Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Historical Perspective On Religion & Obama's HHS Mandate

This is the third part of a three part essay. Part 1 examined the original intent of the Founders in passing the Free Exercise clause. Part 2 looked at the current state of the law surrounding that clause.


The first thing to understand about the Department of Health and Human Services’ birth-control mandate, and the last, is that it is an assault on both faithful Christians and the Constitution by leftists who consider themselves at “war” — their word — with bourgeois America. It has nothing to do with guaranteeing access to contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients.

Andrew McCarthy, The Contraceptive Mandate’s Shaky Justification, NRO, 11 Feb. 2012

Virtually all laws, at least beyond those that are purely administrative or relating to health and safety, are moral choices of one sort or another. They set the outer bounds of what is morally acceptable or required in our society. So it is no surprise that when Obama speaks of his latest mandate to require all health care plans to provide free contraception, sterilization and plan-B abortion for women, he does so in the language of morality – to fail to force this mandate on religious employers will, he says, “discriminate against women.”

For most of the past two millenium, the moral source of our laws in Western civilization has been the Judeo-Christian ethic. It has provided a stable and immutable framework for morality at the heart of Western civilization - one that places the greatest importance on the sanctity of individual human life. And, as many have noted, it likewise provided the basis for our nation:

Nineteenth century historians wrote extensively on the United States of America having a distinctively Protestant character in its outlook and founding political philosophy. . . .

The notion of a distinctive religious basis for American democracy and culture was first described and popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1840s, in his influential book, Democracy in America. In the second chapter, de Tocqueville describes America's unique religious heritage from the Puritans. His analysis showed the Puritans as providing the foundational values of America, based on their strong Hebrew Bible view of the world, which included fighting for earthly political justice, an emphasis on laws and education, and the "chosenness" which the Puritans identified with, giving them a sense of moral mission in founding America. As de Tocqueville observed, the Puritan's biblical outlook gave America a moral dimension which the Old World lacked. De Tocqueville believed these biblical values led to America's unique institutions of religious tolerance, public education, egalitarianism, and democracy.

And to the end of protecting religion in our country, our Founders wrote into the Bill of Rights that Congress could pass no law prohibiting the “free exercise” of religion. As Thomas Jefferson wrote at the time, that meant that Congress's legislative power did not extend to “rights of conscience,” only to affirmative acts taken under the color of religion that threatened the peace. And as I have noted here, the Catholic Church teachings on artificial birth control and abortion have been doctrinal matters of conscience that far predate the signing of our Bill of Rights and, indeed, extend back into antiquity.

Ironically, almost at the same time as Jefferson and Madison were crafting our First Amendment, half a world away, Christianity's mortal enemy, socialism, was being born in the crucible of the French Revolution. One of the first acts of the Revolutionary government was to initiate a systematic and brutal war on the Catholic Church and its clergy. As recounted at the American Spectator:

The secularists of the French Revolution regarded the Roman Catholic Church as the last obstacle to atheism's final triumph. Blurting this out, the French dilettante Denis Diderot proposed to his fellow revolutionaries that they strangle the last priest with the "guts of the last king."

Socialism is a radical ideology that sprang up largely in response to the ills of the industrial revolution. The goal of socialism is to deconstruct traditional Western society and remake it under the auspices of an omnipotent government that would use its police powers to create a new order of ostensible social and economic equality. Socialists replace God with government as the source of morality. As one particularly observant commentor at Legal Insurrection recently opined:

In any left revolution, be it progressive, bolshevik, socialist, fascist, maoist, or bolivaran, it is necessary to knock down organized religion. The Catholic Church competes for the hearts and minds of people and does so effectively, as do the evangelical Protestant churches, etc. Further, the Church is organized and so can put out a message of opposition. So at some point the revolution has to take the Church on, or lose.

And yet another immutable truth of history is that, as socialist governments fully consolidate power, they invariably devalue individual human life. Much of the 20th century's history is written in the blood of over 100 million people slaughtered as part of socialist experiments.

Sixty years after the French Revolution, Karl Marx, socialism's greatest philosopher, famously wrote in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right that religion is the "opium of the people" and that "[t]he abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness." The British socialist party wrote in their 1911 manifesto that "it is a profound truth that Socialism is the natural enemy of religion." Lenin, the father of the Soviet Union's bloody experiment in Communism, wrote in 1905, “The modern class-conscious worker, reared by large-scale factory industry and enlightened by urban life, contemptuously casts aside religious prejudices, leaves heaven to the priests and bourgeois bigots, and tries to win a better life for himself here on earth.” Lenin further noted that “every socialist is, as a rule” an “atheist.” And Hitler himself was of like mind - "“National Socialism and Christianity cannot co-exist together."

