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Religious Liberty and Civil Society


YUVAL LEVIN

Source:
National Review
Type:
Media/Opinion
Date:
1/30/2012

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ABSTRACTReligious Liberty and Civil Society - By Yuval Levin - The Corner - National Review Online Get FREE NRO Newsletters   Log In   |   Register Follow Us Everywhere         April 16 Issue  Subscribe to NR  Renew  April 16 Issue   |   Subscribe   |   Renew Home The Corner The Agenda Campaign Spot The Home Front Right Field Bench Memos The Feed Media Blog Critical Condition Larry Kudlow David Calling Exchequer Phi Beta Cons Planet Gore UK Between the Covers Radio Derb Tweet Tracker NR / Digital Subscribe: NR Subscribe: NR / Digital Give: NR / Digital NR Renewals & Changes Shop! Donate Media Kit Contact Close To: Your Email: Your Name: Subject: Zubrin: Carbon Emissions Are Good Derbyshire: March Diary Costa: The Ron Johnson Factor Hanson: Iran’s Win, Win, Win Bomb Habeeb: Too Young to Die Sowell: Argument from Disparity Charen: Violence and Family Breakdown Fonte: Saving Sovereignty Prager: They Don’t Know Us Lowry: Meltdown with Keith Olbermann Pipes: It’s Not Road Rage, It’s Terrorism O'Sullivan: The Significant ‘Little War’ Lopez: Desperately Seeking Women Ponnuru: The Culture Warrior Geraghty: Senate 2012 Outlook Fund: Penny Anti Interview: Ringing a Bell for Liberty Barone: The Constitution’s Comeback Sowell: The Death of Mrs. G Murdock: Socialist Hong Kong? New on NRO . . . The Corner The one and only. About This Blog Archive E-Mail RSS Send Print   |  Text   Religious Liberty and Civil Society By  Yuval Levin January 30, 2012 12:02 P.M. Comments 38 When even E.J. Dionne can’t quite bring himself to defend the Obama administration’s assault on religious liberty, you know the president must have a real problem. In his column today , Dionne tries his best to avoid making his point too clear. He spends most of his time laying out all the nice things Obama has said to liberal Catholics and only then turns to how Obama has now utterly betrayed them. But the point is straightforward: The president is willing to pay lip service to religious liberty, but when it comes time for action he wants to enforce the agenda of the radical left and to push civil society out of the government’s way. Dionne will presumably forgive the president as soon as he mentions income inequality again, but other religious voters who took a chance on him might not.   And they’re right to be angry and worried. The particulars of what the Obamacare insurance mandate rule does, and the unwillingness of the administration to exempt religious employers, are just stunning. Religious institutions are basically going to be fined for holding views regarding contraception, sterilization, and abortion that are different from the Obama administration’s views. For instance, Notre Dame University, which employs more than 5,000 people, is going to be given the choice of either expressly violating its religious convictions or paying a $10 million fine to the federal government. It’s bad enough that any employer with a moral objection has to spend his money this way, but it is especially egregious to compel religious institutions to do so.   As many have noted around here, the fact of the administration’s willingness to do this sheds light on its hostility to (or at the very least its contempt for) religious liberty. But it’s not quite that simple. This incident (and especially the nature of the exemption that the administration was willing to grant, which is essentially an exemption for actual houses of worship but not for other religiously-affiliated institutions) also sheds light on a very deeply rooted problem in our tradition of religious liberty itself—a problem that should cause those of us inclined to seek recourse in “conscience protection” and religious exemptions to pause and think.   The English common law tradition of religious toleration, which we inherited, has always had a problem with religious institutions that are not houses of worship—i.e. that are geared to ends other than the practice of religion itself. To (vastly) oversimplify for a moment, that tradition began (in the 16th century, and in some respects even earlier) with the aim of protecting Protestant dissenters and Jews but (very intentionally) not protecting Catholics. And the way it took shape over the centuries in an effort to sustain that distinction was by drawing a line between individual religious practice (in which the government could not interfere) and an institutional religious presence (which was given far less protection). Because Catholicism is a uniquely institutional religion—with large numbers of massive institutions for providing social services, educating children and adults, and the like, all of which are more or less parts of a single hierarchy—this meant Catholics were simply not granted the same protection .......