It continues to amaze me that the Founders of our nation showed such remarkable restraint and wisdom when it came to federal power. They instinctively knew what some today are only beginning to grasp: power, once taken, is seldom curtailed. Looking at history we see that this is true. Those who have power over others quite often use that power to advance it toward increase. In an effort to prevent this the authors of the Constitution established three distinct branches of government, each of which was intended to keep an eye on and limit the others. If politicians are busy watching each other, it was thought, perhaps they won’t have much time to bother the people and disturb their liberties.
Then they added two other ingredients to the plan, both enshrined in that part of the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights: a guarantee of freedom for the press, and an explicit statement that all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved to the States and their people. If the three branches monitor each other and the press monitors all three, we can rest comfortably in the knowledge that governmental tyranny can be prevented. The plan was bold and terrific.
But what if the press were to become the mouthpiece for powerful government? What if the hope of a Utopia in America were to lead members of the press to lose their objectivity and support the agenda of limiting liberty? In The Rights of Man (1792), Thomas Paine wrote that “it is monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support.” Thank God he did not write, “when political elites horde power in order to promise us impossible benefits, a thrill goes up my leg.”
When British troops surrendered to the Continental Army at Yorktown in 1781, the British band played The World Turned Upside-Down. The mightiest army had been beaten by liberty-minded, colonial upstarts. The world truly seemed a different place.
Well, if Washington Post political writer Melinda Henneberger is any indicator, the world may have turned over again–not for the better, but tilted in the favor of tyranny. On Wednesday of this week she appeared on Hardball, the CNN news program hosted by Chris Matthews. Unable to control her tongue, and obviously fishing for something intelligent to say, she offered this dangerous notion: “Maybe the Founders were wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion in the First Amendment but that is what they did ….”
This debate, despite what the liberal talking heads are saying, is not about reproductive rights or a woman’s power over her own body. Even among Catholics the question of birth control is controversial. As a Catholic theologian I cannot fail to recognize that. But the debate about Catholic doctrine belongs to Catholics, just as the debate of all religious organizations about their own beliefs belongs with them. The federal government has no right to demand that a religious organization pay for services that go against its teachings. If any American is willing to give even a single millimeter on this issue then the Constitution might as well be used in the bottom of a bird cage.
The debate isn’t about birth control. It’s about who can be forced to pay for it. My advice is this: condoms are cheap, so buy your own. Or visit your local health department where you’ll normally receive them for free.
This decision was made unilaterally by one man: President Barack Obama. Even Vice President Joe Biden warned against it. It is a shame that we are debating the law itself instead of the fact that any single person in this Republic should have so much power. This was a partisan decision, purely and simply. It amounts to nothing more than an attempt by Obama to shore up his liberal base. He doesn’t give a damn about the Constitution as long as he and the Democrat party remain in power. It is unreasonable. It is dangerous. It is tyrannical. It’s unconstitutional in the most obvious of ways. And yet too many in the press and in other quarters are willing to look the other direction.
Today they’ll limit the rights of Catholics. Whose rights will be limited tomorrow? Maybe the government will tell Baptists that they can’t print Bibles anymore because it causes global warming. Or perhaps Jews will be told they can no longer speak of their support for Israel because it might cause a disruption of the peace process in the Middle East. Maybe Uncle Sam will take the gold from churches and temples to be melted down for the sake of the poor. Once we fool ourselves and trade our freedom for an unrealistic Utopia there is no end to the dangers we face.
The Catholic bishops who supported Obamacare in the hope of a better America are waking up to the fact that the one with whom they jumped into bed cannot be trusted. After a meeting with President Obama, Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Timothy Dolan of New York was satisfied that the Emperor would respect religious rights. He was wrong; he feels that he was betrayed. Maybe now the University of Notre Dame will take back the honorary doctorate it hastily awarded Obama in 2009.
Barack Obama is the King of Feel-Good Politics, a land where money grows on trees and can be spent without negative repercussions. There is always more. It’s a land where personal freedoms are granted not by God, but by government. His blind supporters remain asleep and they fail to grasp that America is at a new crossroads, one that offers the false vision of a just future if only we will stop demanding our freedom. Grant the government just a little more power, they say, and the Kingdom of Righteousness will come. Just a bit more, then just a little more, and then ever so small a slice more power. It never ends.
If, perhaps, the Founders were “wrong” to guarantee religious freedom, then perhaps they were wrong to imagine a system of limited government at all. Perhaps they were wrong to allow freedom of the press, or the right to peaceful assembly. Maybe they were wrong to demand the due process of law for all who stand accused. Hmm. Come to think of it, this is the strange new world we’re being offered already.
Tyranny always has as its excuse the hope of a better society. William Pitt reminded us in 1793 that necessity is “the argument of tyrants” and “the plea for every infringement of human freedom.”
On the day that Barack Obama was elected, some of us were already sounding the alarm. We were ridiculed. It was wrongly thought that words like “tyranny” and “liberty” were leftovers from history with no meaning for us today. Now, even the Catholic bishops are sounding the alarm. Can we hear it?