Beliefnet

The question concerning the relationship between faith and politics is one that has arrested the attention of many an American.  But it is during election seasons, particularly presidential election seasons, that it assumes a larger than usual importance in the American consciousness.  It is during this time that candidates exhaust themselves explaining the respects in which their religious convictions inform their political convictions.

Religion and politics, though conceptually distinct activities, do indeed intersect in all manner of ways.  Such encounters are much more frequently than not contentious, and sometimes—as in the present case of President Barack Obama’s confrontation with the Catholic Church—they can be downright acrimonious.

In focusing on this episode, we are able to clearly discern the intimate nature of the connection between “religious liberty” and liberty generally, faith and culture, faith and politics, in American life.


The Obama Administration and the Catholic Church

A couple of weeks ago, while attending mass at my local parish, the priest read from a letter written by the Arch Bishop of our diocese.  The subject of the letter was the Health and Human Services Department’s requirement that Catholic institutions provide “free” contraceptives to their employees. 

My Bishop, along with Catholic clergy and laity around the country, insisted that Catholics could not and would not comply with such a law, for inasmuch as it both infringed upon Catholics’ “religious liberty” and coerced them to act in violation of their “consciences,” it was unjust.

Although President Obama later announced that Catholic institutions would be exempted from this demand, that only insurance companies would be legally compelled to comply with it, the truth of the matter is that health care insurers will have no economically viable option but to ultimately shift the costs of making these provisions onto the employer—i.e. the Catholic Church.  Obama, that is, isn’t making any concessions.  He is simply playing the proverbial shell game. 

Thus, the position of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis Obamacare has not in the least bit altered.

This episode speaks to a range of issues the breadth of which the chattering class, as far as I can determine, has yet to appreciate.  This controversy, as much as any, readily reveals the multiple ways in which faith and politics, the public and the private, relate to one another.  

The Obama Administration and the Catholic Church

A couple of weeks ago, while attending mass at my local parish, the priest read from a letter written by the Arch Bishop of our diocese.  The subject of the letter was the Health and Human Services Department’s requirement that Catholic institutions provide “free” contraceptives to their employees. 

My Bishop, along with Catholic clergy and laity around the country, insisted that Catholics could not and would not comply with such a law, for inasmuch as it both infringed upon Catholics’ “religious liberty” and coerced them to act in violation of their “consciences,” it was unjust.

Although President Obama later announced that Catholic institutions would be exempted from this demand, that only insurance companies would be legally compelled to comply with it, the truth of the matter is that health care insurers will have no economically viable option but to ultimately shift the costs of making these provisions onto the employer—i.e. the Catholic Church.  Obama, that is, isn’t making any concessions.  He is simply playing the proverbial shell game. 

Thus, the position of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis Obamacare has not in the least bit altered.

This episode speaks to a range of issues the breadth of which the chattering class, as far as I can determine, has yet to appreciate.  This controversy, as much as any, readily reveals the multiple ways in which faith and politics, the public and the private, relate to one another.  

An Issue of Liberty
Partisans on all sides of this issue tend to frame it in terms of a question of “religious liberty.”  I beg to differ.  Those who speak thus, like those who speak of “economic liberty,” “positive rights,” “negative rights,” and the like, speak confusedly.  What is at issue here is nothing more or less than liberty itself.

The liberty which, as Americans, we claim to prize may very well be a dispensation from God.  I, for one, thank God regularly for it.  But it is something that comes to us directly from the broad dispersal of power and authority of which our constitutional arrangements consist.  To put it more simply, our liberty is comprised of a complex of liberties implied by the federal design that those who framed and ratified the Constitution imposed upon the United States government.  Such explicit “freedoms” as are found in the Bill of Rights and those that are implicit elsewhere throughout the Constitution are the obverse of the federal government’s obligations—namely, its obligations to refrain from undermining its federal character by usurping those “powers” that are reserved to the states.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus