Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. First amendment to the US Constitution
If America is exceptional, among the chief reasons are these five freedoms. We were founded by people seeking to escape the oppressive hand of government intervention into matters of faith. When their descendants met to compose our Bill of Rights, they naturally placed the autonomy of religious institutions and freedom of religious thought and practice at the top of the list.
Secularists often fail to understand that religious faith is holistic. True faith cannot lock itself away behind the doors of a temple, a synagogue, a cathedral, a church or a meeting house. True faith is no more able to retreat into the heart than a blade of grass, once it bursts from seed, is able to remain hidden beneath the soil. True faith seeks expression in word and deed. It shapes values and worldviews. It guides desires. It directs our footsteps as we walk and work in the world, even as we live among those who don't share this faith.
True faith is a first principle from which we are led to a proper understanding of what is true, what is right, what is good, what is moral, what is just. As such, true faith forms the very DNA of a moral society, and in shaping our cultural DNA, true faith shapes society itself.
Therefore, it is woefully ignorant to suppose, as many in the media do, that the recent blowup about contraceptives and abortifacients in health insurance is just another example of the perpetual political struggle between left and right.
Politics is merely the how of this debate. The what of this debate is this: Are we going to take the First Amendment seriously or aren't we? And if the answer is yes, religious faith will always create real world limits to political power, and political policy.
The HHS mandate and all of its clones will crush the moral values of religious people by forcing them to give full financial support to things they believe to be sinful.
The moral calculus here is pretty simple. If we can force Catholics to buy our condoms, can we make vegans buy our Big Macs? Can we make PETA finance Eskimo seal hunting expeditions? Can I get a bunch of climate scientists to buy me a GM Hummer H3?
All of these positions of conscience we instinctively grant each individual to hold or reject as he pleases, yet none of them have the status of the First Amendment protections afforded to religious establishments and religious expression. If positions of religious conscience can be overturned by government fiat, exactly which positions of conscience are safe?
The Obama administration was soundly rebuked in a 9-0 Supreme Court decision concerning an attempt by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to block a religious school from removing a teacher. President Obama's own court appointee, Justice Elena Kagan, eloquently defended the constitutional autonomy granted people of faith and faith-based institutions in her concurring opinion:
...it is easy to forget that the autonomy of religious groups, both here in the United States and abroad, has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws. To safeguard this crucial autonomy, we have long recognized that the Religion Clauses protect a private sphere within which religious bodies are free to govern themselves in accordance with their own beliefs. The Constitution guarantees religious bodies "independence from secular control or manipulation"... From the concurring opinions of Justices Alito and Kagan, in the unanimous Supreme Court decision of HOSANNA-TABOR EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH AND SCHOOL v. EEOC (2012)
Since our highest modern value is to have absolute control over our bodies and destinies, medical science has met the challenge by providing a shopping cart full of technologies aimed at disconnecting sexual intercourse from its most obvious (and many would say odious) natural consequence pregnancy.
Disconnecting sex from child bearing has led rapidly and inevitably to disconnecting sexual intercourse from marriage, or for that matter, from any meaningful commitment whatsoever (as perfectly illustrated in Carrie Underwood's country song I don't even know his last name). Anti-pregnancy technologies make it possible for anyone beyond the age of puberty to experience all the very best in meaningless, non-procreative, risk-free recreational sex.
Thanks to the new HHS insurance mandate, all of those technologies will be available to any 13-year-old under her family insurance policy without charge, paid in full by a generous cadre of priests, rabbis, ministers, nuns paid for by all of us, in fact.
Welcome to the United States of Europe, where only the tourists visit the cathedrals. That, in any case, may be the fond hope of the secularists who are pushing this new mandate.
If the First Amendment still allows me freedom to exercise my religious beliefs and freedom from government arm-twisting to make me violate them, then the Department of Health and Human Services cannot compel me to pay for Paris Hilton's birth control pills. It's just that simple.