Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic
THE ATTACK ON RELIGION IN AMERICA: A CHRISTIAN CALL TO ACTION
By Stephen M. Krason
The Obama administration’s imposition of a legal requirement on religious employers to provide contraception and sterilization services in the employee health insurance plans is certainly one of the most blatant attacks on religious liberty in American history—at least since colonial days in places like Maryland when Catholics could not worship publicly and were double taxed. Indeed, the Obama assault on religious liberty even extends to freedom of religious speech. The plan is to require religious entities that apparently would not come under the regulation—that apparently would be very few kinds of institutions—to inform employees where they can go to get these services. Of course, this information is easily available to people already. To mandate that religious entities provide it is nothing more than an effort by the most aggressively secular presidential administration in American history to consolidate the secular state’s hegemonic position and further extend the leftist-secularist sexual agenda. Indeed, the increasingly intolerant left—exhibiting something like what Jean-Francois Revel in the 1970s called the “totalitarian temptation”—can brook no dissent from its basic beliefs. Sexual and reproductive libertinism are probably the most central of these.
If Obama wins a second term, don’t be surprised if his people concoct some rationale to extend this mandate to abortion services—Hyde Amendment or not. If the Democrats—for some time the party of the secular left—gain control of houses of Congress the pressure on religious institutions is likely to be even more intense. The leftist mind now understands “religious liberty” to mean merely freedom to worship, but not to carry on any other actions in the name of religious belief. This follows from the left’s diminution of the important of religion. As Paul Johnson wrote, in recent decades for the first time in American history there has been “a widespread tendency, especially among intellectuals, to present religious people as enemies of freedom and democratic choice.”
If Obama is defeated, probably the new regulation will be rescinded. If not, the issue will be resolved in the courts—unless his administration uses some of its customary sleight of hand to get around even an unfavorable court decision. However, that assumes a Supreme Court decision—the matter will probably end up there—will be unfavorable to him. The Supreme Court probably gave the early impetus for this new restricted notion about religious liberty in its 1990 Smith v. Employment Division decision. In that case, the Court overturned its line of religious liberty decisions going back to the 1940s and held that religious belief is not a ground for exemption from a generally applicable law that is otherwise constitutional.
If the Obama administration has carried the secularist assault to new heights, the Court has over the decades been a major architect of the secular state. It has been its decisions starting in the post-World War II period that progressively forced religion out of the official, public domain and ultimately led to such inanities as public school officials forbidding depictions of Santa Claus at Christmas and the banning of Christmas trees on public property. It was also its Flast v. Cohen decision of 1968 where, contrary to the basic legal rule that to bring a civil case a party has to suffer some kind of injury, the Court held that establishment clause cases could be initiated by virtually anyone. As a result, we see evangelical atheist organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) snooping around local communities throughout the country to find any hint of something with an even indirect connection to religion in the public domain so it can threaten to sue beleaguered public officials.
The federal courts’ devotion to the cause of implanting a secular state was illustrated vividly with Smith v. School Commissioners of Mobile County in 1987. This was the famous federal district court decision of Judge Brevard Hand who—after a trial featuring testimonies of such heavy-duty, perspicacious scholars as Russell Kirk, Gerhart Niemeyer, and James Hitchcock—ruled that the textbooks used by the Mobile public schools promoted secular humanism. Thus, they violated the Supreme Court’s precedents that held that there should be neutrality between belief and unbelief. The federal appellate court summarily reversed Hand, not even so much as opening the boxes of the voluminous evidence he sent it to back up his decision. Presumably, neutrality was the rule if it worked to the disadvantage of religion but not if it excluded secularism.
In a way, the appellate court’s action anticipated developments like the Obama contraception/sterilization regulation: accept the secular perspective, or else. The “or else” now also includes religious institutions and employers.
The entire judicial—and now executive—enterprise of imposing a secular state is happening even though, as I show in my forthcoming book, The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic, America’s Founding Fathers believed religion to be essential to the sustenance of a democratic republic. George Washington said in his Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” Similarly, John Adams wrote, “it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”
What should be the response of Christians and other believers? I have long believed that in most things the best defense is a good offense. The best way to combat the assault on religious liberty is to work aggressively to reverse secularism. In other words, it is not enough just to try to carve out protections and exemptions for this or that religious entity, but to seek to reclaim the culture. As Christopher Dawson and others explained, every culture emerges from the cult—from its religious beliefs and worldview. There is no such thing as religious neutrality, just as there is no such thing as moral neutrality. Secularism has uprooted America’s Christian past and put itself in its place. Now, it is seeking a sweeping cultural victory. This also means a legal, political, and economic victory—so that the threats to religious liberty will likely be more numerous and systematic in the future.
An offensive strategy must operate both on a philosophical and a practical level. As mentioned, the philosophical should be nothing less than to return America to her religious roots. This is truly a time for a Christian call to action. It will be a difficult and long-term struggle, starting with a determined effort by Christians not to be bowled over anymore. The practical level requires not just a concerted, broad-reaching legal response—a la the Alliance Defense Fund, which drafted the critical comment of several Catholic colleges and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists to the Obama regulation—but also an increasingly visible and vociferous popular opposition. A good beginning of this was the December 2011 rally of several thousands in Athens, Texas to support local officials who refused an FFRF demand to remove a nativity scene from the courthouse grounds. Another was the “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” earlier in the fall when evangelical pastors deliberately evaluated the moral positions of political candidates in their sermons and dared the IRS to threaten their tax exemptions.
Both the Obama regulation and such recent episodes as certain states demanding that religious social service organizations must be prepared to facilitate adoptions for same-sex couples have hit the Catholic Church the hardest. It’s time for the USCCB and other Catholic leaders to get over both their worries from the priest sex-abuse scandal and their historic reticence at asserting themselves in the American public arena and help lead this effort.
Stephen M. Krason is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Co-Founder and President of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.