What Would Dagger John Do?

by Michael Walsh

In 1844, faced with a Nativist threat to burn down St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (at Prince and Mott streets), John J. Hughes, the Irish-born bishop (and later first archbishop) of New York, gathered several thousand of his mostly Irish parishioners and deployed them around the church. Any attack on the cathedral, warned the man known as “Dagger John,” would be repulsed with force. The Nativists backed down.

During the Civil War, Hughes undertook a secret mission to Europe at the personal request of Abraham Lincoln, to rally support for the Union cause and keep Britain from entering the war on the side of the Confederacy. This he did in part by explaining the facts of the life to the English: that they’d have no luck in raising troops in restive, famine-stricken Ireland to fight against America, and a great deal of trouble if they tried.

Those were the days of the two-fisted Irish clergy, who understood their dual American roles as both the spiritual leaders of their people and — when necessary — political figures as well. But those days are long gone (Cardinal O’Connor was the last of the line).

So who will protect the American Church from the latest threat, this one from the hatchet-faced secretary of Health and Human Services (and why does such a department even exist?), Kathleen Sebelius, and her boss President Obama? As I wrote in my New York Post column yesterday:

Friday’s ruling by the Department of Health and Human Services proved yet again that ObamaCare’s critics are right. It’s a breathtaking attack not only on the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, but also on the separation of church and state.

Kathleen Sebelius, the nominally Catholic HHS chief, bluntly informed religious medical institutions that offer services to the general public that she will indeed compel them to offer free birth control, sterilization and “morning after” pills as part of their employees’ health-care plans. They have exactly one year to get with the program or suffer the consequences.

That’s all their vehement objections to her August “guidelines” got them: “This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule,” read a department statement defending HHS’ insistence on what it euphemistically calls “preventive services.”

In other words, they have a year to figure out how to violate their religious beliefs and contravene church teaching. And if they choose to cancel their health-care plans rather than submit, they’ll incur a hefty annual fine under the tender mercies of ObamaCare.

“Separation of church and state,” of course, is nowhere to be found in the Constitution (the phrase comes from Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists), but it’s a concept much beloved of the Left, for one very obvious reason: anything that can attack traditional morality and non-governmental institutions is a twofer for them, even as they merrily take to the pulpits in black churches and preach the gospel of governmental secularism, dependency, envy, and general wretchedness. 

So now here comes the Left, busily breaching their beloved wall in order to interfere with religious doctrine — especially the religion they most despise, Roman Catholicism. By any means necessary, indeed:

Never mind that the administration just got its head handed to it by the Supreme Court over religious freedom. In a slam-dunk 9-0 vote, the justices this month slapped down Team Obama’s claim that it, not religious institutions, has the right to decide who qualifies for the “ministerial exception” to employment-discrimination laws.

Liberal and conservative justices alike rejected the Justice Department’s ludicrous argument that religious teachers are no different than, say, soda jerks.

And yet it’s right there in the first words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” had Attorney General Eric Holder’s ideologues bothered to look.

Now Sebelius follows up with more of the same. Conservatives have been howling for years about the left’s war on traditional faith, and now here it is in all its naked, unabashed glory.

And this is only the beginning — if the Obama administration, hanging by its fingertips heading into the next election — can be this bold about its inherent anti-constitutionalism and practical anti-Americanism (hello, recess appointments; come on down, Keystone pipeline), just think of what’s in store during a second term when “fundamental change” really gets rolling.

It’s good to see the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops making noises about suing the government, but it would be even better to see Archbishop (and Cardinal-designate) Timothy Dolan get out front on this issue in a very public way. “Conscientious objectors” and “civil disobedience” were all the rage on the left during the Vietnam War and the draft,” and it’s high time we tried the same tactic on them: Catholic institutions should simply ignore the law, refuse to implement it, and refuse to pay the Obamacare fines — and dare the Left utter a peep about “higher morality.” There are 77 million Catholics in the U.S., and an awful lot of them vote.

In other words, Archbishop Dolan and his confreres ought to ask themselves, What Would Dagger John Do? No need for mobs this time, just morals. But if they’re not going to vigorously defend their own faith, in a Church Militant sort of way, who will?