At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, seeking theological underpinning for his drive to raise taxes on the rich, President Obama invoked the highest possible authority. His policy, he testified “as a Christian,” “coincides with Jesus’ teaching that for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’”
Now, I’m no theologian, but I’m fairly certain that neither Jesus nor his rabbinic forebears, when speaking of giving, meant some obligation to the state. You tithe the priest, not the taxman.
The Judeo-Christian tradition commands personal generosity as represented, for example, by the biblical injunction against retrieving any sheaf left behind while harvesting one’s own field. That is for the gleaners — “the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:10). Like Ruth in the field of Boaz. As far as I can tell, that charitable transaction involved no mediation by the IRS.
But no matter. Let’s assume that Obama has biblical authority for hiking the marginal tax rate exactly 4.6 points for couples making more than $250,000 (depending, of course, on the prevailing shekel-to-dollar exchange rate). Let’s stipulate that Obama’s prayer-breakfast invocation of religion as vindicating his politics was not, God forbid, crass, hypocritical, self-serving electioneering, but a sincere expression of a social-gospel Christianity that sees good works as central to the very concept of religiosity.
Fine. But this Gospel according to Obama has a rival — the newly revealed Gospel according to Sebelius, over which has erupted quite a contretemps. By some peculiar logic, it falls to the health-and-human-services secretary to promulgate the definition of “religious” — for the purposes, for example, of exempting religious institutions from certain regulatory dictates.
Such exemptions are granted in grudging recognition that, whereas the rest of civil society may be broken to the will of the state’s regulators, our quaint Constitution grants special autonomy to religious institutions.
Accordingly, it would be a mockery of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment if, for example, the Catholic Church were required by law to freely provide such “health-care services” (in secularist parlance) as contraception, sterilization, and pharmacological abortion — to which Catholicism is doctrinally opposed as a grave contravention of its teachings about the sanctity of life.
Ah. But there would be no such Free Exercise violation if the institutions so mandated are deemed, by regulatory fiat, not religious.
And thus, the word came forth from Sebelius decreeing the exact criteria required (a) to meet her definition of “religious” and thus (b) to qualify for a modicum of independence from newly enacted state control of American health care, under which the aforementioned Sebelius and her phalanx of experts determine everything — from who is to be covered, to which treatments are to be guaranteed free-of-charge.