This seems appropriate for Holy Week. The conservative Heritage Foundation offers readers this abstract to its piece entitled, “Faith, Freedom, and the First Amendment: The Guarantee of Religious Liberty”. Try to follow it:
Freedom of religion is at the heart of the American understanding of liberty. Under our constitutional order, the free exercise of religion is not a mere matter of toleration but an inalienable natural right. As George Washington explained in his famous letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” There are, of course, some limits to the free exercise of religion. Citizens cannot invoke the First Amendment to break general laws (although exemptions may be granted). But within the confines of the law, all citizens have the same right of conscience. This essay is adapted from The Heritage Guide to the Constitution for a series providing constitutional guidance for lawmakers…
Are you still here? That’s just for openers. Wading through opposition to the HHS “religious mandate” has become too much like trying to re-read “The Federalist Papers“. It is too highly detailed, too historical and fundamentally too distant from individual Americans’ daily lives.
And that assessment comes from yours truly, who has Thomas Jefferson’s papers on the Kindle. Moreover, a recent appearance by Cardinal Dolan on “O’Reilly” hardly helped either. The Cardinal’s case for why the Church opposes religious institutions being compelled under “Obamacare” to offer insurances which violate Catholics’ religious conscience, came nowhere near hitting the nail on the head. Even Mr O’Reilly, perhaps intimidated by the Cardinal, did little but a “Q & A” with him and (shockingly, for the usually verbose Mr O’Reilly) offered no real op-ed view himself.
We may recall that in 2009 Sarah Palin’s “death panels” plumbed perhaps a new low in driving misinformation. However, the recent recasting of “women’s health” as now being foremost about contraception and abortion, falls firmly into the Palin realm. That reworked and absurdly narrow framing of it repeated ad nauseam by the Obama administration and media fellow travelers, is in its way even worse than was “death panels”. Mrs Palin was merely offering a silly opinion, whereas President Obama’s opinion … comes from a President.
Although it establishes the intriguing new norm that women age 50+ are now health afterthoughts, one only detects that if one follows the matter closely. In our tweetering world, if “death panels” did cause some to question what on earth Mrs Palin was blabbering about, unsurprisingly few now reflect similarly when it comes to their hearing a “Mom and apple pie” phrase like “women’s health” tossed at them. Notice too — even in the midst of a propaganda barrage that merely to question the “religious mandate” is to engage in a “war on women” — that while men still die some 5 years’ sooner than women on average, “men’s health” troubles barely make the media radar.
So even “140 characters” now seem positively encyclopedic when truly shallow two-word misleading sloganeering may suffice. So it should be obvious also that a scholarly defense of “religious liberty” is just too broad an approach. Its complexity is not the only reason. The other is almost no one really thinks that if the “religious mandate” stands, that we immediately awake next day entrapped in another former Soviet Union or a U.S. version of the People’s Republic of China.
On that, they would be right. However, the Obama administration’s “mandate” is a major crossing of a boundary. Why it is must be made clear.
Pure and simple, here is why I oppose the “religious mandate.”
I earn a living. While doing so, I am taxed. That is a perfectly accepted and proper role for the State under the Constitution.
I hand over to the State what is the State’s. I do so because it is the State’s due to laws passed by my elected representatives. As a good citizen of this State, I render dutifully unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
But no president’s policy desires sweep all before it in our governance: charitable organizations are tax-exempt. As are religious entities, lest we forget so is the likes of Planned Parenthood. They are untaxed when, based on the Constitution, as understood in our law stemming from it, and as then enforced under that law by Caesar’s tax collectors (the IRS), they exist primarily to do unprofitable charitable works.
So each weekend, I attend my tax-exempt charitable organization church. During Mass collections, I put $___ into the passed plate. I expect that which is then mine, and which I just handed to my parish, to be used by my church alone.
I donate to my church so the building may be lighted and heated. My money helps with the upkeep. It feeds my priest. It goes towards his transportation costs, and so on. Some of my donation also goes to fund my church’s wider also tax-exempt charitable activities.
But here is where Caesar’s HHS “mandate” will now step in. The current Caesar is trying to do an end-run around charitable-entities’ tax-exempt statuses in order to underwrite and facilitate his “women’s health” policy. Rather than seek to tax me to cover its cost, Caesar demands some of my weekend plate donations must go towards paying for it.
That is absolutely unacceptable. There is the “free exercise” line this administration is crossing. It is what the bishops — and all of conscience, religious or not — should be focusing on as being “why” freedom is under threat.
No president has ever made a similar power-grab in the face of the 1st Amendment. Understand, I am a strong believer in what in a letter Thomas Jefferson termed separation of church and state. But I am as equally a firm advocate of what that also requires: separation of state from church.
So if Caesar wishes to TAX me so his State schools can hand out contraceptives to 7th graders at recess, he may surely look to do so. To make that happen, he may approach my congressional representatives about using my TAX monies to do it. They can then all squabble among themselves as politicians do.
But Caesar has no “right” to demand my tax-exempt charitable contributions must be applied by my church towards funding his “women’s health” scheme — or, for that matter, any policy “scheme” of his. It is not a question of whether “many” polled out there deem it, or any other, to be “good” and “necessary” policies. It is because Caesar’s chosen means to fund them are outside constitutional bounds.
No matter how many might also be polled by media organizations saying they “favor it”, Caesar cannot also just “mandate” that because “national defense” is vital, that church lands must host nuclear missiles. Nor in the face of a degree of public disapproval, can the administration response be that faith was always being humbly respected because if one looked at its details, that the “mandate” was never actually going to require the missiles be placed under the altars. And an “accommodation” hurriedly announced on a Friday aiming to calm the “misunderstanding” cannot be that … uh, don’t worry it will be seen to it down the road that conscience will be protected because it will be defense contractors who will foot the bill, and the silos will be only in the car parks, where “actual worship” doesn’t take place.
None of that is Caesar’s role constitutionally. Indeed if Caesar can demand on what tax-exempt church contributions must be spent, church-state separation has just taken a substantive constitutional hit, and not in the way many tend always to profess to fear. It will not be about incipient “theocracy” in which supposed Urban IIs demand we all have crosses tattooed on our forehead; it will be instead that Church will function increasingly on State sufferance. “To tax is to destroy”: Caesar could choose to damage any charitable entity he does not choose to “accommodate”, merely by employing the cynical device of piling on cash “mandates” — because they are not, of course ["wink wink"], “taxes”, mind you.
It does appear, though, if media reporting is to be believed, that not just the insurance individual purchase “mandate” itself, but “Obamacare” overall, is in some legal jeopardy. On one level, that is a shame, because the U.S. desperately needs to address healthcare. Still, while it being overturned would also render his “religious mandate” question moot, the complacent constitutional indifference with which large parts of the American public have treated it, should give pause for the future to anyone who supports charitable-based works free of the heavy hand of Caesar.
This writer just knew back in 2007 it would be problematic to let our Democratic friends unilaterally to run with the healthcare reform issue. But crashing through 200 years of our State-Church relationship in doing so? Yours truly never imagined it would end up becoming that problematic.