And lest there be any doubt, there was Dutch socialist philosopher, Anton Pannekoek, who wrote in a 1907 essay - interesting in part for its incredibly naive belief in an incipient socialist utopia:

The socialist teachings have inoculated the laboring class with an entirely new conception of the world. The realization, that society is in a process of continual transformation, and that misery, poverty, exploitation, and all the suffering of the present are only temporary and will soon yield to an order of society, to be inaugurated by his class, in which peace, abundance, and fraternity shall reign, this realization must revolutionize the whole world conception of the laborer from the ground up. The theory of socialism furnishes the scientific foundation for this world conception. Political economy teaches us to understand the internal laws, which move the capitalist process, while historical materialism lays bare the effects of the economic revolution upon the conceptions and actions of people. And this stands irreconcilably opposed, as a materialistic doctrine, to religion.

Socialism arrived on U.S. shores in the mid 1870's. One of its early adherents was the father of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Ms. Sanger, in a 1915 speech to the Fabian Society in London, described her father as “one of the early pioneers of Socialist thought” and noted that she herself was “rocked in the cradle of socialism.”

Sanger ultimately established Planned Parenthood to promote both contraception and abortion. As to abortion, Sanger, a nurse by training who worked among New York City's poor at the turn of the 20th century, saw many poor women suffering from “dangerous and illegal abortions.” In part motivated to help these women, and in part because she was a eugenicist who wanted to limit the birth rate of blacks, she became the leading advocate for abortion.

Sanger's motivation in pushing contraception overlapped with her motives for advocating abortion, but also went far beyond. She wanted to remove from sex any hindrance of ethical and moral limits, and, in order to promote sex among women, make sex free of the physical consequence of pregnancy.

[Sanger judged] the necessity of breaking down the "codes that have surrounded sexual behavior in the so-called Christian communities, the teachings of the churches concerning chastity and sexual purity, the prohibitions of the laws, and the hypocritical conventions of society."

As a consequence, Sanger became a direct opponent of Christianity, especially the Catholic faith, for the Church was the greatest obstacle opposing the release of the "dynamic energy" of sexuality, and such obstruction for Sanger was "nothing less than foolhardy."

"Instead of laying down hard and fast laws of sexual conduct, instead of attempting to inculcate rules and regulations," as the Church had done, "the teacher of Birth Control seeks to meet the needs of the people," she wrote.

Neither Sanger nor socialism itself was part of the original feminist movement. That movement concerned itself with seeking equality before the law for women, as well as securing their right to vote. The feminist movement didn't become radicalized until American socialists adopted feminism in the 1950's and 1960's and, along with American socialism's than recent adoption of the civil rights movement, made radical feminism part of their raison d'etre. It was then that Sanger's goals and ideas became mainstream as part of the “second,” and now “third wave” of the radicalized feminist movement.

The black civil rights movement, though co-opted and bastardized by the socialists in the 1960's, was long supported by the right - indeed, far more so than by the left. Likewise, gender equality and the right of women to be free from discrimination saw bipartisan support. So to the extent that calls for greater protections in these areas were mainstreamed, our nation was able to affirmatively act on them in the 1960's.

(Just as an aside, let me add here that the Socialist left in the U.S. has, in the past two decades, added others to their stable of victim classes that seek to drive Christianity and Judaism from their place in America - the far left wing of the gay rights activists and the political Islamists who dream of a world without Christians or Jews - or for that matter, gays or godless socialists.)

At any rate, the radical aspects of the socialist movement – attacks on religion, as well as pushing for unrestricted abortion and contraception, saw limited success at the ballot box through the mid-20th century. Consequently, socialists turned to the Courts to achieve what they could not through legislation.

In the mid-20th century, the American socialist left used the ACLU - an organization specifically formed to further socialism and communism - to bring a series of Court cases designed to remove religion from the public square and elevate the ethos articulated by Margaret Sanger. The socialists sought judicial activism – and by and large, the Courts complied. Though the Constitution says nothing about abortion or contraception, thus leaving the matters to the states and majority rule by default, the left asked the Court to enshrine abortion and contraception as federal Constitutional rights. Between 1965 (Griswold) and 1972 (Einstadt), the Supreme Court found a “right to privacy” in the “penumbras” of the Constitution such that access to contraception was made a Constitutional right. And then in 1973 (Roe), the Supreme Court, found the same for abortion.

