Inverting the State/Civil Society Relationship


That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical. – Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Status for Religious Freedom

You can quote Jefferson like scripture.  But this is one of the three acts he had put on his tombstone, so I’d wager that he would stand by it, if pressed.

The President’s attempt to force Catholic hospitals to provide services forbidden by their religious beliefs have been roundly – and rightly – attacked as an assault on religious freedom of conscience.  Over-fond of the non-establishment clause, many on the left have forgotten the free exercise clause.

But combine this power grab with an earlier money grab, and a darker pattern emerges.  Remember, early in his administration, Obama floated a proposal to limit the tax-deductability of charitable contributions for high-earners.  (This proposal has recently been revived at the state level in Maryland.)  After all, the government needs the money.  Needs the money more than any private charitable organization needs it.

The safety net has always been sold – an accepted – as programs of last resort, intended for those for whom private organizations would not or could not care.  But by taking money away from charitable organizations for itself, Obama is reversing that equation.  To him, these services should be provided first by the government, and then civil society can fill in whatever it can with whatever the government decides to let it keep.  Moreover, it can’t even really decide what services to provide in accordance with the dictates of it conscience, but needs to provide what the government requires or permits it to.

When viewed as a package, the HHS regulations and the proposed tax law changes constitute less an attack on religion per se, and more an assault on the primacy of civil society.  Not content with filling in the gaps, the government has moved from that to competition with private charities, and any competition involving the government is inherently unequal.  This is exactly the sort of thing he has in mind for a second term, when he’ll be testing and often exceeding the limits of executive authority to enact his agenda, with or without Congress.

No wonder he doesn’t care if the Senate ever passes another budget.

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