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The High Court’s Good Lick for Religious Liberty

Not a nice day for the Me generations.

By 7.1.14

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The U.S. Supreme Court had a banner day, a crackerjack day, with horns and ice cream, as it trumped the federal government’s brazen claim of power and authority to define which religious convictions, if any, have a proper place in the health care arena.

Hooray for the Hahn and Green families for carrying to the high court their plea to be released from the duty of providing employees with contraceptive coverage under Obamacare. Never mind (as the government saw it before the court’s 5-4 ruling) the two families’ religiously grounded conviction that the mandate violated their religious beliefs and moral principles, potentially implicating them in the destruction of unborn life.

The families, we should all note, didn’t mind covering in their insurance plans the majority of contraceptives mandated by the government; they opposed only a few devices, including the morning-after pill, which prevents the implantation of already fertilized eggs. Why couldn’t the Health and Human Services Department, the court majority wondered aloud, work out for the family-owned companies involved — the Greens at Hobby Lobby, the Hahns at Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. — exemptions like those already granted religiously affiliated non-profits?

An answer that skirts the Supreme Court’s deliberative language is ready at hand. It is that the administration doesn’t care a rap about the religious rights asserted by the Hahns and the Greens. It has other religious rights in mind — the ones to which its voters and supporters, promoters and intellectual apologists seem most profoundly committed.

These latter rights are not conventionally thought of as religious. No scriptural quotations, no theological disquisitions, adorn them. They are religious all the same in their centeredness upon a single gospel of salvation — the Gospel of “I Want.”

The great quest of the late 20th century, all the more imperative in the 21st, is to bring the concept of human need, human potential, into line with human desire, eschewing all the old “pie in the sky” stuff. Talking about Now; talking about Me.

The court, in its Hobby Lobby-Conestoga decision, said “no” to Me. Or, rather, it said, “Look. Other people have rights, too.” That’s exactly the thing you don’t say to all the modern evangelists for Me — bloggers, comedians, Ivy League faculty, lawyers, panelists on The View. You don’t tell them anything in the world stands between modern Americans and the satisfaction of all desires. Certainly the court told them no such thing two years ago in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, seeming thereby to disfavor state-imposed obstacles to same-sex marriage. Barely half the states today maintain their old insistence on the old norms for family formation.

“It is not for us to say that religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” the court majority declares. But a considerable portion of America does that precise job by substituting for the old ways, the old beliefs, heavy on self-denial and obedience, its own gospel of non-denial, non-obedience: the Gospel of “I Want.” This is especially so when the desire in question is sexual. Personal control of the body is what the “I Want” gospel affirms, which is why the government took so ungenerous a view in making as tight as possible the escape hatches from the contraceptive mandate: OK, churches, if we have to, but nobody else, certainly not weirdos without theology degrees.

If I want, I deserve, constitutionally speaking. This much the Gospel makes clear. This gospel the court was supposed to affirm, with the back of the hand for religious types obsessed, supposedly, by what goes on in other people’s bedrooms. The court didn’t affirm any such thing. It expressed sympathy and understanding for holdouts against the “I Want” regime. From whose spokesmen we may count on a loud and passionate outcry against religious bigotry. That another kind of religious bigotry, measured in contemptuous statements about our civilization’s onetime Judeo-Christian consensus, might be even a greater threat to life and liberty — we likely won’t hear much of. But we deserve to.

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About the Author

William Murchison is a Dallas-based columnist for Creators Syndicate. His latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.