A demonstrator in support of the federal contraceptive mandate chants outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington in reaction to Hobby Lobby ruling June 30. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)
Considered either as an ideology or as a program of action,
secularism is deeply coercive. Reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling
on the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate make that abundantly
Secularists typically think of themselves as champions of
liberation, empowerment, and freedom of choice. Take care, though:
disagree on religious grounds with something these people espouse, and
they’ll be after you with fire and sword, seeking to make you fall in
line. So much for liberation, empowerment, and freedom of choice.
the secularist response to the June 30 decision by a five-member
majority of the Supreme Court: proprietors of family-owned businesses
don’t have to provide employees with health insurance coverage for
abortifacient drugs the owners object to in conscience.
A “deeply dismaying decision,” the New York Times huffed
about the Hobby Lobby ruling. The deeply dismayed newspaper accused
Justice Alito and his four colleagues of giving owners of closely held,
for-profit companies “an unprecedented right to impose their religious
views on employees.”
“Nothing in the contraceptive coverage rule
prevented the companies’ owners from worshiping as they choose or
advocating against coverage and use of the contraceptives they don’t
like,” the newspaper said. Quite so. The problem was that the rule
forced people of faith to pay for something they judged morally
As Justice Alito pointed out, government has other ways
of giving people contraceptives and abortifacients besides forcing
business owners with faith-based objections to become its accomplices.
Unless of course making them accomplices was itself part of the project.
The Washington Post was
even more blunt in exposing its secularist premises, ripping into the
court majority for having held that government should excuse owners who
“bring their religious convictions into the public sphere.” The
implication was that people with religious convictions ought to keep the
convictions at home or else leave them in church. In presuming to bring
religious convictions into the workaday world, they invite any
penalties they get.
Others sank below even this level of discourse
by making overt appeals to anti-Catholicism. The Catholic League’s Bill
Donohue pointed to examples from the Boston Herald, the Kansas City Star,
and the Huffington Post. The five justices comprising the majority in
this case (Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas) are all Catholics.
And therefore? And therefore it was now supposedly fair to repeat the
ancient canard that Catholics in public life are pawns of the Church.
if so, how about the Jews? All three Jewish justices (Ginsburg, Breyer,
Kagan) voted on the other side. Does this make them pawns of the Torah
or something ridiculous like that? The argument collapses under the
weight of its malevolent absurdity.
Finally, though in a different
category, we had Justice Sotomayor’s dissent (joined by Justices
Ginsburg and Kagan) from a brief order of the court saying Wheaton
College, a Christian school, deserves a fair hearing on its religious
objections to the government’s so-called “accommodation” before being
penalized for not complying with the contraception rule. Her remarks
were disturbingly polemical, to say the least.
The long expected
showdown between faith and secularism has begun. Media slavishly
supporting the secularist line, compliant politicians, and the efforts
of well-funded interest groups make this a difficult fight.
underlying issue, seldom acknowledged, is a conflict of world views
involving religious freedom and religion itself. For secularists, they
are anachronisms and (at best) nuisances. For people of faith, they are
foundations of human rights and a healthy social order. The common
ground in this conflict, always small, grows smaller every day.