Caesar Commands the Jews Eat Pork, Quakers Join Army, Amish Get i-Pods, Christians Burn Incense

To all Roman Catholics who voted for Mr Barack Obama: SUUUCKERS! 

To all men of good will, Roman Catholic or no, who believe that the Constitution (or simple common sense) is more important than the odd mixture of self-righteous death-cult and feckless national orgy the sexual revolution ushered into being, and which somehow became the core political stance of the Left in the modern day, allow me to urge you to go sign this petition:

The petition reads:

President Obama, in your speech at Notre Dame and elsewhere, you promised that you would provide conscience exemptions for those whose faith forbade their participation in evil.

You have broken that promise by forcing our Church to provide insurance coverage for sterilization, contraception, and various abortifacient drugs. These are practices that for 2,000 years we have taught are intrinsically evil.

You disagree. We understand. But you refuse to respect our right to live out our faith. You have decided to use the coercive power of the state to force your fellow citizens to commit what they believe are evil acts. You have asked the impossible. We cannot be good Americans by being bad Christians.

Turn from your intolerance. Leave in place the conscience exemptions that have served us well since 1973 (42 USC 300a-7 (d)). Vacate the proposed HHS mandate.

If you are not familiar with the case, here is an article.

Religious institutions are basically going to be fined for holding views regarding contraception, sterilization, and abortion that are different from the Obama administration’s views. For instance, Notre Dame University, which employs more than 5,000 people, is going to be given the choice of either expressly violating its religious convictions or paying a $10 million fine to the federal government. It’s bad enough that any employer with a moral objection has to spend his money this way, but it is especially egregious to compel religious institutions to do so…

As many have noted around here, the fact of the administration’s willingness to do this sheds light on its hostility to (or at the very least its contempt for) religious liberty. But it’s not quite that simple. This incident (and especially the nature of the exemption that the administration was willing to grant, which is essentially an exemption for actual houses of worship but not for other religiously-affiliated institutions) also sheds light on a very deeply rooted problem in our tradition of religious liberty itself—a problem that should cause those of us inclined to seek recourse in “conscience protection” and religious exemptions to pause and think.

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.


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 idea is to leave as few non-individual players as possible in the private sphere, and to turn those few that are left into agents of the government.


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.