Magazine | February 20, 2012, Issue

The Catholic State

So the Health Commissar, Kathleen Sebelius, has decided that, under Obamacare, religious institutions, like any other employer, will be required to offer their workers free contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. Well, there’s a surprise.

This entirely predictable news was received with stunned bewilderment by Obamaphile rubes such as the Reverend John Jenkins of Notre Dame, who in 2009 gave the president both an honorary degree and his imprimatur in exchange for the promise of a “sensible” approach to conflicts between church and state. Now that they’re on the receiving end of Obama’s good sense, many of America’s Catholic bishops have issued protests, characteristically anguished and hand-wringing but betraying little understanding of the stakes.

In a land of Big Government, everything else gets real small. In the U.S., the Catholic Church, aside from abortion, is generally on board with the “social justice” agenda. It never seemed to occur to them to ask themselves, If health care is a “human right” in the debased contemporary sense (i.e., not a restraint upon the state — as in Magna Carta — but a gift of the state), then who gets to define what health care is?

Answer: Commissar Sebelius. As government grows, the separation of church and state is replaced by the state as church — an established religion of sacred secularism that crowds any rivals out of the public square. The Obama administration’s distinction — of a “religious exemption” that applies to a building where sermons and sacraments are taking place but not to Catholic hospitals or schools — is explicitly intended to shrivel the space for religious belief: If you’re in, say, the adoption business, you can either offer your services to gay couples or get out of the biz entirely. Either way, the state church wins. Religion is fine as a private code that you deposit in the umbrella stand as you exit your house every morning, but it may not govern your conduct beyond your front door. If you insist on being Catholic, you must be Catholic in the sense of a Kerryesque Democrat on the stump: “Of course, I’m personally, passionately, deeply, passionately, personally opposed to abortion, but I would never dream of letting my deeply passionately personal beliefs interfere with my legislative agenda.”

So throughout the Western world, when parents object to kindergartners’ being taught about the joys of same-sex marriage, they’re told by the school board: Tough. That’s just the way it is. You uptight squares need to get with the beat.

Except: There is one conspicuous holdout against the secularist enforcers. When Muslim parents in Bristol, England, raised a fuss about their grade-schoolers’ being fed gay marriage in the curriculum, a panicked administration yanked the books in nothing flat. If it’s a choice between Heather Has Two Mommies and Heather Has Four Mommies and a Big Bearded Daddy Who Wants to Marry Her Off to a Cousin Back in Pakistan, bet on the latter.

As Commissar Sebelius was laying down the law to American Catholics, a Montreal couple and their son were convicted of a multiple “honor killing.” Immigrants from Afghanistan, the Shafias had coolly plotted around the kitchen table the murder of all three of their daughters (plus one of the father’s wives), and then carried it out, by drowning them in the Rideau Canal near Kingston, Ontario — for the crime of wishing to live as North American teenage girls. The father was caught on tape saying, “May the devil s**t on their graves!” — which he gamely attempted on the witness stand to pass off as some sort of traditional greeting in Dari.

#page#Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti Shafia had told various teachers, social workers, and police officers that they were being beaten, that they wanted to be placed in foster homes, and that their parents and brother were planning to kill them. And in every instance the enforcers of the secular state prioritized deference to Islam over the fate of the girls. They still do. The court rescheduled its Friday sittings to accommodate Muslim prayers. And, in striking contrast to, say, the Matthew Shepard murder, the media coverage of the case was inordinately preoccupied with emphasizing that no broader conclusions should be drawn about Islam’s attitude to women.

In other words, Islam seems to be finding it a lot easier than Catholicism to get a “religious exemption.” Here’s a caption from the Toronto Star accompanying a picture of the cafeteria at a local public school: “At Valley Park Middle School, Muslim students participate in the Friday prayer service. Menstruating girls, at the very back, do not take part.”

Yes, that’s right. At the cafeteria of a taxpayer-funded school in North America in the early 21st century, the boys enter through the main door and sit in the front row; the girls, being inferior, enter through a rear door and sit behind them; and the menstruating girls, being unclean, sit at the very back and are forbidden to participate. The school board says relax, there’s nothing to see here: So many Muslim kids were bunking off to the local mosque for Friday prayers and coming in late for transgender-history class or whatever, it made more sense to give the imam the cafeteria to hold his prayers in. How’s that for a “sensible” balance?

So the good news for the Reverend Jenkins et al. is that the big-government one-size-fits-all secular state is actually quite easy to drive a coach and horses through. The bad news is the guys willing to climb on the buckboard and take the reins.

– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline.

Mark Steyn — Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist. That’s to say, his latest book, After America (2011), is a top-five bestseller in ...

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