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Obama and the Culture War Endgame

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The report came last week from my friend and colleague Austin Ruse: the White House was putting the steps in place for a policy that would “require charitable humanitarian groups to accept LGBT applicants in order to qualify for government funding, even those religious groups that might have religious objections.” This move would add yet another step to an executive order issued last July, prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

As Austin noted, “faith-based groups were already wrestling with that order,” and this next step takes the move to a plane ever more aggressive, ever plainer in its purpose and intention. Back in 2012, even seasoned political observers were astonished that the Obama Administration would actually wish to pick a fight with the Catholic Church by ginning up the “war on women.” But it is now, plainly, more than that. It is nothing less than a move toward the endgame of driving serious Christians and Orthodox Jews from the public square altogether.

The anchoring point is to establish the clear, commanding rightness of abortion and the liberation of things sexual from the confines of nature and moral restraint. Those who deny these things, in word and deed, are doing wrongful things, and in the “logic of morals,” the right is to be promoted, the wrongful denounced and repressed.

And to make the point even more emphatically, the wrongful must not be allowed any sanctuary beyond public reproach. The law, and our public policy, should offer not a whisper of endorsement. And the ultimate end: to make it shameful for respectable people to express such views in public.

Once again we see the curious, but predictable inversion. The people who began by denying radically any grounds for casting moral judgments on others now turn about and thunder the unyielding logic of a Categorical Imperative. But that Imperative is linked now to their own, indefensible moral predicates.

And so, they demand that the moral truth here be commanded and respected “though the heavens may fall” – regardless of the consequences that may fall upon us. Would they really have Catholic Charities cease their valuable work in arranging adoptions if they would not place children with same-sex couplings? Would they really forego the lives saved in the work done by religious charities as they deal with floods and famines and earthquakes abroad?

Yes, for this valuable work would come at a cost in principle, for them, too grave to be borne.

“The Flight of the Prisoners” [beginning the Babylonian exile] by James Tissot c. 1900 [Jewish Museum, New York]
“The Flight of the Prisoners” [beginning the Babylonian exile] by James Tissot c. 1900 [Jewish Museum, New York]

The public purpose in these humanitarian missions could be noticeably impaired if the government denied itself the services of these private, religious organizations. But that is separate from the question of whether these private entities can survive without these grants from the federal government (most likely, they could). And that is even more different from the question of whether these religious groups have a “right” to receive these grants.

If the federal government were not deeply involved in foreign aid, with missions of rescue abroad, no one would claim a “right” to engage in such a project with the funding of the government. But now that the programs are in place, a serious moral and constitutional question may indeed be raised by the barring of the religious.

In a 1993 case, young James Zobrest, afflicted with deafness, had the benefit of an interpreter in his public school. That aid flowed to him under the laws of the United States and Arizona. But he was denied that aid when his family shifted him for high school to the Salpointe Catholic School. It was claimed by the county attorney that the use of public funds in a Catholic school violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision, but with reasoning too much engrossed in the question of which parts of the curriculum the public funds could be supporting. The more decisive point, however, was this: If there were no public provision for interpreters, James Zobrest would suffer no wrong in being denied them. But those interpreters came to him under the laws of the federal government and Arizona. To deprive him of that benefit solely because he had shifted to a Catholic school was nothing less than creating a disability based solely, decisively on his religion.

The same point of principle would be engaged in barring religious organizations from receiving grants for their work abroad. But there would be little leverage for bringing suit, and nothing here is exactly covered in the Constitution. To bar groups from grants is not exactly to impair the “free exercise” of religion (First Amendment) or to attach a “religious test” for the holding of office (Art. VI).

But as Justice Scalia remarked in a similar case in 2004, when the government bars benefits “to some individuals solely on the basis of religion, it violates the Free Exercise Clause no less than if it had imposed a special tax.” Those words were not exactly in the text of the Constitution. But Justice Scalia draws the conclusion with the surety that they were entailed by the very logic of “religious freedom.”

Some friends complain that, when judges move outside the text of the Constitution, there is nothing to confine their judgments. But Justice Scalia shows us again how one can move outside the text and find, in the deeper principles, both guidance and constraint.

