The Corner

WaPo Political Writer: ‘Maybe the Founders were wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion . . .’

From a self-described “left-leaning Catholic writer,” the Washington Post’s associate editor political writer Melinda Henneberger, this is what passes for a defense of faith against the HHS mandate. In an MSNBC interview, Ms. Henneberger told Chris Matthews: “Maybe the founders were wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, but that is what they did and I don’t think we have to choose here.”

As the Blaze goes on to explain, she added that “what [the Obama administration is] doing is guaranteeing people, you know, these Catholic outfits and others, can’t serve the populations that they were called to serve.” That, of course, is true. Her commentary is bracing, though, on a couple of levels. 

First, there is the sheer unreality of it. As someone of Ms. Henneberger’s sophistication must know, the Founders cannot have been wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion. Had they failed to do so, there would have been no nation to found. Free exercise was a deal-breaker for Americans, and the adoption of the Bill of Rights (in which free-exercise was among the core of individual liberties that had to be specified) was a deal breaker for skeptics in several states who believed the Constitution transferred too much power to the federal government.

Second is the tortuous progressive position on the Constitution. It so happens that Ms. Henneberger and I are in agreement on the HHS diktat. But what if the issue were, say, the “right” to abortion, or the suppression of political speech under the guise of campaign finance “reform”? I don’t want to target Ms. Henneberger unfairly here because I haven’t taken the time to research her positions on those matters. But of progressives generally, it can be confidently said that it would not matter what the founders had or had not guaranteed. In the spirit of Woodrow Wilson or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, they would argue that a modern country cannot be shackled by parchment frozen in the Eighteenth Century — better that you consult the constitution of South Africa.

Just so we understand the game, then, if something the Left still likes is enumerated in the Constitution (e.g., recess appointments — at least when a Democrat is in the White House), the Constitution is inviolable and its original intent must be enforced. If something the Left finds repugnant, or at least inconvenient, is enumerated in the Constitution (e.g., freedom of religion, freedom of speech, right to keep and bear arms), the Constitution is a living, breathing, organic Houdini.


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