I am not one to parrot conservative rhetoric about big government, and the health care controversy has elicited some of the most vociferous rhetoric to date. Well, I have to say that all the rhetoric about how the government, once given the power, will suppress religious liberty, not just economic liberty — all that rhetoric was correct! As you should know by now, Obama has refused after repeated appeals from the bishops to allow an exception for religious employers in the new health care law, which requires all insurance plans to supply contraceptives, along with sterilization procedures and the morning after pill. There are a lot of excellent commentaries on this legislation and what it means for religious liberty, but (not surprisingly) Ross Douthat in the New York Times has the clearest entry I’ve read thus far (ht: Matthew Lee Anderson):
Critics of the administration’s policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what’s at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom. The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.
The Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not widely appreciated, to put it mildly, and many liberals are inclined to see the White House’s decision as a blow for the progressive cause. They should think again. Once claimed, such powers tend to be used in ways that nobody quite anticipated, and the logic behind these regulations could be applied in equally punitive ways by administrations with very different values from this one.
The more the federal government becomes an instrument of culture war, the greater the incentive for both conservatives and liberals to expand its powers and turn them to ideological ends. It is Catholics hospitals today; it will be someone else tomorrow.
The White House attack on conscience is a vindication of health care reform’s critics, who saw exactly this kind of overreach coming. But it’s also an intimation of a darker American future, in which our voluntary communities wither away and government becomes the only word we have for the things we do together.