The Corner

Obama’s Mixed-Up View of the Common Good

Christopher Tollefsen writes

necessary, essential, and universally recognized policy judgments of religious institutions are something that reasonable legislators should always take cognizance of, for the common good includes prominently not just the goods and services provided by such institutions, but the good of having such institutions, of enabling religious individuals to work together to constitute a religious identity and fulfill a religious mission. My point here is not that the pluralism that results from the existence of such institutions is good, although it often is; rather, it is that the forms of community life in service of human goods that these institutions make possible are themselves goods critical to human well-being; respect for such institutions is thus a critical part of a nation’s moral obligations.

In addition to its neglect of the burdens on conscience the mandate would create, the Obama administration seems entirely to have overlooked this essential part of the common good. It rather chose to believe not only that some spurious services are part of the common good, but also that the common good includes only the provision of such services. That mistake is a threat not only to religious liberty, but to the liberty of citizens more broadly, for it treats human well-being entirely as a matter of what can be provided to them, and not as a matter of what must be done by them, working together with their fellow citizens for their fulfillment in community.  Were the central task of government to be seen as that of aiding citizens in their own self-constitution, oriented toward real human goods including the good of religion, mandates such as the one here under consideration would be seen for the unjust impositions they are.


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