“First Freedom” At Risk

“Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics….”

— President Obama at Notre Dame, May 2009


“Trust not their presents, nor admit the horse.”

–The Aeneid


Two and a half years after President Obama was given an honorary degree at America’s flagship Catholic university and delivered its commencement address, at least we have clarity.  The folly of those Catholics who issued and defended that invitation, like the Trojans who wheeled the great wooden horse inside their city walls, has been laid bare.  Willful blindness regarding this Administration’s true intentions is no longer possible.

With the eager assistance of old friends at Planned Parenthood, Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius recently unveiled a list of “preventive services” that all private and public health plans will eventually be required to provide.  It includes contraceptives, sterilization, and even the abortifacient “ella,” which has the capacity to end a pregnancy after fertilization.  Because the new policy prohibits copays or deductibles for these “services,” they will for provided for “free.”  Which means they will be paid for with the premiums and taxes of people who do not use these services and who object to them.

The most insidious aspect of this new “contraceptive mandate” is the so-called religious exemption, which only applies to religious employers that have the inculcation of religious values as their purpose, and that employ and serve people who share their religious beliefs.  It will therefore not apply to Catholic universities, hospitals, and charitable organizations that serve the general public.

This is of a piece with the Obama Administration’s various efforts to define religious freedom down to mean nothing more than the freedom to worship in private.  The broad, two-centuries old understanding of the First Amendment’s guarantee of “free exercise” is being eviscerated.  A new, circumscribed understanding of religious liberty is being implemented, by fiat, by those who reject religion’s legitimate contribution to the public square.

Thus under the new policy, religious institutions are only rewarded with a religious exemption if they restrict their activities to worship.  But if they function as full participants in society, bringing their faith to bear on public life through education, health care, and advocacy, they will then be forced to provide medical services they find deeply immoral.

Religious freedom is the cornerstone not only of our constitutional order, but of the American project itself.  Four hundred years after the Pilgrims set sail for these shores, a generation seemingly anesthetized to all concerns other than self-gratification stands on the verge of forfeiting our most precious inheritance, like Jack and the Beanstalk, for some free pills.


–Michael Schuttloffel