Yuval Levin has an exceptionally informative and thought-provoking item in the Corner today on the Obama Administration's demand that private Catholic Institutions provide coverage for birth control and sterilizations.
Levin shows that the limits of the "conscience clause" and at the same time exposes the real threat this regulation entails: the destruction of institutions that mediate between the individual and the government.
This is a very deep and dangerous abuse of power. We had better gear up for the fight of our lives.
In this arena, as in a great many others, the administration is clearly determined to see civil society as merely an extension of the state, and to clear out civil society—clearing out the mediating layers between the individual and the state—when it seems to stand in the way of achieving the president’s agenda. The idea is to leave as few non-individual players as possible in the private sphere, and to turn those few that are left into agents of the government. This is the logic of a lot of the administration’s approach to the private economy, not just to civil society. It is key to the design of Obamacare (which aims to yield massive consolidation in the insurance sector, leaving just a handful of very large insurers that would function as public utilities), of significant portions of Dodd-Frank (which would privilege and protect a few very large banks that would function as public utilities while strangling all the others with red tape), and of much of the regulatory agenda of the left. And it is all the more so the character of the administration’s approach to charitable institutions. It is an attack on mediating institutions of all sorts, moved by the genuine belief that they are obstacles to a good society.
This approach is especially noxious and pernicious when it is directed at religiously affiliated institutions—both because they deserve special standing and because they do some of the hardest and most needful work of charity and care in our society. We should use every available means to protect those institutions from this mortal danger, and that certainly includes resorting to the language of conscience and exemption. But as we do so, we should not forget that we are dealing with an instance of a larger and deeper danger, and we should do what we can to combat that danger in its own terms. It is perhaps the gravest threat to freedom in American life today.