The Evangelical Tradition and the 2012 Election

In Election Month at Patheos, the latest question of the week is: What are the key issues at stake in this election for people of your tradition?

Evangelicals could talk about a number of things in trying to answer this question. But I believe the core issue for evangelicals this year is one of the biggest issues of all: What kind of nation will the United States of America be? What will be our concept of governance? Will we continue to prize liberty, and limit the scope of government accordingly? Or will we decide that our government should be able to do pretty much whatever it wants to the citizens, in pursuit of universalist goals?

The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act of 2010, or ObamaCare, is undoubtedly the best known of the hot-button issues in this regard. The Supreme Court decided, in a 5-4 ruling, that nothing in the Constitution prevents the U.S. federal government from requiring the people to purchase commercial health insurance.

But for many Americans, conservative evangelicals among them, this is an unacceptable encroachment on liberty. The people, acting through Congress, may always overrule the Supreme Court. The U.S. Constitution was designed to ensure that. It is difficult, but it is not impossible, for the people to declare a standard to which the courts are obliged to adhere. The Supreme Court is not the final arbiter of what our law means; the people are. This, at least, was the principle on which the Republic was founded.

The contraception mandate levied by the Department of Health and Human Services in implementing ObamaCare has generated at least as much concern about coercion by the government. This mandate directly violates the consciences of those, like Catholics, with religious objections. But the religious aspect of the matter inevitably implies a larger question, which is why anyone, regardless of the nature of his objection, should be compelled to purchase contraception coverage—or any other kind of health-insurance coverage, for that matter.

The more mandates the government levies, the less discretion we have over every aspect of our lives. It is a serious question what Catholic institutions will do, for example, if the contraception mandate stands in its current form, which requires even self-insuring institutions—those that manage their own insurance funds rather than purchasing insurance commercially—to provide contraception services for employees. Why should government make it impossible for these institutions to operate lawfully while adhering to their beliefs? What will their employees do if the institutions have to be shuttered? Which people—the poor, the vulnerable, the weak—will lose the services these institutions have been providing?

ObamaCare and its ramifications are only some of the liberty issues we will be dealing with, however, if there is a second term for President Obama. Federal implementation of the "Common Core" curriculum for the public schools will effectively eliminate parents' freedom to choose schools that offer a better education based on objective standards rather than the grading of students' attitudes. A national testing program focused on the Common Core curriculum will ensure that it is taught, and students will be tracked through state records, which will be available to the federal Department of Education.

There is considerable detail about what the Common Core curriculum will look like at the link above and here. Here's one example:

[A] sample exercise about Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address threw teachers into confusion when they were instructed to refrain from providing background and to read the speech without feeling. In this way, this pivotal document is stripped of its historical significance and eloquence. Nor are the religious references, so important to Lincoln's speeches, to be mentioned. The strategy puts the Gettysburg Address on the same plane as other "informational texts," say about frogs or snakes.

School districts that prefer not to teach in this manner will have difficulty remaining functional, because the Obama education plan comes with federally-overseen revenue shifting between districts and even across county lines. In the forty-eight states that signed up for "Race to the Top" in order to get 2009 stimulus funds, schools will not have the option of disregarding—or, indeed, surpassing—the Common Core.

Implementing a program of regional revenue-shifting undercuts the role of cities, counties, and school districts—the levels of government closest to the people—and forms an important but little understood facet of the Obama administration's objectives. Journalist Stanley Kurtz has written extensively about this, particularly in his 2012 book Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities.