Conservatives vindicated

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.




  1. Of course, a little before the Fall elections, the Whitehouse could rescind, or say they will rescind, this ruling. And then try to get credit by giving back something they shouldn’t have taken away in the first place. But even if they later rescind it in the face of an uproar the people who have this attitude will still be there.

    I fear we see more and more power and more and more money flowing to fewer and fewer people located further and further away from where we live and having more and more control over greater areas of our lives. No doubt many of the laws are individually well intentioned, but this continued concentration of power will bode ill for the future. As Christians I think we can have a legitimate concern for the well being of our country. This news is quite disconcerting.

    • That’s very well-put, Mike. Despite my disdain for what passes for “conservative” thought at the popular level, I heavily tend toward Russel Kirk style conservatism. I was (and still am) a big supporter of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which guided much of my thinking as an undergrad.

  2. Another view: “The issue was whether as employers, religious organizations, should be “forced” to include contraception as part of their healthcare plans. (These religious organizations, it should be noted, will enjoy all the tax breaks that come from providing that insurance, so the whole matter is a purely secular transaction, and should be treated as one in the eyes of the law.)” Charles Pierce, The Politics Blog, “The Sex-Blind Delusions Of A Contraceptive Fight.” January 30, 2012.

    • No, it’s not a “purely secular transaction.” That’s the point. Tax breaks are not offered as a sort of “trade off” for being treated as a secular institution…that was never the understanding under which tax breaks were first given to religious bodies.

  3. Then would you like to enlighten us as to why they were given? As far as I’m concerned, if you take the money, you play by the rules.

    • The idea is that if churches are to retain their freedom from state control, then this includes freedom from the state’s power to levy taxes.

    • Ann, I think one of the implicit assumptions in your argument is that the money “belongs” to the Feds and so to not pay taxes on something of yours is keeping money away from Feds. Somehow the Federal government, in their benevolence, is letting us keep some of *their* money.

      Of course as a general principle the tax burden should be fairly shared in order to support the common good. But what we have here with this present instance is, in my judgment, is the intrusion of the Federal government to force a group of people to override what is clearly an important matter of conscience (not a peripheral issue.)

      It may be fun to get “those guys and gals” today. To bend them to our will. But someday, sometime, it will be pay back time. “Those guys those gals” get in power and now it’s pay back time. Far, far better that the feds take a modest role than the central and all decisive role.

  4. I’m a little torn. Where is the line drawn (from both angles)? What about those religious groups that deem it very important that modern medicine be avoided at all costs? Is it an infringement upon religious liberty to hold them accountable? To force them to seek medical treatment against their will?

    Or, since withholding contraception insurance doesn’t entail doing violence against another, we should therefore look at these matters on a case-by-case basis?

    • Yes, those are two different issues at play. The religious liberty argument is not saying that all moral law enshrined in our civil code stops at the church doors (like murder, rape, etc). There is no “right” to contraceptives, but there is a right to not have violence done to oneself. The use of contraceptives is not prohibited and neither should it be enforced; the use of a gun to kill my neighbor is both prohibited and enforced. The responsibility of parents to provide medical treatment for their children falls under the latter category (the right to not have harm done to oneself).

  5. I really want my church to have complete freedom from “state control” in all things including zoning, fire laws, handicapped access, and taxes…oh, wait it already doesn’t have to pay taxes…

  6. I’ve read a few comment threads on this on various sites, and they’re pretty disturbing. It seems that a lot of people think the Catholic hospitals want to force their patients not to use birth control. There are also a lot of people who just hate the Catholic church and like this law on them.

    I think some of the conservatives saying this is part of a malicious “war on religion” by Obama are going too far though, and it appears he’s going to compromise on it, which I expected he would when the controversy erupted.

    I have to say that while I think an absolute prohibition may be too extreme, I do find some of the Catholic arguments on birth control compelling. But since I’m single and take Christian sexual morality seriously, I don’t need to worry about it for now…not sure what I’ll ultimately do if/when I get married (of course it depends largely on what the lady says about it!).

    • Yes, the misinformation in the media is inexcusable. As for Obama’s intentions, it is clear that he had all the right information at hand yet plowed through with it anyway…continued to plow through after repeated protests from bishops et al.…and only decided to capitulate once the furor reached the mainstream media. In other words, he’s an asshole.

  7. Last sentence in the first paragraph Should read “There are also a lot of people who just hate the Catholic church and like this law because they see it as a form of vengeance on them.”

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