This past Sunday on This Week, George Will said of the HHS mandate: “This is what liberalism looks like. This is what the progressive state does. It tries to break all the institutions of civil society, all the institutions that mediate between the individual and the state. They have to break them to the saddle of the state.” He went on to say: “The Catholic bishops, it serves them right. They’re the ones who were really hot for Obamacare, with few exceptions. But they were all in favor of this.”
This was a few days ago now, but I keep hearing it . . .
Second thing first. The Catholic bishops were a thorn in the side of the Obama administration and congressmen who were looking for an excuse to fold and vote for it. It did not adequately protect life and conscience, and so they opposed its passage.
And America’s Catholic bishops includes some real leaders, who George Will might appreciate knowing are not rubes when it comes to the dangers of the progressive state. Take Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who wrote the other day:
America’s founders understood that human life is more than politics or economics. They created structures of government and an economic system intended to promote individual liberty. They also created a space of freedom in which a rich “civil society” could grow — all sorts of independent churches and religions, neighborhood groups, clubs, volunteer organizations, trade unions, leagues, charities, foundations and more.
In the founders’ vision of civil society, churches and religious agencies held a special place. They believed religion was essential for democracy to flourish because religion instills the values and virtues people need for self-government.
That’s why the First Amendment protects churches and individuals from the government meddling in what they believe, or in how they express and live out those beliefs. That’s also why the government has always felt comfortable providing funding for Church charities and ministries that serve the common good of all Americans.
What’s been happening in recent decades is that government at all levels has been exerting greater influence in almost every area of American life.
In the process, non-governmental institutions are being crowded out of our public life. Civil society is shrinking and the influence of civic associations in our lives is getting weaker. The rights and freedoms of churches are increasingly restricted by court orders and government policies. Religious freedom is now reduced to the freedom to pray and to go to church.
And more and more, Church agencies are now treated as if they are arms of the government. Increasingly, these agencies are expected to serve and submit to the government’s agendas and priorities.
None of this is good for our democracy or our individual liberties.
America’s founders knew that a strong civil society and flourishing faith communities are our last best protection against tyranny — against the government becoming too big and all-powerful and all-controlling in our lives.
That is why I think this new mandate has struck such a nerve — not only with Catholics and other believers, but also with millions of our fellow citizens.
People are realizing that if the government denies our fundamental freedom to hold religious beliefs and to order our lives according to these beliefs, then there is no real freedom for anyone.
This new mandate moves us closer to what Pope Benedict XVI warned against in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”): “The state which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself … a state which regulates and controls everything.”
These things are worth noting for the sake of truth and justice.
And, sometimes you have more allies than you realize.