As to religion, it has been under sustained attack by the socialist left through our Courts since 1947 (Everson). wherein the Supreme Court read the 1st Amendment clause prohibiting the federal government from establishing a national church to mean “a wall of separation between Church and State.” Where for almost two centuries there had been fairly substantial involvement of a generic Christianity in the public square, the Supreme Court, in a series of subsequent cases, changed that completely. In 1963 (Engle), the Court ruled prayer in school unconstitutional. In 1989 (Allegheny County), the Court ruled that a creche, prominently displayed in a Courthouse at Christmas, was unconstitutional. In 2005 (McCreary County), the Court held unconstitutional displays of the Ten Commandments in several Kentucky courthouses. But perhaps the biggest victory the left gained through the Court's was the 2002 decision in Lawrence v. Summers, a case seeking to hold Texas's laws against sodomy unconstitutional. Implicit in the holding of that case was a finding that Christian morality, standing alone, is no longer a “rational basis” to uphold our laws. The potential ramifications of that decision have not yet begun to be plumbed.

The election of Barack Obama brought to the White House the first true child of America's socialist movement. And though he nominally claims to be a Christian – he claims conversion not to the words of the bible, but to the political polemics of Rev. Jeremiah Wright – he has also publicly proclaimed that we are no longer a Christian nation. That was an aspirational statement at the time. It is difficult to believe that Obama's Christianity is anything other than a bare patina on his political ambitions.

Regardless, it is no surprise now to see Obama attempting to bring to fruition the socialist goal of weakening religion as an important force in America. With Obama in power, the socialist left has won at the ballot box and need not rely on the Courts, at least for the moment. Obama would see the Margaret Sanger's radical socialism become the moral underpinning of our laws, not merely as an alternative to Christianity as they exist now in our law, but over top of it. That is what Obama is doing with his HHS mandate to force all Christians, including Catholic institutions, to fund healthcare that will provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and plan-B abortion pills free to all women covered by the plan. And for Obama to portray this as a moral good – saying that to do anything else would be to discriminate against women – is simply obscene.

To direct this healthcare mandate at Christians is a raw power play, nothing more and nothing less. If Obama succeeds in this, then indeed, we really will have made the final push into a brave new world. The Courts have raised socialist ethos above religion as the basis of our laws, and now Obama intends to use the socialitst ethos to to significantly drive religion even further from its historic and Constitutionally protected role in our society. Obama's aspirational statement will be made good. For the first time in our history, we really will not be a Christian nation. This is a critical moment in our nation's history.

As I wrote in Part I of this three-part essay, the original intent of our Founding Fathers in passing the Free Exercise of Religion clause should protect the Church from Obama's mandate. And as I wrote in Part II of this essay, the current law surrounding the Free Exercise clause, would also likely find Obama's mandate unconstitutional, though it is far messier given the current state of the law. Let's hope that I am right.

Update: Greg, a former Catholic seminarian and now a history teacher who blogs at Rhymes With Right, believes the time is right for Pope Benedict XVI to respond to this assault on religion with a four part encyclical. Part 1 would be a statement of the proper roles of Church and State. Part 2 would be by-name excommunication of those Catholics supporting Obama's policy, starting with HHS Supervisor Kathleen Sebelius. Greg's suggested third part "ought to be a reminder to American Catholics of the importance of bringing their faith into the public square and voting booth." And lastly, "lest the encyclical be seen as a rejection of the whole idea of health care accessibility, there should be a fourth section reminding the faithful of the Church's continuing devotion to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and that it is for this reason that the many schools, hospitals, and agencies subject to the Obama regulation operate." It sounds eminently reasonable to me. Do visit his site and read the entire post.

Update: Kindly linked at Bookwormroom, Larwyn's Linx and Seraphic Secret.

Update: And kindly linked at the Watcher's Council for this week's nominations.


Floyd Alsbach said...

Excellent. The only thing about all of this which is hard to understand is why so many of my Democratic/Liberal friends are convinced that none of this is true. That the Bishops, and many Catholic faithful, are just stupid/hard headed. They say; "it's just about contraception, what's your problem?' At 7:30 mass when our local priest read the letter from our Bishop, we broke out into applause. Not since Vietnam have I heard a gov't lie constantly and consistently, all the while maintaining a perfectly straight face. The killer is that they all have obvious 'tells' any objective viewer should catch. Yet few seem to catch it... Frankly this is a nightmare, where it is leading is obvious. Solzenitsyn was not only a Chronicler of self conscious, carefully planned evil, sadly, he was also a PROPHET!

