Mandates, the IDEA of America and the Worrisome Line

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Someone wondered why I seem less plugged in to the “Fortnight for Freedom” than he had expected me to be. I’m not sure why he is surprised; I’ve never been much of a joiner.

But he’s right. I am lukewarm on the F4F, because I am a little uncomfortable with it.

I certainly am in complete agreement with the bishops that the HHS Mandate is an assault on our first amendment right to Freedom of Religion — and that it concerns all believers, not just Catholics.

And I agree with Russell Shaw, who points out that the Catholic church did not go looking for this fight; she would not be calling for religious activism had not her hand been forced by the government, and her motivations impugned by a hysterical press screaming “they want to take away our birth control!”

And certainly, fighting for the sake of the protection of fundamental rights for all — even those who don’t yet realize that they’re rights are being fought for, too — is something I support.

Yet, I am uncomfortable. As much as I dislike the government inserting itself into religious concerns and attempting to redefine the very practice of religion as traditionally understood by Americans, I don’t love seeing my church so politically engaged.

Over the course of the blog, I have previously expressed concerns about an evolving “Ameridolatry” — about the “idea of America” looming so large before our consciences that it crosses an important line and begins to distort the proper place and primacy of God.

I worry that some can confuse the “sacred honor”
with which the founders signed the Declaration of Independence with transcendent holiness; that some might imbue a secular rite with the meaning and power of a sacramental one, or that one can come to regard a public servant, or even a pundit, as a kind of saint.

Perhaps my reservations are tied into my perception that religious activism in politics has generally been the provenance of the Evangelical, Calvinist side of Christianity; Catholics may march for life, but they do not seek to edit the textbooks.

Perhaps it is simply that I am uncomfortable with nationalism beyond a certain point, largely because I belong to a church that has seen nations rise and fall with some regularity over 2000 years, and has learned the wisdom of the psalmist re trusting in princes.

Perhaps I am concerned that the bishops are opening the church up to a charge of partisanship that has never credibly been lain at her doors, before. If we’ve been stalwart defenders of life, and therefore pleasing to the right, we have also recommended humane immigration reform, which is pleasing to the left, and if that brought us a measure of distrust — or even hatred — by extremists on either side, well, at least it was a hate we came by honestly, one that demonstrated the sort of tenuous balance the church has achieved by being a body that embraces both faith and reason. To be suddenly excoriated by one side for the wrong reasons, and embraced by another side — also for the wrong reasons — invites future struggles, future misconceptions about what the church is all about and where she stands on any issue.

More importantly, it invites future dismissals of the church by people who, regardless of their partisan stance, will turn a deaf ear to the resounding message of redemption through Christ — which is our first and primary purpose of being — because they think they know everything about the church, and needn’t listen. This, obviously, affects our outreach toward souls in need of salvation, and whether we can impact and influence souls for better or worse. We already have enough to answer for, on that head.

On the other hand, this government’s insistence that the Church established by Christ bow down before the false god of the State, allowing it to regulate church ministers, or upend effective social work unless it is accompanied by regularly offered obeisances to Moloch is so unjust, so deplorably out of step with the Constitution the president is sworn to uphold and defend, we really have no choice. If the church does not make this fight — and make it for everyone — then America is redefined; the whole “idea” of America becomes warped.

So, no, I don’t love the “fortnight for freedom,” and my prayer is that tomorrow’s ruling on the Individual Mandate, by the Supreme Court, will render concerns about the HHS Mandate largely moot. They are, as Joanne points out, here, completely different issues, but I’m hoping a loss tomorrow, coupled with the recent, largely un-reported-on move by the CHA, may bring Obama and Sebelius to their senses. Still, I will support the F4F, as far as I may.

And no, that will not extend to putting on a foam finger. Sorry, Cardinal Dolan; as much as I loves ya, that’s a form too far for Lizzie.

I know this is not my best, or best-reasoned, work. Having a distracting day with some of the other hats I wear. But I did try to answer the question.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Dagny

    Interesting. I was less thrilled with the Fortnight4Freedom than I otherwise would have been for exactly the opposite reasons. The Bishops and other entities like Notre Dame have a history of supporting forced charity–which as you know isn’t “charity” at all. Unions, redistributionist schemes, advocating criminal activity in the form of illegal immigration, and here-being fine with everyone but them being forced to pay for services in opposition to conscience, is akin to the old adage “Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas”. The Church after the horrors of the 20th century should be incredibly wary of statism, yet it was almost on board with Obamacare and only pulled back when it affected just the Church narrowly defined. The Church, the bride of Christ, is all those in communion with it and all of those souls should be safeguarded from assaults on the conscience. I find it hard to get behind a partial defense of freedom (although I have and will).

  • Manny

    If you don’t engage with resistance, you will continue to get rolled over. This is a huge issue that could determine the church/state relationship in this country forever. The Bishops are right on this.

