George W. Bush had one small office devoted to faith-based initiatives, and was savaged for it. Barack Obama, on the other hand, says faith drives much of his domestic agenda—and no one even blinks.
We are in “the fourth year of the ministry of George W. Bush,” cracked novelist Philip Roth in 2004. By then, several million gallons of ink already had been spilled warning that Bush’s “faith-based presidency” was “nudging the church-state line” (The New York Times) and was “turning the U.S. into a religious state” (Village Voice) and was “arrogant” and “troubling” (St. Petersburg Times) and was “pandering to Christian zealots” (Salon) and “imposing its values on the rest of us” (too many to name).
Obama has been just as overtly religious as Bush—“We worship an awesome God in the blue states,” he said in his 2004 keynoter at the Democratic National Convention—and even more aggressive about injecting faith into politics. In 2006, he praised a religious “Covenant for a New America.” In a 2008 speech in Ohio, he said religious faith could be “the foundation of a new project of American renewal” and insisted that “secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.” He has kept Bush’s office of faith-based initiatives. In fact, “Obama's faith-based office has given religious figures a bigger role in influencing White House decisions,” reported USNews in 2009.
At the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday, the president began by noting that he prays every morning, and then devoted the rest of his speech to explaining the manifold ways in which his faith guides his policies. “I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper,” he said. That somnolent silence you hear is the guardians of church-state separation taking a nap.
No big surprise. For many liberals, it is perfectly fine—desirable, in fact—for religious people to impose their values on the rest of us, so long as those values produce policies of which liberals approve: higher taxes, more stringent regulation, more government spending. On Thursday, for instance, Obama said there is a “biblical call to care for the least of these – for the poor; for those at the margins of our society,” which justifies not just voluntary private charity but enforced public charity.
Yet woe betide any believers whose values stray from the leftist catechism. Who says so? The Obama administration, for starters. It has decreed that Catholic institutions such as hospitals and universities must provide birth control through their employee health plans, even though Catholic doctrine considers birth control a violation of the faith. The administration claimed to provide a conscience exception by allowing a narrow exception for churches. This is like ordering Jewish schools to buy pork for their cafeterias and then claiming to respect Judaism because synagogues are exempt.
The New York Times, of course, was pleased as punch, though it denounced Mitt Romney for criticizing the mandate and promising to defend the Catholic Church’s “religious liberty”—a termThe Times put in quotes, to signify its disdain for the concept. This all comes shortly after the Supreme Court ruled, 9-0, that religious institutions have a right to abide by their religious beliefs (a decision The Times also criticized).
Or take the temper tantrum that erupted last week when the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure, a women’s-health organization, decided—briefly—to stop giving its own money to Planned Parenthood. Let’s suppose Komen’s 27.3 million critics were correct in thinking the move was motivated by anti-abortion sentiments, which are essentially religious sentiments. So? Isn’t Obama right to say secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door?
Some claimed the issue was women’s health. Not so. The Komen foundation would not have shoved the money formerly earmarked for Planned Parenthood under a mattress. It would have spent the money on women’s-health initiatives elsewhere. Leftists were not upset because Komen’s decision shrank the pool of funding for cancer screenings and so forth; it would not have. They were fuming because Komen no longer wanted to tithe one of liberalism’s most sacred institutions. So apoplexy ensued, and Komen climbed down.
The lesson from all of this? Liberals should be able to impose their faith-based values on the rest of us, but any heretics who deviate from liberal dogma may not even observe their faith-based values by themselves. It’s right there in the Apocrypha—you can look it up.
A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.