happiness is being able to live honestly, with one’s self, secure that in so doing, you will not be penalized, or even physically violated for doing so. That is to say, free from Government  oppression for standing up for what one knows to be true. This is what made (and can still make) our nation unique in all the Earth, whereas the rest of humanity toiled (and toils) and crawled (and crawls) under tyrannical despots, and social systems that kept/keep despotism in place.

Later ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ was further subject to Locke’s later interpretation, or perhaps it was more truly a mis-representation, who saw Jefferson’s original thought of ‘Happiness’ as meaning ‘Property’. (please see: https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/pursuit-of-happiness-meaning1.htm)

This would be a boon to capitalists who sought to equate democracy, the people’s rule, with
unbridled capitalism, a road that is counter to civilization. However, there was one American,President Rutherford Hayes, of the Republican party, who saw that putting a ‘cap on capitalism’ was essential for a working democracy. His party only allowed him one term:
Hayes further spoke publicly in 1886:

“Free government cannot long endure if property is largely in a few hands and large masses of people are unable to earn homes, education and support in old age.”

Hayes further wrote,

“In church it occurred to me that it is time for the public to hear that the giant evil and danger in this country, the danger which transcends all others, is the vast wealth owned or controlled by a few persons. Money is power. In Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils, in the courts, in political conventions, in the press, in the pulpit, in the circles of

President Rutherford Hayes, 1880. Wanted a ‘cap on capitalism’. “Let the People be fully informed…as to the evil.”

the educated and the talented, its influence is growing greater and greater. Excessive wealth in the hands of the few means extreme poverty, ignorance and vice and wretchedness as the lot of the many… Let the people be fully informed and convinced as to the evil.” (please see: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. (1968). The Annals ofAmerica, vol. 11. 1184-1894: Agrarianism and Urbanization. From: Selection 27:1886-1887: Rutherford B. Hayes: Wealth in the Hands of the Few. Pps. 124-125.)

Before 1880, most of America that needed to be (as suggested by John Taylor Gatto) was literate, without compulsory schooling. Learning to read at home through stories of morality from the Bible and other texts,  meant individual expression was tempered with informed moral self-restraints needed to carry out responsibility to family, community, to civilization, and to the future of our civilization, our children. However, with time, this has changed. Ladies Thrift and Frugality have little place in an economic system that demands endless consumption to keep churning.

The difficulty that arises is the strident voice for individual expression without recognition of
social responsibility as being of greater intrinsic benefit and value. The blind and deaf are gifts to
society, if they are prized enough. This fact, our American Heroine, Helen Keller, highly prized by her Teacher, demonstrated. The blind can speak clearly to a view of the reality we are all in, sans the mental distractions caused by eyesight, upon which most of our opinions and decisions are  made. As such, the blind offer society a glimpse of the truth that can be for society if action is held in line with conscience. Helen Keller wrote about the relationship between happiness and duty in 1936:

“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not
attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” (Author, Larsh, J. Helen and Teacher. pg. 620)

The tie between conscience, responsibility, duty, to self as part of family, society, country,
changed. By the 1960’s numerous factors and processes had turned our society into turmoil. Among them, the influx of ‘cult-philosophies’ and the chase for ‘enlightenment’ which was personally subjective, required little responsibility to traditional American philosophical and ethical structures, changing concepts of life’s meaning and purpose. New spiritual practices, and legalized ease in procuring drugs, particularly alcohol, cannabis, opioids, continued the momentum in moving popular understanding of one’s body into a ‘recreational vehicle’, for ‘spiritually’ or ‘chemically’ induced ‘highs. These social trends have tragically affected American culture and philosophy. Individual self-expression and rights, without duties or responsibilities to family, to society, were encouraged as being ‘real’.

In vogue with the times, Arthur Schlesinger inserted his conception of ‘pursuit of happiness’ as
meaning ‘practicing happiness’. This was an inaccurate interpretation for it denied the great sense of conscience to its natural connection to personal responsibility. However, popularizing this notion soon easily shifted many people’s understanding towards ‘complete license in individual expression’.

George Washington’s wish and desire, for all laws to be as extensively accommodated to the
Conscientious scruples of all men, was the wish to see our country shine in righteousness, and in
pursuing this, we will find our happiness and peace. Collectively, we share a National mind, and a
National Conscience. This expanded sense of Conscience must not be overlooked, and it was what spoke through Dr. King, through the anti-war movement of the 1960’s, and more. Our history abounds with the efforts of the National Conscience to be heard.