J.P. Travis said...

I agree with Floyd: excellent series of articles. By taking us back to the difference between the American and French revolutions, you've exposed the powerful forces doing battle.

Unknown said...

Great post , i've took the liberty to linking your post.
I fear that Obama will use this stand once he gets a second term to "reform" read abolish the Constitution, he'll bring forward something in the kind of "I stoud agains the 'old fashioned'Constitution and the people backed me and voted for me."We need a new 'modern' constitution in this day and age.

billm99uk said...

I must admit, it has been so long since I have read or heard anyone called a "naif" (Ivanhoe?) that I had to look it up. I was prepared to give Willis kudos if it made sense, but "naif" merely means "naive."

Oh come on now! A man with a tag for "Geoffrey of Monmouth" in his blog sidebar (bet you'll be using that one a lot!) claims not to know what "faux naif" means? Surely not! Dock that man a couple of intellectual brownie points forthwith! ;)

Anonymous said...

Liberals tell us a lot about how they think by the language they use. I was struck by the frequency with which they make references to 'alienation' and was tracking this down when I ran across a stunningly important observation in an essay by the philosopher R. T. Allen.

In short, socialism is the secular reinvention of Gnosticism via the type/anti-type of Marx.

Gnoticism teaches that human spirit was God, is now trapped in the evil matierial and only through the sufficient knowledge, can we return to be God. The process of being removed from God is called "alienation", a theme that should be familiar to students of Marx, even as he put a secular interpretation on it. Humanity could return to God when it achieved the perfect socialist condition. The foundational ideas of Gnosticism go back to the time of Plato.

"To understand [alienation] we have to go back behind Hegel, the immediate
source of Marx's ideas, to Hegel's own ultimate source: viz. Gnosticism.
For alienation is the central theme of Gnosticism, along with the
saving knowledge of how we became alienated, and from what, and of
how we can escape from it. That theme is summarized in the Valentinian

'What liberates is the knowledge of who we were, what we became;
where we were, whereinto we came; what birth is and what rebirth.'

All the Gnostic texts, though they differ in details, declare that we are
strangers, aliens, sparks of Light or Spirit trapped in evil matter. They
recount the cosmic process whereby the circles of the world have been
created, by ignorant or evil creators and not by the Light, and whereby
we have become entrapped in the midmost or deepest dungeon. Finally
they impart the knowledge needed to escape back to the one Light
whence we have come and which is our real home.

This is the pattern of thought that Hegel took over. But, rejecting all
other-worldliness, he sought to reconcile men to this world, of nature
and society, from which they had become estranged. We are the vehicles
of a self-creating Geist which, in order to become and to know
itself, has gone out into what is most alien to itself—the merely physical
world of Newtonian science—and is progressively coming thence to its
full self-realization and self-knowledge in and through human life and
history. With this knowledge, given by Hegel's own philosophy, man's
alienation from the world is in principle, overcome although Geist has
not yet fully realized itself in the world.

Marx took from Hegel two basic themes of Gnosticism, which Hegel
had secularized, and re-interpreted them in his own way: viz. the
cosmic drama of a fall into alienation from nature and one's fellow men,
and the saving knowledge, Marxism, which explains this and the way
out of alienation back to an unalienated existence. But in one central
respect Marx did not fully learn the lesson that Hegel had to teach him
about modifying ancient Gnosticism.

The Gnostic texts state that we are sparks of Light or fragments of
Spirit (pneuma), and imply that we are distinct from each other and
from the Light or Spirit only because of our fall or seduction into the
circles of the world. As we fell through each circle, we were clothed
with an outer covering. The return to the Light will be a reversal of that
process, so that, as we pass back through each circle we shall strip off
each coating. Consequently, but this is never stated, as far as I know, at
the end of that process each spark or fragment will cease to be distinct
and will merge back into the One Light or Spirit. Hence the End will be
the same as the Beginning."

From Flew, Marx and Gnosticism, by R.T. Allen,
Philosophy Vol 68, No 263, (Jan, 1993),
pp. 94-98

("Flew" is Antony Flew, 1923-2010, a British philosopher. NB: this paper is behind the paywall at

Lisa G in NZ said...

good post... thanks for stopping my my blog, too :)

cheers from a conservative Illinois girl gone Galt living in NZ