Hadley Arkes

Hadley Arkes

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College. He is also Founder and Director of the Washington-based James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments relevant to columns that are civil, concise, and respectful of other contributors. We do not publish comments with links to other websites or other online material.
  • Alicia

    If gay marriage is approved by the Supreme Court, the law of the land is saying that homosexual sex is good and must be accepted by all.
    Will the clegy preaching at church, teachers at Catholic schools and universities be accused of ” hate speech ” ?
    There is a law on hate speech.
    They would all lose tax-exempt status and federal funding.
    If I speak against it and explain my faith in public, at work or at a social event, can I be prosecuted for hate speech ?
    I am reminded of the cardinal who recently died (sorry, forgot his name) who said he wiuld die in bed, the one after him would die in jail, and the next one would be a martyr.
    Can the hate speech law do this?
    Was there a master plan slowly put into action to destroy Christianity? I wonder.

    • David

      Stop wondering, Alicia. There is such a plan.

      • RainingAgain

        Indeed. The homosexuals are only the dupes.

    • Diane

      His name was Francis George. He was my Cardinal in Chicago. A wonderful Conservative. He said that the Pope needs to explain himself before he died. Abortion is legal and faithful Catholics do not accept it. But, we are going through the persecution, just as the Blessed Virgin warned us.

    • Charles E Flynn

      If the Supreme Court rules that the moon is made of green cheese, am I obliged under law to believe it?

    • Guest

      Read “The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita” and you will understand.

      • Alicia

        Thank you. I did. I’m speechless and furious. I’m sure 99% of Catholics don’t know about it. Why ? Why isn’t it published and explained in the churches’ weekly bulletins? the diocese’s monthly newspaper
        distributed at the churches? Why aren’t we being asked to pray for their failure ? Look at the German, Swiss, and French cardinals !
        It’s frustrating. Rosaries, daily rosaries for the Church is our only hope. May God help us.

        • lwhite

          I would suggest you read it again Alicia and will find an answer to your question as to why it isn’t published and explained in the churches’ weekly bulletins.
          Read page 30.

  • TBill

    I have a patient I’m treating for depression who remarked that one of several things that were depressing her was the current state of the Middle East. I pointed out, after increasing her medication dose, that if her mood depended on conditions in that region of the world, it would be very difficult to help her feel better.

    One hopes and prays that with God’s help we can turn our culture around, but it is likely that won’t happen. Nor should our morale depend too much on it . We need to be prepared for defeat and its aftermath, knowing that in the end, Jesus has secured our ultimate victory.

    The late Cardinal George predicted a period of increasing hostility and even persecution toward the Church. We’re getting closer to it. Are we ready? Are we getting ready?

    • givelifeachance2

      I sure hope those patients tripping on your pills are ready. For one thing they’re going to face one heck of a rebound withdrawal syndrome when the lights go out. ..

  • Jim Thunder

    Egg on face on President and Board at Notre Dame, eh? In receiving its honorary degree in May 2009, Obama told the audience he would respect conscience.

    • PalaceGuard

      They should have known better. His lips were moving.

  • RainingAgain

    Our Lord promised us that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church. I have only realised today that this means She will likely encounter those Gates.

  • grump

    George Clemnceau said it best when he stated America is the only nation that has gone from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.

  • sagehen

    I think that the endgame is more ambitious than simply driving serious Christians and Jews from the public square. Rather, the real goal is to coerce religious leaders, and in particular, the Catholic bishops, to publicly compromise a core moral tenet of the faith. I don’t think that Obama and the people who he is working for on this initiative even care which particular issue that they break the bishops on, whether it be abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, or same-sex marriage. The goal is to be able to say that the Church, for pragmatic reasons, has crossed a moral boundary that had been held out as being inviolate under any circumstances. If and when that ever happens, the entire moral foundation of the Church will be attacked on the grounds that their is no such thing as absolute moral truth – and any Catholic who chooses to say that there is will have to repudiate the bishop who caved, and at the cost of also repudiating the Holy Spirit’s guarantee of the integrity of the teaching office of bishops. Of course the Devil has been working this angle for two thousand years, and as hard as it may be to believe, we must trust that our often feckless shepherds will somehow manage to elude this trap, and that if need be will have the courage to resist.

    • John Braun

      Wow, that was really good.

  • patrick oconnor

    they will come after our church! They hate God. God reminds them of their dirty deeds!