Defining Terms for Civilization by Conscience.
In order to create a ‘core’ understanding of Conscience and its interaction in society, the following
definitions are given:

Civilization: the sustaining impetus of the human race, specific society, group of people, to
continue to positively foster its own existence. The foundation of civilization is the family unit,
centered on creating and sustaining life for the future civilization. Communities are made up of
families, numerous communities together make up nations.

Moral: those thoughts, words, and deeds that sustain the foundations of civilization.

Morality, moral integrity: the responsibility and duty a person assumes to respond and to be
true to the voice of conscience.

Moral discipline: the restraining of oneself from all actions that are harmful to others and
oneself, cultivating positive qualities that are beneficial to others and oneself. The innate awareness of the necessity for a self-regulated harmony with moral laws is evidenced by a universal sense of justice. Even the constant denial of justice does not destroy an inborn knowing of our human equality and duty to one another.

Moral judgment: the perception we have of an action in light of its final outcome.Immoral, Immorality: those thoughts, words, and deeds which are detrimental to individuals,
families, and the larger society.

The only way our country can continue to exist is through our children. Understood factually,
Conscience further becomes a faculty to protect and guide the future well being of our children, of the type of human culture they will live in. It belongs equally to a religious person as well as an atheist.

The question arises, what is Conscience? It is an endowment within us that enables us to
distinguish right from wrong. It is an aspect and ability of a much wider truth of our being that
transcends our conditioning. Conditioning, for example, of being of a specific religion, of having to
abide by specific social norms that may be morally or even physically destructive to the budding
element in our civilization, our precious youth and children.

Conscience is a faculty or principle within us that we can nurture or starve. Of some disturbed
human beings who have committed atrocities against others, it has been said, `they killed their
conscience.’ In some extreme cases, the faculty of conscience does appear to be numb. Corruption and unrighteousness seem to deaden awareness of it.

Conscience is something that grows and refines with use, to become a guiding voice within us.
That we are aware of this developmental possibility of conscience we demonstrate to one another with phrases that express that understanding, saying a particular person `has a strong  conscience.’  We equate integrity with obedience to conscience. Conscience is seen through our development of personal ethics which are in, yet also transcend religious titles, by which we guide our lives, through Conscience, to be part of an undeniable Law. As part of this Law, we feel that authority, which imparts a strong sense of duty, responsibility, sureness and certainty into us.


Areas of Possible Confusion between Religion and Conscience

For example: at present in the United States, the satirical ‘Pastafarianism’ is not recognized as a
religion. However, it has been granted that status in New Zealand and Nederlands. In the US,
members have fought for expression using First Amendment claims, as well as garnering support for county policy changes in order to ‘ordain marriages’. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster#Marriage)

There are recognized religions which have been enmeshed by their adherents over centuries
with feudal thinking, superstitions, and mindsets, and include ‘honor killing’ of daughters and enemies, entrenched concepts of superiority (even ‘God status’) of certain people(s) over other people. There are some that condone socially accepted prostitution of young girls in their temples, (As Gandhi described in: (1921). Young India. Oct. 6. Age 52.).

Others practice physical mutilation of young male and female bodies in countries of predominantly Islamic belief, or as seen practiced in Judaism on male infants world wide to such a presently popular degree that most modern hospitals offer the operation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_mutilation and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brit_milah)

These areas of merger between religious practice and societal expectations have often become
encoded or appear to be prescribed by respective Scriptures. It is important to be alert between what is  religious, socio-cultural, politically correctness,  and what is actual conscience.


References: As given in text above.



PK Willey

PK Willey, Ph.D., is an American, a Gandhian scholar, author and entrepreneur, who has delved deeply into Gandhi's Earth Ethics. Willey seeks to enhance philosophical discourse around the world where globalization has altered ethical values, particularly in the USA. Willey finds Gandhi's ideas, thoughts, and example, to be invaluable in this effort. Currently, besides numerous articles and book projects,Willey is developing a new framework for qualitative research that employs Earth Ethics, guided by a Gandhian compass and Weibust's Transformative Paradigm.

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