Thy Life's a Miracle

Paul Greenberg

2/22/2012 12:01:00 AM - Paul Greenberg

It's really not fair or accurate to say this administration has declared war on religion. Its policy isn't that clear. If it has one. And if it does, that policy keeps changing, depending on who's exerting what pressures at the time.

By now there have been so many reversals and retreats, waivers and exemptions, defeats in court and in the court of public opinion, it's hard to tell just what that policy is at the moment. Maybe it's all TBD, as the bureaucrats say. To Be Determined.

Remember when Nancy Pelosi told us we'd have to pass Obamacare before we found out what's in it? Well, we passed it and there's still no telling. It all depends on what the administration wants to find in it today. Which could describe its whole approach to the Constitution.

First the administration wanted to tell religious schools what teachers they can hire and fire to teach the faith. The Supreme Court begged to differ. Unanimously.

Then the White House and its health czar took aim at Roman Catholic hospitals, clinics, universities, charities and any other good works the church might dare undertake.

The word went forth from Washington: The health-insurance plans of all such institutions must cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. All of which run counter to Catholic teaching.

The administration generously excluded the church itself from having to violate its conscience, but not its affiliated institutions -- hospitals, churches, universities and so benevolently on. As if the church were just its physical plant and immediate staff. All the rest must bend the knee, bow the head, and do as Washington decrees, details TBD.

What is one to say of such a cramped view of faith? And of religious liberty? Perhaps what the eminent physicist said when one of his students proposed a particularly bizarre theory: That's not right. It's not even wrong.

What it is, is hopelessly confused.

My mother lost her last battle against cancer at a Roman Catholic hospital -- Schumpert sanitarium in Shreveport, La. Am I supposed to believe that the silent nuns who glided in and out of her room wearing caps that looked like angel's wings, tending her with quiet, thorough, loving care, carrying out every order from the useless doctors, were just employees? That they weren't following a religious vocation? That they were not part of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ? But just on a Career Path? And, therefore, belong under Washington's authority, not their Lord and Savior's?

Please.

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This is the absurdity reached when politicians decide that we must render unto Caesar what is not his. And never will be.

It is the predictable result of government's crossing the unmistakable line the Founding Fathers drew between church and state in the clear and simple words of the First Amendment and first freedom:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....

What is it about Make No Law that this administration doesn't get?

Everything, apparently.

This is what we get when we elect a professor of constitutional law president. As usual, it's not the law that's the problem, it's the lawyer.

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Query: If the church, at least in this administration's narrow definition of the Body of Christ, gets to be a conscientious objector when it comes to Obamacare's loving embrace, what about the rest of us?

Might we not have religious convictions, too? Can we get a waiver?

Sure we can. Just as the church did. All we need do is meet a couple of conditions: (a) be able to mobilize millions of voters in this year's presidential election, and (b) have the support, influence, organization, tradition, history of devotion and worldwide reach of the Roman Catholic Church.

It ought to be a snap.

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This much the administration accomplished by its latest decree: It's united the whole, widely disparate spectrum of religions in this country -- against it. Along with all Americans who treasure religious liberty, believers or not.

As an Arkansas preacher (also governor) Mike Huckabee said when he first heard of the administration's latest and maybe strangest ruling, "We're all Catholics now."

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By now the administration has retreated from its original ruling. Or the president says it has, which may not be the same thing. He can be a slippery customer, Mr. Obama.

According to his latest edict, employees of Roman Catholic institutions must still be offered access to procedures the church finds abhorrent, but there's no need for concern. For there's always a way around a moral imperative. Isn't that what professors of constitutional law are for?

Under the Obama Out, which sounds like a direct descendant of the Clinton Clause, the church wouldn't actually be paying, not directly, for the kind of things that violate its conscience. Indeed, nobody would. The insurers would just swallow the cost. (Gosh, how come I never met an insurance company like that?)

As the president explains it, the insurers would actually make money his way. Because not having a baby is so much cheaper than having one, let alone raising it. (Have you seen what colleges charge for tuition these days?) Having the insurance company handle the problem makes it all constitutionally kosher. And so much simpler.

Well, sure. Think of how much simpler things would be if none of us had been born. We wouldn't have to worry about those federal Rules and Regulations. Or anything else. No more constitutional conundrums that would cross a law professor's eyes. All would be a perfect blank. Man would never have marred Creation.

This where we end up when we start treating life as a cost-benefit ratio. But it isn't. Even if the president's figures were right, they'd be wrong. Because this isn't a question of costs and benefits, probabilities and projections. It's a question of faith and morals. The question is whether even a president of the United States can put a price tag on life or whether it is priceless. I know what I think. You probably do, too.

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This is what happens when life becomes just one more item to list on the profit-and-loss statement. And not something to be respected, even revered. As if it were sacred and inviolable. Instead, our president adds up the sums and assures us it would be cheaper to forgo life.

Sad. And surreal. For life is more than a row of figures. We used to know that. Not any more.

It's all enough to make me want to rear up, look the president in his eyes that do not see, and, like Edgar speaking to blind old Gloucester in "Lear," shout: Thy life's a miracle!

Everybody's is.