Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

02 February 2012

Obama and religious freedom

I have thus far largely refrained from criticizing President Obama on this blog, even as I was put off by the messianic expectations he encouraged during his first presidential campaign four years ago and have been uneasy about his performance since then. But his attack on the religious freedom of overtly confessional institutions requires comment, which Michael Gerson ably provides here: Obama plays his Catholic allies for fools.
The implications of Obama’s power grab go further than contraception and will provoke opposition beyond Catholicism. Christian colleges and universities of various denominations will resist providing insurance coverage for abortifacients. And the astounding ambition of this federal precedent will soon be apparent to every religious institution. Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.

Obama’s decision also reflects a certain view of liberalism. Classical liberalism was concerned with the freedom to hold and practice beliefs at odds with a public consensus. Modern liberalism uses the power of the state to impose liberal values on institutions it regards as backward. It is the difference between pluralism and anti-­clericalism.

I am not an enthusiast for the betrayal of liberalism thesis to which Gerson appeals, because I believe the contempt for nonvoluntary institutions is implicit in liberalism's logic from the outset. Nevertheless, Gerson persuasively points to the link between liberalism's claim to defend liberty and its narrowly individualistic interpretation of that liberty. Let us hope and pray that the policy will be changed before it is implemented.

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1 Comments:

  • It could as well be argued that belief in the legitimacy of monopoly on sword-power involves a logic that leads to this sort of tyranny.

    In any case, supporters of govt-nongov "partnerships" (in 'pillarization' style) really don't have a consistent complaint here.

    By Blogger Baus, at 10:39 AM  

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