January 27, 2020

THE LITTLE SISTERS TAKE ON BIG BROTHER: Count on this: The bigger and more complex government becomes, the more conflicts we can expect between religious conscience and the duty to comply with the law.

As if to illustrate my point, the Supreme Court recently agreed to decide two cases—including one brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor—that bear on religious objections to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. (Yes, if you are experiencing déjà vu, the Little Sisters of the Poor have been to the Supreme Court on this issue before.) This time the focus is expected to be on the Trump Administration’s efforts to grant religious exemptions to employers like the Sisters.

I won’t weigh in on the legal issues presented. I’m not smart enough to do them justice in this short space. My point is more political or maybe strategic. Bloomberg quotes an evidently anxious expert as saying that if the Trump Administration’s efforts are upheld, it “could open the door to federal agencies issuing many more [rules granting religious accommodation].”

For good or ill, that’s obviously true. I have mixed feelings about it. To me at least, for conservatives to rely too readily on religious accommodations to deal with governmental expansions seems like a loser’s game.

In a report issued a few years ago by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on “Peaceful Co-Existence” between government and religion, I wrote this:

While the targeted religious accommodations approach may sometimes be a good idea, it is not always the best strategy for people of faith. Targeted religious accommodations make it possible for ever-expanding government bureaucracies to divide and conquer. They remove the faith-based objections to their expansive ambitions, thus allowing them to ignore objections that are not based on faith. The bureaucratic juggernaut thus rolls on. People of faith should not allow themselves to become just another special interest that needs to be appeased before the next government expansion is allowed to proceed. They have an interest in ensuring the health of the many institutions of civil society that act as counterweights to the state—including not just the Church itself, but also the family, the press, small business and others. They also have an interest in ordered liberty in all its manifestations. A nation in which religious liberty is the only protected freedom is a nation that soon will be without religious liberty too.

The other side of the coin is this: The Commission report that quote appeared in got a lot of attention when it was released, because the Chairman’s Statement (which I discuss at length in my Statement) was essentially a screed against Christianity. It was astonishing. To this day, I can’t imagine what got into him. But it served to remind me that Christians (and no doubt people of other faiths too) really do have opponents in high places.

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