Written by John Zmirak
The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will hear another Obamacare case, this one connected to the Obama administration’s mandate that religious employers help their workers buy contraceptives, including abortifacients such as the “morning after pill.” In this case we can see the stark outlines of the struggles Christians will face over future decades in America. Can we maintain any freedom of action in a country where a massive and growing federal government believes that it has a mandate to impose a godless utilitarian worldview into every nook and cranny of life? Or will we have to settle for a narrow “freedom of worship,” which covers a couple of hours every Sunday?
When Obamacare was proposed, it received broad support from naive religious leaders because it rectified a supposed injustice: unequal access to health care in America. Some, like Chicago’s Archbishop Blaise Cupich, still argue that supporting an egalitarian system of health care is the genuinely pro-life position to take: Since better health care can save lives, if you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to offer everyone the same level of health care, then you are really not much different from doctors who abort unborn children.
This kind of sloppy thinking smooshes together the intentional murder of unborn children for convenience with the sad but stubborn fact that in a fallen world, man is mortal. There is a radical, absolute difference between directly killing someone, and not diverting all your resources to postponing his death. Otherwise, every time you switch the channel away from some hunger appeal on TV, you might as well have hired a hitman to knock off a neighbor — since either way, people die. To use “pro-life” this way is to make it mean everything and nothing, which is handy if your other political priorities make you lean toward the rabidly pro-choice Democratic party.
Conservative critics, many of them Christians, warned that federalizing health care would pose a grave threat to the independence of employers — including religious employers, such as Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor — to follow their consciences and make their own free decisions on how to spend their own money, time and talents. And the Obama administration’s fierce fight over this subject proves that conservatives were right. The Democrats know that letting religious employers opt out of paying for abortifacients won’t “force” working women into pregnancy. They are fighting on principle, the principle that no citizen’s conscience can be permitted to trump federal policy. If the mandarins in Washington, D.C., decide that a practice is in the best interest of the masses, then the masses will comply. They must be forced to be free.
It was independence of conscience which our country’s founders thought that they were declaring in 1776. They rejected those systems of government which tried to micromanage the religious and moral decisions of their citizens “for their own good,” like the Inquisition’s Spain or Calvin’s Geneva. Our government would not be closing churches because they taught the “wrong” doctrine, nor banning books because they spread “pernicious” ideas that led people astray.
Nor would our government try to iron out all the inequalities that naturally arise among human beings, who freely choose to use their talents wisely or squander them, to save their money or waste it, to run marathons or to smoke cigarettes, to invest in health insurance or face the tender mercies of the public emergency ward (which should offer a basic, minimum level of care to all comers). Instead of viewing its people as hapless children to be coddled and protected from themselves, America’s leaders were supposed to see its citizens as their equals, moral equals who could make their own decisions and face the consequences, like grown-ups. And grown-ups can decide where they want to work, who they want to hire, and what kind of priorities govern the way they run their businesses. They can also decide how to pray, and how to obey their consciences, so long as they do not violate the fundamental rights of others.
Inflate and distort those rights in the name of equality, and you take away that freedom. If everyone has the right to equal health care, why not equal housing? Interchangeable education? Equally well-cooked, nutritious food? Equal amounts of healthy exercise? That all sounds lovely at first blush, very small “c” Christian. Such a vision appeals to college sophomores still living on their parents’ dimes in spaces kept “safe” from pointy, dissenting ideas. But what such a vision yields in practice is a gray world of uniform public hospitals, public schools, mandatory gymnastics and federal cafeterias in government dormitories, where no one’s talents or choices matter since everyone’s outcome is the same. Such a system, created in the name of equality, once dominated half the world. We fought the Cold War to stop it from conquering the rest.
Our new battle is not with overt Marxist tyranny, but with something more subtle — an irreligious government that wants to agglomerate ever more power over our lives in the name of making things fairer and keeping people happier, of smoothing over our differences and soothing our fragile egos. If two men want to get married, then it is the Supreme Court’s job to protect their “dignity” and open the way for them — and the state’s job to punish those florists, caterers, or preachers who won’t cooperate. If an employee wants the abortion pill (and in five years, if the Democrats win you count on it, a sex change operation), then Mt. Zion Baptist or Our Lady of Sorrows will have to pay for it. There is no logical stopping point for this kind of radical secularism and statism. It is an ideology, which means that its appetite only grows, the more that it feeds.
Because our government is by its very nature secular, the larger the sphere of government action, the less freedom there is for Christians — full stop. The only free spaces for conscientious action by believers are those that we carve out by cutting the state down to size. Like kudzu, this invasive species won’t give up, but will keep growing back, trying to smother us. So keep your weed-whacker fueled. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
This article was originally posted at Stream.org.