When I was in fourth grade, Sister Assumpta Maria told us about the children who lived behind the Iron Curtain. The Communist government turned little boys away from God by having teachers tell them, “Ask Jesus for a fire truck.” After the boy prayed and the fire truck failed to materialize, the teacher would say, “Now ask the Communist Party for a fire truck.” And voila, in would come a Party flack with a shiny, red fire truck.
Now, when I was eight, it seemed ridiculous to me that a child my age would ask Jesus for a toy. After all, that was Santa’s job. It also seemed odd that the government would get involved. Was it really their job to give away goodies? Sister Assumpta explained that officials behind the Iron Curtain weren’t giving away toys to be kind, they wanted to turn children away from God as a means of controlling their lives.
This vignette came to mind this week due to a confluence of events. In Great Britain, two women will go before the European Court of Human Rights to argue that their employers cannot prohibit them from wearing crosses at work; in New York, Stonybrook University decided it would hold classes on religious holidays; and the United States marked the 2nd anniversary of the passage of Obamacare. Each of these reflects to one degree or another the totalitarian impulse long exercised behind the rusty and fallen curtain, an impulse which has completely debilitated democracy in Britain and continues to poison politics in America.
In the British case, the women are appealing under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights that they have a protected freedom “to manifest [their] religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” Unfortunately for the women, they’re getting no help from their own government. The British Foreign Office prepared a statement offering the opinion that wearing the cross is neither a recognized practice, nor a requirement of Christianity. It also appears that the leaders of the Church of England are unsupportive, or perhaps they’re simply preoccupied with making England safe for Sharia.
I doubt the women will get much help from Article 9. It’s not as though the European Convention thinks Human Rights are inalienable, endowed by God. The language of the document is pretty much what one would expect from contemporary, incoherent PC drivel. Section 2 of Article 9 states: “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” So, you have a right, unless it’s outlawed because it offends someone. In the West, the only people who enjoy rights are the easily offended, who have an absolute veto on the rights of everyone else.
In short, the British case is one where the government seeks to remove religious symbolism from the national landscape. Rights are so pesky to enforce; things run much more smoothly when we do away with them.
In the case of Stonybrook, the university has decided that students should be forced to choose between observing religious holidays and attending classes. Stonybrook, a state government entity, has not gone so far as to “prohibit the free exercise” of religion. It has simply decided to place a burden on that practice. Considering the number of days involved, it’s not a crippling burden, but it is a subtle pressure, which in the past a government entity would not dream of applying.
Finally, vulgar T-shirts notwithstanding, the 2nd anniversary of Obamacare passed without commemoration by the White House that crammed it through. The date was marked by nationwide protests in advance of Supreme Court arguments on the Constitutionality of the law. Polls show that the majority of Americans would like the law to be struck down. Obamacare, of course, is the shiny, red fire truck of Socialized medicine. When the administration isn’t running away from what it has wrought, it touts the freebies Americans will receive (no pre-existing conditions, children stay on family policies until they qualify for Medicare, etc.), but refuses to calculate the costs.
According to the Heritage Foundation’s analysis of the recent CBO report, Obamacare “will add tens of millions of Americans to government support programs, with trillions in new spending in coming years.” When one calculates the likely costs of Obamacare, no common-sense individual could believe this is a good thing. But Obamacare was never about improving healthcare or lowering costs or increasing access. It was always about breeding dependency and expanding government control.
Like the shiny, red fire truck, Obamacare freebies are given with malevolent intent. Just like the totalitarians behind the Iron Curtain, the totalitarians behind the White House curtains believe that it is the role of government to order, to micromanage and to dictate the lives of citizens. In that sense, Socialized medicine is more than a fire truck; it’s the Holy Grail of the American Left. It gives control of between one-sixth and one-seventh of the economy over to the government, and puts the government in charge of the most private decisions citizens must make. It’s a huge leap forward for the totalitarian Left, but complete control can never be achieved when other civic entities compete for the attention and loyalty of the citizens.
To accomplish this, The Left must remove from the civic landscape any other entities which help to order the lives of citizens. In order for these entities to be removed, they must be demonized and ridiculed. That’s why Barack Obama chose to make contraception a signature fight in his signature legislation. He needed an issue that he thought the Church hierarchy was weak on. He thought he could capitalize on that weakness to separate Catholics from the Church hierarchy.
It’s no surprise that Barack Obama should make the Catholic Church a whipping boy as he tries to expand government’s influence on people’s lives. Although certain fringe groups withinthe Church insist on promoting Marxism, the reaction within Cuba to the Pope’s impending visit is evidence that the acrimony between Catholicism and Marxism is alive and well. It is an acrimony well worth preserving, and free people should have no doubts about which side to support.
Conservatives believe in a robust and dynamic civil society where government has its place, but one’s church, private charities, fraternal organizations and free-market industry are more influential. The greatness of American society is in free people exercising their freedom to build vibrant communities. It is not only the inventors and entrepreneurs who shaped America, the Shriners, Masons, Elks, Moose, Knights of Columbus, Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs formed its backbone. Private charities, including religiously based hospitals and universities, have contributed mightily. All of these elements have a voice, which can conflict with the voice of government. In decades past in America, that was not considered a problem, but The Left has become so voracious, so hungry for control, that nothing but an absolute monopoly on thought will suffice.
Whether you’re a Christian nurse who draws inspiration from a charm on her necklace, a Jewish student who’d like to celebrate Rosh Hoshannah with family or a Catholic who doesn’t like being compelled to pay for someone else’s birth control, or simply an American who prefers a varied chorus of voices to the dull monotone of government dictates, we have to understand that these events are not isolated, but are part of a concerted effort to clear-cut our civic landscape. Take the fire truck. You know you want it.