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Obama, Not Santorum, is the Theocrat

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

I rarely find myself disagreeing with Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, but I think he's obscuring his own point in the column he wrote for the New York Post over the weekend.

In his article, entitled, “Misconception,” he argues that “Republicans should stop fighting against birth control and start battling government control instead.” I don't know whether he's not listening to the same people I am, or he's just not listening. Every Republican I have heard speak - and I mean every single one - has made it perfectly clear they don't give a damn whether anyone uses contraception. Their objection is the government compulsion.

But because - in this particular case - the mandate happens to violate a particular religion's (Catholicism's) tenets, there is a lot of discussion about what those tenets are, and why the Catholic Church takes the positions it does. That invariably leads to arguments about whether that ought to be the Church's position. Some have chosen to come to the Church's defense, and tried to explain the reasoning behind the Church's position. They have the right to do this if they wish; Republicans' defense of the Catholic Church's right to take its position on contraception is not the same thing as saying it is the Republican Party's position, or ought to be.

Were Jews and Muslims being forced to eat pork, one could just as easily defend their right not to do so, without agreeing with that stricture of their faith, or understanding it, much less ever intending to adhere to it one's self.

While Tanner is absolutely correct that the emphasis needs to be on impermissible government intrusion, he is unfortunately feeding two media memes on this issue, which are demonstrably false and deliberately misleading.

The first obfuscation is the media's obsession with finding some number of Catholics who use birth control, as if this refutes the Church's claim of governmental interference with the freedom of religion. That is completely irrelevant. It isn't about how many Catholics disagree with the Church's position on birth control; it is that the government has no business telling the Catholic Church what it can or cannot believe, or ask its followers to believe.

The second falsehood follows directly from the first: that a faithful Catholic like Rick Santorum is thus disqualified to be President of the United States, because he actually lives according to the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception. If he does so, the argument goes, then as President he will try to force us all to do the same thing.

This is complete garbage. We have lost our sense of the distinct roles of religion and government, and never has this been more obvious than now.

That most Catholics do not comply with the Church's teachings about contraception proves nothing. They also fall short of the Church's teachings about attending Mass on Sunday, going to confession umpteen times a year, forgiving others, turning the other cheek, and probably everything else.

The Catholic Church asks believers to hold themselves to a higher standard in virtually every aspect of their lives. These admonitions are aspirational. This is not to say Catholics are not obliged to follow the Church's teachings. But according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, God gives humans free will. So while we endeavor to persuade each other to keep to a high standard of behavior, we cannot compel it in every instance, nor would we wish to. Doing so would remove the individual's responsibility for his or her behaviors and choices.

Nor is this unique to Catholicism. Other faiths call their followers to spiritual, physical and emotional challenges, and support each other in these efforts with sacred texts, worship services, and other rituals for reinforcement.

The rules of government – which is to say secular law – are different. They are compulsory. Thus, in a free society, law should constrain behavior only at the outer margins – those areas where there is nearly universal consensus about wrongfulness: murder, for example, and other violence, theft, kidnapping, incest, the sexual exploitation of children, and so on.

Rick Santorum's personal commitment to adhere to the Catholic Church's admonitions about contraception make him no more likely to press for this as a matter of public policy than Mitt Romney would be to require all Americans to wear a special undergarment or refrain from caffeine. Or a Jewish candidate to mandate circumcision. Or a Buddhist to require meditation.

This would be clearer, were we not living in a time when government regulates every aspect of our lives with increasing intrusiveness and an obsession with minutiae that the most overzealous Inquisitor would never dream of.

In fact, it is not religions which have exceeded the bounds of their proper authority, but government. Increasingly, it is not religion which hands down edicts about which foods are "clean" or "unclean," but government, which seeks to forbid foie gras, sugar, trans fatty acids, Happy Meals,and whatever else the meddling busybodies have decided we cannot choose for ourselves.

It is not religion which tells us how to ritually cleanse ourselves, but government, which tells us what kinds of toilets we can and cannot have, whether our soaps may contain surfectants, how many times we must flush, and how much or little water we can use.

It is not religion which tells us when we can have light and darkness, but government which orders us to buy certain kinds of light bulbs, and forbids the manufacture, sale and use of incandescent light.

It is not religion which deems certain human beings as unworthy of life, but government, which declares that unborn children are not "persons" within the meaning of our laws, just as it once declared that African slaves and their descendants were not "persons" within the meaning of the Constitution. Just as it will declare that people of a certain age, or illness, or injury, or disability will not be able to challenge some bureaucrat's arbitrary decision to withhold medical care that is deemed too risky, futile, unproven, or expensive.

Rick Santorum has been criticized for referring to Obama's mandates as a type of “theology.” This is hardly hyperbole at this point. We are forced to make economic decisions based on the contested science of "climate change" (formerly known as "global warming," formerly known as "the next ice age"). We are asked to hand over our health and our medical decisions to faceless groups of functionaries in Washington, D.C., who we are told will take care of us. Trillions of dollars in deficits, tens of trillions in unfunded mandates, and we are told to believe that all will be paid off and paid for somehow. On faith, not on proof. Obama and his unaccountable thugs in HHS declare who is and who is not a religious organization; what is and what is not permissible religious belief. And debate is cut off. God has spoken. Go forth and do His will.

Those who fear a theocracy might note that it is Obama who is setting himself up as God, not Rick Santorum. Santorum's belief in a Supreme Being gives him a bit of humility. Obama - not so much.

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