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President Obama's Kulturkampf?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Editor's Note: This column was co-written by Bob Morrison.

TIME Magazine’s nation editor, Amy Sullivan, thinks all this talk of President Obama’s “war” on religious liberty is overwrought. She told a recent Georgetown gathering that it was absurd to claim the latest Mandate from HHS ranks with such horrible events in American history as the Philadelphia Bible Riots of 1844.


To be sure, those riots were terrible. Catholics and Protestants in the City of Brotherly Love attacked each others’ churches in a series of violent clashes that left several dead. In nearby New York , however, the situation remained tense but calm. That’s because Catholic Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes made it clear that if a single Catholic Church was torched, he’d make sure New York looked like “a second Moscow .” The reference was to Napoleon’s burning the Russian city in 1812. (The “dagger” referred to was for his piercing sermons, and perhaps his Irish wit, not for any weapons he carried. Thank God.)

Well, Editor Sullivan is surely right to recall with a shudder the kinds of religious strife we went though as Americans in our past. But she missed the main point of those of us who protest against President Obama’s unconscionable HHS Mandate: As deplorable as the Philadelphia Bible Riots were, they were not the result of conscious, deliberate federal government policy.

Of course, it’s always hard to get journalists to understand a story about religious liberty. The famed Rothman and Lichter study found that 91% of reporters and columnists for the prestige press never attend a religious service of any kind.

No wonder no one blinked an eye when NBC News Anchorman John Chancellor solemnly intoned that President Reagan was being sworn in, his hand on the family Bible, “opened to Eleven Chronicles 7:22.” Few reporters looked up when presidential candidate Howard Dean claimed that his favorite New Testament book was “Job.” Maybe they thought he was talking unemployment figures. CNN’s Bill Schneider had a point when he said that the mass media “doesn’t get religion.” Can they hum a few bars?


Maybe we should use an example from history to illustrate what we mean. In the 1870s, the Chancellor of the newly united German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, tried to bring the whole force of the state against the Catholics of his nation. He found the Catholic Center Party in the Reichstag to be a thorn in his side. He restricted Catholics’ rights in education and worship. It was called a kulturkampf, or cultural clash. This clash threatened to tear apart the new German state. It led to deep divisions that are felt to this day in Germany. Only when Bismarck, “the Iron Chancellor,” relented, hoping to gain Catholic support for his new fight with German Socialists, did the threat of disunion subside.

It would not be a stretch to call Mr. Obama’s health care Mandate a kulturkampf. If he can force Catholic institutions—hospitals, schools, and para-church ministries—to provide drugs that can cause abortions now, why wouldn’t his next move be to mandate they actually provide for surgical abortions next year? And why not force all of us to pay for sex change operations, too?

He might say then what he says now of his former defense of marriage: His views are evolving. Now, with this HHS Mandate, we can see the little toes emerging from the fish’s body. We know which way liberals evolve. Once they crawl out onto the land of political correctness, they never return to the sea of common sense.


In all of this evolving, Mr. Obama will have the panting devotion of a media that feels a tingling up and down its leg whenever he orates. Telegenic academics like Michael Beschloss will tell us he is the most intelligent man ever to occupy the White House.

TR, Lincoln, Mr. Jefferson don’t call your office.

TIME’s editor, Amy Sullivan, has actually written with some appreciation of the attempt to isolate Christians in a country still largely, even vibrantly, Christian. She sees, too, the cultural vertigo that comes from a media-driven effort to marginalize Christians, making them strangers in a strange land.

For nearly 2,000 years, the story of Jesus and broader biblical epics had infused the cultural environment of the average Westerner. Now those influences were suddenly nowhere to be seen….On television, Linus's recitation from the second chapter of Luke at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965 was perhaps the last respectful reference to Jesus that Hollywood offered America's children.

Note the tense. Had infused. To liberals like Amy Sullivan, we are the past. To liberals like President Obama, his brave new world is the future. That’s why there’s a kulturkampf.

Bismarck lost his clash with the Catholic Church. His united Germany plunged the world into two world wars and was itself cut in two for forty years. This is the danger that comes from such statist kulturkampfs. It’s what we will continue to resist.


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