Announcing his support for Commissar Sebelius’s edicts on contraception, sterilization, and pharmacological abortion, that noted theologian the Most Reverend Al Sharpton explained: “If we are going to have a separation of church and state, we’re going to have a separation of church and state.”
Thanks for clarifying that. The church model the young American state wished to separate from was that of the British monarch, who remains to this day supreme governor of the Church of England. This convenient arrangement dates from the 1534 Act of Supremacy. The title of the law gives you the general upshot, but, just in case you’re a bit slow on the uptake, the text proclaims “the King’s Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England.” That’s to say, the sovereign is “the only supreme head on earth of the Church” and he shall enjoy “all honors, dignities, pre-eminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity,” not to mention His Majesty “shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, record, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offenses, contempts, and enormities, whatsoever they be.”
#ad#Welcome to Obamacare.
The president of the United States has decided to go Henry VIII on the Church’s medieval ass. Whatever religious institutions might profess to believe in the matter of “women’s health,” their pre-eminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, and immunities are now subordinate to a one-and-only supreme head on earth determined to repress, redress, restrain, and amend their heresies. One wouldn’t wish to overextend the analogy: For one thing, the Catholic Church in America has been pathetically accommodating of Beltway bigwigs’ ravenous appetite for marital annulments in a way that Pope Clement VII was disinclined to be vis-à-vis the English king and Catherine of Aragon. But where’d all the pandering get them? In essence President Obama has embarked on the same usurpation of church authority as Henry VIII: As his Friday morning faux-compromise confirms, the continued existence of a “faith-based institution” depends on submission to the doctrinal supremacy of the state.
“We will soon learn,” wrote Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “just how much faith is left in faith-based institutions.” Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s vicar on earth, has sportingly offered to maintain religious liberty for those institutions engaged in explicit religious instruction to a largely believing clientele. So we’re not talking about mandatory condom dispensers next to the pulpit at St. Pat’s — not yet. But that is not what it means to be a Christian: The mission of a Catholic hospital is to minister to the sick. When a guy shows up in Emergency bleeding all over the floor, the nurse does not first establish whether he is Episcopalian or Muslim; when an indigent is in line at the soup kitchen the volunteer does not pause the ladle until she has determined whether he is a card-carrying papist. The government has redefined religion as equivalent to your Sunday best: You can take it out for an hour to go to church, but you gotta mothball it in the closet the rest of the week. So Catholic institutions cannot comply with Commissar Sebelius and still be in any meaningful sense Catholic.
If you’re an atheist or one of America’s ever more lapsed Catholics, you’re probably shrugging: What’s the big deal? But the new Act of Supremacy doesn’t stop with religious institutions. As Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put it: “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by this mandate.” And so would any of his burrito boys who object to being forced to make “health care” arrangements at odds with their conscience.
#page#None of this should come as a surprise. As Philip Klein pointed out in the American Spectator two years ago, the Obamacare bill contained 700 references to the secretary “shall,” another 200 to the secretary “may,” and 139 to the secretary “determines.” So the secretary may and shall determine pretty much anything she wants, as the Obamaphile rubes among the Catholic hierarchy are belatedly discovering. His Majesty King Barack “shall have full power and authority to visit, repress, redress, record, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offenses, contempts, and enormities whatsoever they be.” In my latest book, I cite my personal favorite among the epic sweep of Commissar Sebelius’s jurisdictional authority:
“The Secretary shall develop oral healthcare components that shall include tooth-level surveillance.”
#ad#Before Obama’s Act of Supremacy did the English language ever have need for such a phrase? “Tooth-level surveillance”: from the Declaration of Independence to dentured servitude in a mere quarter-millennium.
Henry VIII lacked the technological wherewithal to conduct tooth-level surveillance. In my friskier days, I dated a girl from an eminent English Catholic family whose ancestral home, like many of the period, had a priest’s hiding hole built into the wall behind an upstairs fireplace. These were a last desperate refuge for clerics who declined to subordinate their conscience to state authority. In my time, we liked to go in there and make out. Bit of a squeeze, but it all adds to the fun — as long as you don’t have to spend weeks, months, and years back there. In an age of tooth-level surveillance, tyranny is subtler, incremental but eminently enforceable: regulatory penalties, denial of licenses, frozen bank accounts. Will the Church muster the will to resist? Or (as Archbishop Dolan’s pitifully naïve remarks suggest) will this merely be one more faint bleat lost in what Matthew Arnold called the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the Sea of Faith?
In England, those who dissented from the strictures of the state church came to be known as Nonconformists. That’s a good way of looking at it: The English Parliament passed various “Acts of Uniformity.” Why? Because they could. Obamacare, which governmentalizes one-sixth of the U.S. economy and micro-regulates both body and conscience, is the ultimate Act of Uniformity. Is there anyone who needs contraception who can’t get it? Taxpayers give half a billion dollars to Planned Parenthood, who shovel out IUDs like aspirin. Colleges hand out free condoms, and the Washington Post quotes middle-aged student “T Squalls, 30” approving his university’s decision to upgrade to the Trojan “super-size Magnum.”
But there’s still one or two Nonconformists out there, and they have to be forced into ideological compliance. “Maybe the Founders were wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion in the First Amendment,” Melinda Henneberger of the Washington Post offered to Chris Matthews on MSNBC. At the National Press Club, young Catholics argued that the overwhelming majority of their coreligionists disregard the Church’s teachings on contraception, so let’s bring the vox Dei into alignment with the vox populi. Get with the program, get with the Act of Uniformity.
The bigger the Big Government, the smaller everything else: First, other pillars of civil society are crowded out of the public space; then, the individual gets crowded out, even in his most private, tooth-level space. President Obama, Commissar Sebelius, and many others believe in one-size-fits-all national government — uniformity, conformity, supremacy from Maine to Hawaii, for all but favored cronies. It is a doomed experiment — and on the morning after it will take a lot more than a morning-after pill to make it all go away.