The White House is scrambling this week to defend its decision that under the administration's healthcare overhaul law, religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals, colleges, and charities must comply with the requirement to provide contraception—ranging from the pill to sterilization to the morning-after pill—free of charge for female employees. Fox News quotes Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh: "[T]he Obama administration was essentially saying 'to hell with you,' particularly to the Catholic community by dismissing our beliefs, our religious freedom and our freedom of conscience."
Yesterday, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, and although at one point in his speech he said that "our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical," that's exactly what he did. Take a look:
When I talk about shared responsibility, it's because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it's hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that "for unto whom much is given, much shall be required."
... But part of that belief comes from my faith in the idea that I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper; that as a country, we rise and fall together. I'm not an island. I'm not alone in my success. I succeed because others succeed with me.
Taken together—the president's disregard for a "conscience" objection for traditional religious institutions, plus his notion that Christian teachings undergird the government's redistribution of wealth in our society—show a striking contrast. On one hand he displays a great faith in government and on the other, no faith in organized religion. His actions also show a fundamental confusion between government programs and private charity—a confusion that is common to many liberals who believe that government has an obligation to end income inequality.
Arthur Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute, documented this in his book Who Really Cares, writing that "for many people, the desire to donate other people's money displaces the act of giving one's own." This explains why supporters of wealth redistribution are so hostile to organized religion and, in fact, donate very little money to charity themselves. Because they believe that society's problems are so big that only government can solve them, they scorn the idea that individuals, churches, neighborhood organizations, and non-profits can ever make a dent in the challenges facing our nation.
To them, it is government—not individuals—who can turn things around. That's why they constantly want higher taxes, higher spending, and more involvement in our lives by the government. That's not a view that most Americans share, given that our citizens volunteer more and give more money to charity than any other nation on earth.
"If liberals persist in their faith in government and antipathy to religion," Brooks writes, "Democrats will become not only the party of secularism but also the party of uncharity." As the fall campaign unfolds, expect more attacks from the left on religious institutions and more talk of "shared responsibility" and wealth redistribution at the expense of individual freedom and opportunity. This week was only a preview.
Most of us see the writing on the wall: In an era of massive government deficits, we'll all need private charities to step in where government can no longer afford to help. But even on top of the fiscal arguments, support for private charities is one of the hallmarks of American exceptionalism—volunteerism is an idea as old as our republic and one that most Americans live every day of their lives—but one that the left seems to have forgotten.