The Catholic Thing
This Is War Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 09 March 2012

TIIME magazine writer Amy Sullivan claims that Republican candidates for president are overheated in their rhetoric about religious freedom and profoundly uninformed about historical assaults on religious freedom in America. She said so last week at a panel discussion sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religious Liberty at Georgetown University.

Sullivan scoffed – ever so thoughtfully, of course – at Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and their concerns about the HHS contraceptive mandate. She heaped particular snark on Gingrich, who claims the current fight over federally mandated contraceptive coverage for religious institutions is the greatest threat to religious liberty our country has ever known. Sullivan joked that, as a new Catholic, Gingrich has not been fully catechized on Catholic history in America.

Sullivan, a self-proclaimed Baptist, tried to take Newt, again ever so thoughtfully, to school.

She mentioned the Boston anti-Catholic riots in 1834; the Blaine Amendments, which forbade tax money from supporting religious education and were aimed principally at Catholic schools; and finally, she said Catholic education was once banned in Oregon.

Let’s look at each point individually and see if Sullivan herself has been sufficiently catechized.

To be sure, the 1834 riots in Boston were mob violence directed at Catholic institutions, particularly the Ursuline Convent, which was burned down. Was this the work of the local, state, or federal government? Actually, no. In fact, once the mob violence began, the government stepped in to defend Catholic property. Sullivan did not mention similar anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia, but those, too, were mob driven. And once more, the government stepped in to defend Catholic property.

Sullivan mentioned the Blaine Amendment, which was an attempt to change the U. S. constitution to block federal funding of religious education. The amendment failed at the federal level, but Blaine Amendments were passed in several states and some are still on the books.

Sullivan then claimed that Catholic education was once banned outright in Oregon.

Each of these, she asserted, were clearly enough to show Gingrich was not only wrong but also uninformed, overheated and just ridiculous. And, by the way, all those Catholic bishops who agree with Gingrich are ridiculous, too.

In each of these cases, however, the culprits were mobs or they were actions by states and not the federal government. Even where they constituted state action, the Blaine Amendments, for instance, were merely limits on the public purse and in no way banned or limited the free practice of religion or religious education. Only liberals believe that not getting state or federal funds is a violation of the constitution, whether it ‘s funding for the arts or Planned Parenthood.

In the case of Oregon, it’s true the citizens of Oregon passed an initiative that would have not allowed grade school students to attend private schools. This monstrosity was overturned almost immediately in federal court, and then upheld in the seminal Supreme Court case Pierce v. Society of Sisters. It should be emphasized that this was a citizen’s initiative that was overturned by the government, following the pattern of earlier forms of anti-Catholic action being ended by state actors.

The state/federal distinction is crucial here, because state action by definition would only limit religious practice in a discrete part of the United States and, with the brief exception of Oregon, there is little evidence that this has ever happened.

What Gingrich, the Catholic bishops, and religious leaders of all kinds are up in arms about is that this current crisis involves not citizen action, not action at the state level, but the federal government – and, therefore, affects all citizens in the United States. And all religious institutions and would be a part of restrictive federal law going forward.

This is what Sullivan and her ilk do not get. Here we have the federal government telling religious institutions that they must participate in actions that violate their consciences and religious teachings. Moreover, and perhaps worse, it is the federal government taking the power to determine what is and is not a religious institution – and what is and is not a religious practice. If a Catholic hospital run by an order of Catholic nuns hires a Jewish doctor and treats a Protestant patient, then, in the Obama administration’s view, it’s not a Catholic institution.

Nothing in American history quite compares with this.

Sullivan also objects to what she sees as the inflammatory language that Gingrich and the bishops use about the current crisis. She says their penchant for calling it a war on religious liberty is dangerous and is intended not to start a conversation, but to stop one.

To be fair, she did criticize the feminist left for using similar language about a war on women’s rights. But certainly one can still be right and one can be wrong. This is hardly a war on women’s rights. Nothing prevents women from getting contraception. 

According the United Nations, the United States ranks very high in prevalence of contraceptive use among the nations of the world. Not only is our country awash in contraceptives; we are also among the world’s leading suppliers of contraceptives to the rest of the world.

