Preserving Our Pledge of Allegiance
A prayer for this Fortnight for Freedom reminds us that we are "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." These cherished words from our Pledge of Allegiance now sound off-key and a bit unfamiliar. This admittedly is a blasphemous utterance. What's up?
What's up is an assault on every aspect of "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" by the Obama administration, which assault if successful could render our country unrecognizable.
One/indivisible. Jack Welch summarized President Obama's divisive behavior well:
It was the insurance executives in health care. It was the bankers in the collapse. It was the oil companies as oil prices go up. It was Congress if things didn't go the way he wanted. And recently it's been the Supreme Court. He's got an enemies list that would make Richard Nixon proud.
Jack forgot about the president's attacks on the Cambridge police department, those making more than $200,000 a year, and stay-at-home moms. Given the sheer length of the list, Jack's omissions are forgivable. We know that Barack Obama's modus operandi is to first seek division. Real leaders build up and unite. He tears down and divides.
The president's goal, executed through his HHS contraception edict, of splitting Catholics over their own teaching is one of the worst of his divisive offenses. As just a crass political move, the sowing of such discord is a manipulative, inappropriate, and awful use of the office of the president of the United States.
As a direct result of the example set by the president's open season on Catholics, we now have the Freedom from Religion Foundation running division-seeking ads against the Catholic Church. "It's Time to Quit the Catholic Church... Please Exit en Mass."
Who might the next target be?
Under God. The president seeks to reduce the longstanding freedom of religion to a "freedom of worship," effectively banishing religiously informed values and opinion from the public square. The HHS contraception edict explicitly attacks faith as a basis for decision-making.
As well, Obama's insistence on having Christian religious symbols being hidden during his Georgetown speech, the administration's favoring the losing side in the Hosanna-Tabor 9-0 case, and its shameful attack on a publicly prayerful pro-lifer are more examples of the president's divisive quest to move us out from "under God."
With liberty and justice for all. Describing the proper exercise of power, Joseph Pieper explained1:
It should ... be perfectly clear and self-evident to the simplest kind of thinking that wherever prudence and justice are lacking, there can be no fitness for the proper exercise of power.
According to the moral doctrine of the West, the prudent man is certainly not merely a "tactician" able to steer an affair successfully to its conclusion. Prudence implies the kind of objectivity that lets itself be determined by reality, by insight into the facts.
Exercising ... justice means, one the one hand, taking the common good into consideration and, on the other, respecting at the same time the dignity of the individual and giving him what is his due.
The Obama HHS mandate requires that individuals and organizations provide or pay for services that are contrary to their religious beliefs. These services include abortions, the provision of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception2. To the contrary, Catholic teaching requires that Catholics and Catholic organizations avoid both directly paying for and facilitating these practices.
We are at the point now where an individual who is morally opposed to abortion or contraception must pay an insurance premium so that others can abort and must purchase contraception for his or her employees.
By Pieper's standard, the HHS actions are indefensible and, "to the simplest kind of thinking," an unfit exercise of power. The actions are imprudent because there is no contraception problem. Studies demonstrate that increased contraception does not decrease pregnancies; it increases them. Even more basic, contraception is already plentifully available in the U.S. at little to no cost for women even of modest means. Target offers the pill for $9/month. Planned Parenthood offers free birth control pills, distributing contraception almost 4 million times a year.
The actions are also imprudent because the government has no compelling interest in selectively forcing individuals or organizations to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs -- particularly given that the Obama administration has numerous alternatives to the HHS mandate, including paying for contraception through other programs established by duly enacted laws.
Contrary to President Obama, our founding fathers understood the rights of conscience well. As was noted by Thomas Jefferson, "[n]o provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority"3. The plentiful availability of contraception makes the HHS mandate unjust, and obnoxiously so, particularly since there is not a whiff of a common good argument for depriving individuals of their due freedom of religion and conscience. Thus, the HHS mandate not only violates, but derails "liberty and justice for all."
Charles Chaput comments:
Religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience. This is so obvious that once upon a time, nobody needed to say it. But times have changed. So it's worth recalling that Madison, Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson-in fact, nearly all the American founders-saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. Liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And virtue needs grounding in religious faith.
These concepts of virtue and the good are important and real. But he whose will has become "distended by the exaggerated desire for the freedom of indeterminate choice" tends to lose sight of "the final end of the activity of freedom: delight in the possession of that which is loved"4. And we Americans love our freedoms of religion and conscience, not to mention our Pledge of Allegiance. On the contrary, eradication of objective moral standards and elimination of normative value systems and ideological spitefulness are neither good nor loved.
Our president has lost his way -- losing sight of justice and prudence, virtue and good. As a result, "in this decisive hour in the history of our nation," we are at the precipice of losing our freedoms of conscience and religion.
Unmoored from a good and loved end, it is no surprise that Obama policies are merely tactics adrift, leaving substantial damage in their wake. After three and a half years, it is clear that our tactician-in-chief is long on clever and short on good, rendering his cleverness worse than a waste.
Chesterton reminds us that "if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man"5. And of Napoleon, his brother Lucien commented, "I've long discerned in him a completely self-centered ambition that outstrips his love of the common good. I really believe in a free state, [hence] he is a dangerous man"6.
Thus far, President Obama has sought to dramatically rework "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." If he successfully strikes "one/indivisible," "under God," and "with liberty and justice for all;" we are left with "nation" -- not quite the same ring, and certainly not what voters expected, but precisely the blank slate eagerly sought by those who would mold our lives in their image.
President Obama certainly has a right to believe that a civilized coexistence among (i) a secular state, (ii) the Church, and (iii) individuals who live their faith in the midst of the world is undesirable -- but his efforts to terminate such a coexistence are a violation of our natural and constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.
Had the president been honest about his intentions regarding "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," he might not be the president. Those who still love the nation described in our Pledge of Allegiance might keep that in mind in November.
1Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, University of Notre Dame Press, 2010, page 92.
2In the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, et al, v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al, page 4.
3Ibid, page 33.
4Love's Greater Freedom, Thomas Joseph White, O.P., First Things, June/July 2012, page 36.
5The Tyranny of Cliches, Jonah Goldberg, Sentinel, 2012, p 5.
6Ibid, p 44.