    [I didn't say I don't agree with the bishops, Manny. But I have valid reservations -admin]

  • Gail Finke

    Like you, I’m not a joiner — my reason is that I am very cautious by nature, and in the past have joined some things I later regretted, so I hate to align myself with a movement. I have a “defend religious freedom” yard sign, but I haven’t put it out yet. I can’t stand the thought of putting it out and having people judge me! I just hate that! And before anyone judges me for that, it’s that sort of thing in particular I hate, not being judged for standing up for something. I’ll write an editorial, I’ll speak, I’ll do lots of things. But yard signs and bumper stickers, stuff like that? No. OTOH, I think that if the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA tomorrow, we will still have to fight. The impetus to destroy the Church, and religion in general, will still be there. We must not be complacent. Especially after what happened in Arizona. I never thought the Federal government would announce what amounts to retaliation against an entire state, but that’s just what it did. What else can we do in a crazy political climate?

  • Sean Gallagher

    When this all started (by the administration), I suspect more than one bishop may have felt cautious, too. But the more they saw how intransigent the administration was on the issue, the more they felt, as you noted that they didn’t have a choice.

    In any case, I think Abp. Chaput made a good point last week in his address at the Catholic Media Conference: “In practice, nothing guarantees our freedoms except our willingness to fight for them. That means fighting politically and through the courts, without tiring and without apologies.” (Read more here:

    I was fortunate to be able to speak with the good archbishop before his speech (I was covering it for my publication and for CNS). He emphasized that the leadership of the laity, not of the bishops or other Church leaders, is of ultimate importance in this struggle: “We’ll succeed or fail depending on the leadership of the laity.” (Read more here:

    Perhaps your (and other people’s) reticence over the Church’s role in this is more about the bishops’ role in it. If that’s the case, then the laity need to take up the torch. (And they are, in a certain way, in groups like Catholic Vote and The Catholic Association). Unfortunately, Joe Catholic isn’t in the rolodex of people in the MSM while various bishops are.

  • Larry Weisenthal

    >>Yet, I am uncomfortable. As much as I dislike the government inserting itself into religious concerns and attempting to redefine the very practice of religion as traditionally understood by Americans, I don’t love seeing my church so politically engaged.<<

    This is a rare instance of agreement with your point of view and what might be referred to as the "Commonweal" (liberal Catholic) point of view.

    - Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

  • Diane at Te Deum

    I think it all depends on what the bishops and priests are focusing on.

    Taking a period of time – this fortnight – to pray and fast for, and discuss issues surrounding religious liberty for Catholics in this nation, is a good thing.

    Let’s walk this back to the mid-1800′s ahead of the Emancipation Proclamation, and bishops had called for a Fortnight for Freedom to discuss fast and pray for the freedom of slaves, and to discuss the immorality of slavory.

    Today, forcing Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or forcing Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives is immoral, as is forcing Catholic adoption agencies to place children with same sex couples. Forcing nurses and doctors to choose between their jobs and their faith is also a clear evil, as is forcing private business owners to provide services which contradict Catholic teaching. Taking two weeks to talk about these kinds of things is a very good thing.

    Immigration issues, for example, differ from those above in that there are a number of solutions which can be in harmony with Catholic social teaching, and people are free to disagree. For example, one group may believe it is good to not deport young people who were raised in this country to early adulthood. Another group may agree that is a problem, but is concerned that a solution put forth will only encourage even more illegal immigration. It becomes a difference of opinion on short term fix without thinking through consequences versus long term fix that addresses consequences. I don’t have answers, but am understanding of both positions.

    I don’t know how we solve problems if we don’t discuss them, and I believe bishops and priests need to talk about principles.

    I think the fortnight is an opportunity to reflect, pray an talk about the issues. What concerns me is when people accuse others of being partisan for presenting their view (not referring to you, Lizzie).

  • Diane at Te Deum

    My point in the paragraph (which I messed up) on Emancipation Proclamation, was that if we used an older issue that wasn’t hot right now, it would be easier to evaluate the appropriateness of the F4F. Could we have justified it say, in 1860 as some were trying to convince others of the immorality of slavery? i would hope the bishops and priests would get involved and invite the laity likewise.

  • tioedong

    I don’t support churches getting political either, but since 35 years ago in medical school I was “failed” in my obstetrics rotation by a professor because I refused to help do abortions, i know where this is going. (I appealed, and his decision was reversed).

    The next step is for the health care panel to decide that abortion is routine preventive medicine or devise a guideline that approves of “terminal sedation” for dementia treatment. The first thing this president did is remove the laws protecting Christian and Muslim doctors from being forced to do procedures against their religion and the only protection medical personnel have right now is the old LBJ’s Civil rights bill against discrimination against religion: the same law that allowed me to appeal my “bad” evaluation…

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    A partial defense is better than a total surrender. If you believe the church was mistaken in supporting social justice, and Obamacare, shouldn’t you be pleased that now it’s supporting something good?

    Also, from what I understood, the Fortnight was supposed to be mainly dedicated to prayer; I don’t know why anyone would have a problem with that.