  • veritasetgratia

    Religious charitable organisations must be asking themselves whether they can survive without government financial support but we need to acknowledge the danger of Catholic organisations working closely with the Government in supplying aid. Catholic relief agencies are often drawn in and ultimately compromised by Government policy about aid. And this is said to be the case in Catholic Relief Services and Caritas International. One of these organisations defends itself with the unCatholic excuse that in order to do some good they must also accept the Government’s definition of aid. The Government ties aid to promoting homosexual lifestyle, abortion and contraception. The Government has a big plan. In fact, the Catholic Church was and no doubt is a big irritation to early Eugenicists because it wanted to help the poor, whereas the Eugenicists wanted the poor to expire.
    So the ‘big plan’ could well include wiping out any Catholic relief agency who follows Catholic principles.

  • Cha5678

    Julian the Apostate hated the Catholic Church’s influence. He created a number of social services that were funded by the Roman taxpayers and which promoted paganism. National secularist charity has, is and will never be about charity. It has, is and will be about centralizing control for Caesar

  • BTGbarrister

    Again, Professor Arkes’ voice rises like a “Colossus” to challenge
    the zeitgeist. Pope Benedict XV warned of the dangers of moral relativism and determinism; everywhere we see the chaotic disorder that threatens western civilization. Like Paul, the “Great Lion of God” these things demand vocal resistance. Keep up the fine work Professor A!

  • Lisa T

    Long before Obama became president, morality and Catholic teaching was being compromised by government funding. Now it’s out in the open, the promises about ‘conscience’ and abortion and contraceptives that were made concerning Obamacare, all now broken. District courts and Supreme Court ruling in favor of totalitarian-like suppression of Catholics and other faiths. The US bishops have long been in bed (no pun intended) with the Democrat party, the “party of death” that is forcing most of the issues, be it sanctity of life, gay unions, 3rd world sterilization, on and on and on. There is no future decision to make. The handwriting is on the wall. LONG AGO, the Church should have refused any govt funding. To accept money from a virtually all-powerful dictatorship (which money originally comes by extortion of its own citizens) is inherently wrong unto itself. It appears good because what people see is soup kitchens, adoptions, shelters, counseling centers, etc. But it’s evil and that is why they are ultimately harming even the very target populations they purport to help. The Church is not and NGO, it’s not a Social Service Agency. Charity is people helping people. Charity is not robbing the citizenry, fattening govt coffers, doling some out to churches with conditions, to aid special groups co-determined by the corrupt government and the oft-corrupt bishops. GIVEN that all that is in fact the case and has been for decades, the only moral course for the Church is to refuse, most happily, most freely, and with joy and relief, all government aid.

  • hcat

    We Christians are entitled to “freedom of speech” not “freedom from speech.” Too many people today want “freedom from speech”.

  • lwhite

    No society and no government is properly ordered without recognition that God is the Supreme Authority; thus, the U.S. will never function with true liberty or justice because its founding principles did not reflect His authority and were merely inventions of fallen men who were influenced by other fallen men. It’s Constitution does not constitute a viable way to serve the most fundamental necessity of man-the knowledge of God. In fact, nowhere in the Constitution is God even mentioned. Thus, the ordering of society began without this fundamental principle. A foundation made of sand will fall.

    Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical “On the Christian Constitution of States” teaches that “it is clear that no better mode has been devised for the building up and ruling the State than that which is the necessary growth of the teachings of the Gospel.”

    In other words, a rightly constituted State exists when it adheres to the teachings of the Gospel
    He goes on to say “…the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose everbounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings.”

  • Catholic Dan

    Interesting that the secular left (is that redundant?) harps on their belief that the Catholic Church is “hung up on sex” when it is they who are obsessed with sex in all its permutations. I’m starting to think this pressure to conform or lose funding is a wonderful opportunity for the U.S. Catholic Church to check out of the government-funds supplemented charity con game and do our work independently. Then we’ll really see how Big Brother is incapable of rendering meaningful and compassionate care of the poor.

  • ChezC3

    The Catholic Church is the largest recipient of government funds as they hold and control the infrastructure needed to see the dispersement go to the greatest proportion of the people it is meant for. The Church should withdrawal completely and voluntarily from accepting government funds. Allow the chaos to ensue, watch the waste, the degradation, the fraud and criminality that WILL take place and then offer its ever-loving hand to assist those who come to its doors seeking shelter, comfort and aid. A clear and stark contrast has to be presented in order for those in err to see for themselves that err.