So this is hardly a war on contraception, but it is a war on religious freedom. War is a good word, an accurate word. Cardinal George of Chicago has warned that, if the HHS mandate goes through, all Catholic hospitals and colleges would have to close. The federal government is now threatening to intrude so dangerously into religious liberty that it alone gets to decide what is a religious institution and what is a religious activity.

To us, Ms. Sullivan, this is not ridiculous. This is war. 

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (16)Add Comment
written by Frank, March 09, 2012
In war, the first casualty is the truth. For the Church, it cannot become a casualty as a result of self inflicted winds. Let the other side make that mistake.
written by Other Joe, March 09, 2012
It is! And while you may not be interested in this war, it is interested in you.
written by Scott Walter, March 09, 2012
Excellent column, Austin. But I would quibble about the Blaine Amendments. For the reasons you give, the state Blaine Amendments are less outrageous than the HHS mandate, but it's important to recognize that the Blaine movement was and is far more successful than you indicate. These amendments passed in a large majority of states and are still law in 37 states, where they gravely hinder increased school choice and also charitable work by religious groups. See for details.

These amendments have long been fought in the courts by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which now represents the Catholic and Protestant groups suing the federal government over the HHS mandate. For Becket's most important current lawsuit against a Blaine amendment, the Becket Fund website.
written by Grump, March 09, 2012
Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter has written eloquently about the so-called "Wall of Separation" between Church and State.

I recently emailed him with some laudatory comments about his main argument, made in his 1993 book, "The Culture of Disbelief," in which he states that the Establishment Clause is designed to protect religion from the state and not the state from religion. In discussing the "wall of separation" he also mentioned the "Founders' vision" and the need for a "few doors" in that wall.

Professor Carter was kind enough to refer me to a recent column he wrote for Bloomberg, an excerpt which follows: "Although the provenance of the wall of separation stretches well back in Protestant theology, it was popularized in the New World by the Baptist preacher Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, who wrote of the garden and the wilderness, separated by a high hedge wall. The garden was the place where God’s people worked together to understand what the Lord required of them. They were protected from the encroaching wilderness by that hedge wall.

"That is the point: The wall protects the garden from the wilderness, not the other way around. With time, it is true, we have come to see the wall constraining church as well as state, and we as a nation are better for that understanding. But we should not, in our historical confusion, imagine that the wall was ever meant to hold back only the church, with the state free to breach at whim."

