Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Gravest Threat to Freedom in American Life Today"

Yuval Levin, writing in National Review, has an excellent column about the Obama Admisinstration's HHS mandate. He begins by observing the across-the-board outrage to the mandate:

"When even E.J. Dionne can’t quite bring himself to defend the Obama administration’s assault on religious liberty, you know the president must have a real problem...."

Mr. Levin then explains why the Catholic Church is especially vulnerable, given the United States' particular tradition of religious toleration:

"The English common law tradition of religious toleration, which we inherited, has always had a problem with religious institutions that are not houses of worship—i.e. that are geared to ends other than the practice of religion itself. To (vastly) oversimplify for a moment, that tradition began (in the 16th century, and in some respects even earlier) with the aim of protecting Protestant dissenters and Jews but (very intentionally) not protecting Catholics. And the way it took shape over the centuries in an effort to sustain that distinction was by drawing a line between individual religious practice (in which the government could not interfere) and an institutional religious presence (which was given far less protection). Because Catholicism is a uniquely institutional religion—with large numbers of massive institutions for providing social services, educating children and adults, and the like, all of which are more or less parts of a single hierarchy—this meant Catholics were simply not granted the same protection as others. Obviously the intent to treat Catholics differently has for the most part fallen away since then, but the evolved legal tradition is very much with us, and it is not a coincidence that it always seems to be the Catholic Church that gets caught up in these situations when the government overreaches...."

Finally, he observes the totalitarian nature of Obama's approach--the attempt to remove all intermediate institutions between the government and the people, and notes that the HHS mandate is just one incident in this takeover:

"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..."

The Church has always been the champion of those "mediating layers"--subsidiarity. Mr. Levin concludes:

"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."

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