    The Church always has been, and always will be, involved in politics: witness the Great Schism, King Henry VIII, the Protestant Reformation, the church vs. Communism, etc. It’s not ideal, but it’s the way things are.

    Don’t worry about anyone being put off by the Fortnight; those who would be put off by it, are those who’d find some other reason to be put off by the church. People who think they know everything about the church aren’t going to be convinced of its offer of salvation, no matter what its members do.

    When you joined the Catholic Church—or any Christian denomination—guess what? You became a “Joiner”, no matter what your personal inclinations, might be; and it’s as a member of the church that those who oppose it will see you; not as a nice person who doesn’t wave foam rubber fingers around, who is tolerant and not an extremist; they’ll see you as a Catholic, or Christian. They’ll see you as a member of the Body of Christ. And they will reject, or accept you, on that. You can wear foam rubber fingers on your hands and feet—and your head, too! Or, you can dicourse sagely about the Church Fathers, and/or C.S. Lewis; you can assure them that you are neither left nor right nor anything in-between, that you’ve never had an extremist thought in your head.

    It. Won’t. Make. Any. Difference. The battle lines are being drawn up, and members are being chosen, or designated.

    Welcome to what the Jews have been going through, for decades—and what our Christian brothers and sisters are going through now, in other parts of the world. Religious freedom is a vitally important thing; and it’s important not just to Catholics, but to everybody, Christian and non-Christian, in our country. A government powerful enough to enforce HHS on one religious group is one powerful enough to. . . well, it’s too powerful.

    So—never mind the foam rubber fingers. But we need to pray about this.

  • Mark

    I find your reasoning very clear and nuanced. It seems you’re concerned about the politicization of the Church, even in these trying times, because it pulls, or even distracts the Church from its true mission….bringing God to us and us to God.

  • Liz

    I understand and respect your reservations, but as an Episcopalian, I can tell you that it’s much more discomforting when your church leadership embraces progressive policies and cultural norms. I’m encouraged that the Catholic Church was willing to make a stand, even at the risk of being labeled political or partisan; it’s a fight worth taking up. Nothing in Obama’s past years as president (especially in the way he’s handled this) indicates that he would ever compromise, let alone abandon, the HHS policy on abortion coverage.

  • http://Pathos Wild Bill

    It all comes down to $$$$$. For instance abortion, nobody on either side is even willing to think about a compromise. The biggest donors to any cause especially anything remotely political are the biggest givers and most active. This is why the church and the Prez have to stay with their positions. If either side backed off one inch you would never hear the end of it.

  • SKay

    Who better than the Church to stand up to the evils that are being pushed upon us through the politics of the left and this administration? Who better than the Bishops to make it clear that pro abortion,pro ssm Catholics like Pelosi, Biden, Kerry,the Cuomos and most of the Kennedys do not speak with authority for the Catholic Church in the United States?
    A welthy leftist atheist is funding splinter groups within the Church to divide Catholics and he is a big Obama backer. Is that not political?
    At the present moment we still have the choice to stand behind the Bishops. If we lose the freedom to practice the true teachings of the Catholic Church — it will be our own fault.
    The Nationalist Socialist Party-pre WWII in Germany began to tell the churches(Lutheran in particular) what they could and could not preach. There were those that resisted–but not enough and not soon enough–and we know the result of that government intrusion into religion for their own purposes.
    Recently, a government rep. in Charlotte, NC told a Protestant chaplin that he could not use the name of Jeasus in his prayer because it might offend someone. The minister chose not to participate in the ceremony.

  • LisaB

    “Perhaps I am concerned that the bishops are opening the church up to a charge of partisanship that has never credibly been lain at her doors, before.”

    And just because Obama is a Democrat doesn’t make charges of partisanship credible now. The odd thing is the bishop’s still support Obamacare, just not this bit, and that’s why charges of partisanship haven’t been able to stick.

    I have to agree with Dangy’s sentiments. Obamacare is an infringement of freedom on multiple levels that the bishops supported, but then Obama came for their freedom. Will the bishops learn the lesson? I pray that the SCOTUS strikes down the entire law for all of our sakes.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Liz, as a former Episcopalian myself, I agree about the Episcopal Church!

    In my parish, the takeover—whatever the issue—would usually begin with the very politically liberal members—who always seemed to have lots of time on their hands for this stuff—backed by the more liberal priests. The rest of us, with jobs and families, simply didn’t have the time to oppose their programs. Also, we were told that, unlike those awful fundamentalists and Catholics, Episcopalians were well-educated, cosmopolitan, tolerant, and not, thank Heaven, like that awful Bible banger in the corner, wailing “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

    Also, their programs were always pushed as spiritual, not political; new translations of the Bible, new science, new whatever had supposedly proved that whatever they were pushing at the moment: New Age metaphysics, same-sex marriage, the abolition of Genesis, female priesthood, etc.

    Like it or not, politics is being forced on the Church right now—and on all who believe in freedom of religion. One can be uncomfortable with that, but it doesn’t change the underlying situation. It also wouldn’t be the first time politics came after the Church.