The Canary in the Culture
In the olden days miners brought canaries into mines because canaries were very sensitive to toxic fumes and would keel over quickly, giving the miners time to escape before they were rendered unconscious.
The HHS mandate is serving a similar function in modern American culture. It's making it clear that liberals believe in an all-powerful government, not the government empowered by the people that is enshrined in the Constitution.
Historically in America, the government has rarely collided with the religious beliefs of even extreme groups. A few exceptions, such as Mormon polygamy, were based on common values shared by the vast majority of Americans.
This lack of conflict was in great part due to the limited scope of government. If you were to bring an American from 1929, or even the middle of the New Deal, to modern America, he'd be shocked and probably appalled by the extent of government control over the lives of average Americans; historically very few Americans would have thought that the government had the right to define what sort of grocery bag a store provides, for example.
But as the tendrils of government extend into an ever-increasing number of aspects of day-to-day life the probability of conflicts with peoples' moral codes grows.
In the past the right to practice one's belief was taken very seriously. Even in conflicts viewed by Americans as existential, such as the Civil War and World War II, the rights of those whose faith called them to pacifism to not have to serve in combat roles, other than as medical support personnel, were recognized.
Yet the core of the HHS mandate, even with the latest attempt at a draft accommodation, presumes that only religious organizations have the right to exercise their religious beliefs. The latest HHS mandate revision is equivalent to saying that Quaker organizations don't have to train soldiers but individual Quakers can be forced to fight.
It may seem that asking Catholics and others who believe that abortion-inducing chemicals are tools of murder and as such something they cannot directly pay for is not that big of a deal. That's precisely why the HHS mandate is the canary. It's true that the HHS mandate is not on the same level as China's forced abortion policy. But the core philosophical assumption that powers the HHS mandate, even in its latest revision, would allow the government to institute a forced abortion policy or reinstitute slavery.
At the heart of the HHS mandate is the belief that the First Amendment does not mean what it says. To most the phrase
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
is pretty clear. It does not say freedom of worship, i.e. the right to go to church on Sunday or the temple on Saturday, as many liberals proclaim. It says that people can practice, i.e. exercise, their religious beliefs.
Under the Constitution, Americans define their own moral beliefs and in the vast majority of cases the government has to live with Americans practicing their beliefs. The HHS mandate is showing us that in the liberal mind, the government defines everyone's morality and the average American has to live with the governments' definition.
Liberals often demand that the beliefs and even feelings of tiny minorities of Americans must be respected; that's why the 2.4% of Americans who are atheists can demand, in the minds of liberals, that high school valedictorian speakers not mention Jesus. Liberals support of tiny groups extends to those things that force the vast majority of Americans to behave differently and even against what they believe is right on occasion; what's wrong with a Cross to honor fallen soldiers who were Christian?
Yet those same liberals tell us that the moral beliefs of Catholics, and other Christians, are trumped by the governments' need to ensure that women can get free birth control. Essentially liberals believe that we have a 100% requirement to fund others' sex lives but a 0% say in what sort of sex lives they have.
The harsh reality however is that liberals don't give a hoot about the rights of small groups of Americans. If one examines liberal positions, one will find that liberals only support small groups when those small groups agree with liberal principles. That's why liberals will support the Ground Zero Mosque but fight tooth and nail against a religious monument at a public cemetery.
The HHS mandate makes this very clear. Liberals object to sending funds to religious organizations that perform public services if those organizations don't conform to the liberal moral code. Thousands of victims of human trafficking are suffering because liberals have cut off funding of a Catholic organization with a proven track record of helping women because the organization would not provide abortion referrals.
In liberal minds then they, because they identify themselves with the government, can refuse to fund organizations that don't adhere to the liberal moral code but they don't believe that Americans can say no to being compelled by the government to directly fund things those American's religious beliefs say are wrong.
What this boils down to is simple; the liberal vision of America is one where the government defines what is right and wrong and all Americans must follow those definitions.
Liberals are essentially turning the First Amendment on its head. A key objective of the Framers when they wrote the First Amendment was to prevent the establishment of a single government religion; many early Americans had left England to avoid oppression by the Church of England. The HHS mandate is showing us that liberals are striving to establish a single government religion.
Of course, liberals will say that they're not establishing a religion. But ask yourself in the context of day-to-day life what is religion? God -- anyone's god -- just doesn't show up on a daily basis smiting folks with lightning and such. As a result, in the public square a religion is really just a set of moral beliefs. Religious conflicts are about whose morality should serve as the DNA of the law.
When government was less ubiquitous, the generic Christian morality, essentially the Ten Commandments, that served as the genetic blueprint for the Constitution, rarely caused many problems; after all, how many people think murder is okay? Basically the DNA of the Constitution did not specify in great detail how one was to live or what one should endorse; Catholics, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, Jews, and pretty much anyone else could live with the Constitution without feeling oppressed.
The new liberal Church of America is very specific in what it demands in many areas. Those specifics are often in conflict with the moral beliefs of huge numbers of Americans. The HHS mandate is demonstrating that American liberals support the same sort of oppression based on an official government moral code, i.e. religion, as the many Americans who fled from England to America suffered.
But if the government can define what is right and wrong and punish those who disagree, there is no reason that the government couldn't institute a law limiting the number of children a family could have in order to combat climate change. All that would be required would be the government saying so.
America has always striven to be about tolerance, yet the HHS mandate is showing us, hopefully early enough for us to take action, that liberals are not about tolerance but about using the full extent of government power to force people to do what liberals believe is good irrespective of the religious beliefs of those people.
Many Americans have died in order to preserve our freedoms. "Give me liberty or give me death" is not just a platitude here. But the HHS mandate is showing us that liberals are not content with making things that many consider to be wrong acceptable, such as late-term abortions or same-sex marriage, but that they believe that the government can force people to do things that those people believe are wrong. If we don't heed the canary now and commit America to respecting the religious beliefs of Americans it's guaranteed that we'll be subject to worse demands by government in the future.
You can find more of tom's rants at his blog