The Catholic Church has never understood itself merely as an inside-the-church institution. It regards itself as living in all its members and in their daily work, above all in the works of mercy sketched out by the Sermon on the Mount. The authenticity of worship and public liturgy is proved only when worshippers go out into the world and prove that they love their neighbors by meeting real needs. That is how any Christian knows whether or not he loves God, Whom he does not see — only when he loves his neighbor, whom he does see.
HHS does not see religion that way. Neither does President Obama. The two of them have no scruple about a U.S. administration, for the first time in our history, trampling so heavily, blindly, and arrogantly upon the right of worshippers to define religion in their own way, not the government’s way. Never has an administration stomped so heavily beyond its constitutional powers into the vineyards of religious doctrine and its free exercise.
This despised mandate is, then, a violation by one most powerful political institution
, the state, against the integrity of those other major institutions
that are outside
the power of the state — the churches and synagogues and mosques. The Constitution in its First Amendment insists that “Congress shall make no law . . .” and it clearly does not mean that the president or his Department of Health and Human Services has the constitutional power to do so either.
(4) The fourth hidden premise is that the president also has the power to trample on the free exercise of religion by individual laypersons of faith and devotion. If they do not work directly in a house of worship, the president says, these individuals are bound by this unconstitutional mandate, even if it violates their consciences.
Summarizing (3) and (4), the president’s mandate is not just a violation by the major political institution, the state, against institutions outside the power of the state, the churches and synagogues and mosques. In addition, Caesar is tromping clumsily into the privileged territory of the religious consciences of individuals. Two violations, of institutions and of individuals.
The new Caesars, the totalitarians of our own liberal society, are those who sin against tolerance by laying down their own naked will as the law for others, by deception, and executed through hidden premises. This deception is properly labeled, not as a “contraception mandate,” but as “the grossest violation of the separation of church and state by any administration in American history.”
— Michael Novak is distinguished visiting professor at Ave Maria University and co-author, with Jana Novak, of Washington’s God.