by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
This past Sunday, Catholic priests across the country read to their congregations versions a letter in response to Obamacare’s assault on religious freedom (emphasis in original):
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.
In so ruling, the Obama Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Obama Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.
The letter proceeds:
We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.
Longtime readers of The Locker Room and Carolina Journal might have perked their ears up at “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.” Not intentionally, but not coincidentally, it is reminiscent of John Hood’s immediate (and immediately popular, also not a coincidence) response to the passage of Obamacare, “I Will Not Comply.”
Over at NRO, Yuval Levin crafts an important discussion of religious liberty not just in the context of Obamacare but in the context of a creeping statism. In sum (with emphasis added):
In this sense, what is at issue in the controversy over the administration’s rule is not just the question of religious liberty but the question of non-governmental institutions in a free society. Does civil society consist of a set of institutions that help the government achieve its purposes as it defines them when their doing so might be more efficient or convenient than the state’s doing so itself, or does civil society consist of an assortment of efforts by citizens to band together in pursuit of mutual aims and goods as they understand them? Is it an extension of the state or of the community? In this arena, as in a great many others, the administration is clearly determined to see civil society as merely an extension of the state, and to clear out civil society—clearing out the mediating layers between the individual and the state—when it seems to stand in the way of achieving the president’s agenda. … It is an attack on mediating institutions of all sorts, moved by the genuine belief that they are obstacles to a good society.
This approach is especially noxious and pernicious when it is directed at religiously affiliated institutions—both because they deserve special standing and because they do some of the hardest and most needful work of charity and care in our society. We should use every available means to protect those institutions from this mortal danger, and that certainly includes resorting to the language of conscience and exemption. But as we do so, we should not forget that we are dealing with an instance of a larger and deeper danger, and we should do what we can to combat that danger in its own terms. It is perhaps the gravest threat to freedom in American life today.
I would concur and point out that freedom of religion is the first freedom secured in the Bill of Rights:
The First Amendment protects individuals’ rights of religion, speech, assembly, and petition. Religious freedom is the very first freedom it secures against government interference. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” (sealing citizens against the fear of a State Church), “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
It should not escape anyone’s notice that the Free Exercise clause is immediately followed by the prohibition against Congress (and by application, all government) “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” These all proceed in logical order. A free individual is free to believe, follow, and express his faith, and it follows that he is free to speak and publish as he pleases, meet with whom he pleases, and not be hindered even from airing grievances with the government.