In a response by email, Professor Carter thanked me for my comments and added, "I will be delivering an address on the topic at Catholic University in April. Interestingly, I also warned years ago that this issue would one day arise. I believe that was in a talk at DePaul back in the 1990s."
written by Tony Esolen, March 09, 2012
What a Grand Canyon there is between a Christian liberal, like Stephen Carter, and a secular leftist, like Kathleen Sebelius! God bless him -- he does good work.
written by Walt J., March 09, 2012
Re: "To be fair, she did criticize the feminist left for using similar language about a war on women’s rights. But certainly one can still be right and one can be wrong. This is hardly a war on women’s rights. Nothing prevents women from getting contraception."
I cannot find any place where there is prescribed a womens right to contraception. Help me out on that one
written by CaseyinAlaska, March 09, 2012
You are far too kind, or not "getting it" if you think Sullivan is simply mis-informed. There is an outright attempt to create confusion and thus victory for the left in these battles. It is called deceit and it's done on purpose.
Call a spade a spade and more people will be interested in defending the direct attacks on liberty when they don't mistakenly grant the left a pass as being innocently misinformed, but understand these are purposeful lies to keep people confused and uninvolved.
It's the art of deception in war and they are using it successfully.
Casey in Alaska
written by Fr Eric , March 09, 2012
Good article and three words tip us off to the message: Berkley, Liberty and Georgetown. Is it any wonder that the friends of this presidential administration run to this university to have liberal anti-catholic conferences? Sullivan, Fluke et al. Georgetown has closer ties with Sabellius than with Pope Benedict XVI.
written by TeaPot562, March 09, 2012
@Walt J.: Have you heard of the SCOTUS cases "Roe v. Wade" and "Doe v. Bolton"?
I believe that these Supreme Court decisions effectively state a woman's right to contraception. This left open the question of whether a state could limit this to adult women - Should a twelve-year old girl be able to buy them?
Certainly ABC's George Stephanopolous, a former White House Clinton staffer, deserves major credit for introducing this issue into the Republican primary campaigns.
written by Winnie, March 09, 2012
"I tell you — it's no use arguing with a Communist. It's no good trying to convert a Communist or persuade him. You can only deal with him on the following basis... you can only do it by having superior force on your side on the matter in question — and they must also be convinced that you will use — you will not hesitate to use — those forces, if necessary, in the most ruthless manner. You have not only to convince the [American] Government that you have a superior force — that they are confronted by superior force — but that you are not restrained by any moral consideration, if the case arose, from using that force with complete material ruthlessness. And that is the greatest chance of peace, the surest road to peace." - Winston Churchill, speech, New York, March 25, 1949.
written by Liz, March 10, 2012
Close Catholic hospitals and colleges!!!! YIKES! That is what they want! That is music to their ears. Closing Catholic elementary and secondary schools was a goal of the Blaine amendment and in many cases it succeeded. My heart stops when I hear some bishops threaten to close our Catholic institutions. What we should hear is that they are willing to be like Christ and die for what is right! Spend time in jail if they must! Put their life on the line! That would get attention and show they are serious! Since when in war does a soldier hint at giving the enemy what they want before the battle begins? It is time for the men of the Church to be who Christ called them to be. We desperately need Christian men who are willing to die to save their people. If the Bishops and priests can't stand up for the Church and be willing to die, how can they expect men at home to defend their family, the domestic Church? The Bishops must lead the charge by their example.
written by Dave, March 10, 2012
Last October at NARAL's 17th Annual Power of Choice convention, held in Chicago, Secretary Sebelius said, "we are in a war," after announcing that the GOP wanted to "roll back 50 years of progress." An Administration official declared a state of war against those who do not share its progressive policies. Let those words sink in.

It behooves us all to google the event, read the speech, and engrave those words on our hearts and minds. We did not choose this war, which has been raging for more than fifty years by the way, and we did nothing to merit the brazen attack against religious liberty occasioned by the Mandate: the bishops thought, naively but in good faith, that the promises the President made at Notre Dame would hold true.

We have to note, too, the Administration's insistence that the only possible outcome is total capitulation. So this is not only war: this is total war, in which one position or the other will win completely and unconditionally. We have the Lord's assurance of victory, in the end, and his promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church; but we also have his word that what they did to him, they will do to his disciples. And so this Lent we should make careful interior preparation for what lies ahead. Much will be required of us.
written by Porphyry, March 10, 2012
DaveinAlaska gets it. Secular progressives violently hate religious conservatives and they are willing to engage in massive amounts of lying and disinformation in order to score a political victory against them. They are not good will participants in a policy debate; they are part of an active campaign to achieve cultural hegemony by any means available. They will say or do anything to defeat the religious conservatives that they so passionately hate and fear. We know all to well that there is no effort to roll back access to contraception; they are just engaging in bald-faced lying in order to whip up paranoia and fear of religion among the secular population. It is not fun to acknowledge, but the writing is on the wall. We are now in the opening stages of an undeclared civil war.
written by Randall Peaslee, March 10, 2012
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle . . .
written by Sigmund, March 12, 2012
Memo to Catholic hospitals:

Please close and sell your assets to those who will follow the law on employment benefits rather than attempt to impose Catholic dogma on its employees under the guise of "freedom of religion". Also, it would be great to have more hospitals that would serve all the people in the community including women who need contraception and abortion services.

Whenever a Catholic hospital merges with or takes over a secular hospital, there is always a serious justifiable fear among most women in the community that they will be cut off from services that they need and deserve to have available.

Catholic hospitals are an anarchronism that should be eliminated.
written by Chris in Maryland, March 13, 2012
Control yourself Sigmund:

Your post violates the expressed intention at the bottom of the web site for "intelligent, Catholic commentary." On a purely secular political note, better to refrain from sanctimony about the preference for novelties like HHS regulations which contradict the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

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