Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Walling in the Church

The President of the Catholic University of America [and former Law School dean] cites a Baptist in arguing that HHS gets "the wall of separation" wrong:
.... Jefferson was a child of the Enlightenment, suspicious of organized religion. He believed that efforts to establish an official religion led to persecution and civil war.

The metaphor was not original to Jefferson, though. Roger Williams, who founded the colony of Rhode Island on principles of religious tolerance, used it in 1644. History has shown, he observed, that when churches “have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall . . . and made his garden a wilderness.”

Williams had different reasons than Jefferson for preaching separation. Jefferson thought that religion was bad for government. Williams thought that mixing church and state was bad for the church.

These two perspectives often give us the same results. They both warn against tax support for churches and against prayers composed by public school boards. But Williams’s theological metaphor may have been more influential than Jefferson’s political one in the adoption of the First Amendment.

I think this has a bearing on a neglected aspect of the HHS rules — not the mandate itself, but the exemption for a “religious employer.” It defines that term to mean an organization that exists to inculcate religious values, that is exempt from filing a tax return and that primarily employs and serves people who share its religious tenets.

This is a remarkably narrow view of religion. ....

.... The government has been eager to regulate the behavior of churches in ways more to its liking. It does this by defining religion down, so that only the most rigid and separatist groups are exempt. The rest are, for constitutional purposes, no different from the Jaycees or the Elks Club. We might say that the wall of separation is intact, but the government has made it so small that it encloses nothing more than a flower bed.

How distressed Roger Williams would have been. [more]
For the government, what counts as Catholic? - The Washington Post