The Corner

Pray for the Mandate

As the date for Supreme Court oral arguments in the Obamacare case draws near, the White House is working to orchestrate demonstrations in support of the law. The New York Times today reports:

On Wednesday, White House officials summoned dozens of leaders of nonprofit organizations that strongly back the health law to help them coordinate plans for a prayer vigil, press conferences and other events outside the court when justices hear arguments for three days beginning March 26.

Looking over the constitutional arguments offered by the administration’s lawyers in defense of the individual mandate, it is perhaps not too difficult to see why the White House deemed itself in need of prayer. But the irony is pretty stunning nonetheless.

 

The Obama administration has just put into force a new regulation under Obamacare that amounts to the most far-reaching instance of governmental religious intolerance since the Blaine Amendments. There is no other word but intolerance to describe what the rule aims to do: It doesn’t say that people should have the freedom to use contraceptive or abortive drugs—which of course they do have in our country. It doesn’t even say that the government should facilitate people’s access to these drugs—which of course it does today and has for many years, at great public expense. It says, rather, that the Catholic Church and others who have religious objections to the use of such drugs should facilitate people’s access to them. It says that we will not tolerate an institution in our society that, for religious reasons, is not willing to actively put into effect the views of those in power regarding contraception, abortion, and sterilization——that we won’t just let it be and find other ways to put those views into effect but will compel the dissenting institution itself to participate in the facilitation of access to these things on behalf of the people it employs, or else we will levy a heavy fine against it. We cannot abide even passive disagreement. That is a refusal to exercise even a moderate portion of toleration toward religious believers and institutions. It says, in effect, that the substance of religious convictions merits no regard from the state. And yet it seems that the forms of religious practice can be marshaled in the service of political objectives. The prayer vigil as PR stunt is expected to coexist with rank intolerance as public policy, and the White House itself is encouraging the stunt.

 

But don’t tell the White House they’re encouraging a stunt. As the Times goes on to note:

Sensitive to the idea that they were encouraging demonstrations, White House officials denied that they were trying to gin up support by encouraging rallies outside the Supreme Court, just a stone’s throw from Congress on Capitol Hill. They said a main purpose of this week’s meeting, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, was to give the various groups a chance to learn of the plans.

Well at least they’re sensitive to something.

Yuval Levin is the editor of National Affairs and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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