The Magazine

Official Crusade

Michelle Obama’s theology of the body.

Mar 26, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 27 • By MEGHAN CLYNE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Evidently it’s all fun and games at the church-state party—until someone spoils the revels by objecting that Obamacare’s mandate will compel some religious institutions to violate their own moral teachings or go out of business. Late last month, Chicago’s archbishop, Francis Cardinal George, summed up the choices this way: Under the HHS regulations, Catholic service organizations will be forced to abandon church teachings and oversight, or pay annual fines that are “not economically sustainable,” or sell their hospitals and charities to non-Catholic groups and local governments, or “close down.” It’s a cruel fate for the administration to impose on an organization that, just five months ago, it was praising as a model of civic engagement. 

The experience of Chicago’s Catholic Charities suggests the need for some soul-searching on both sides of the HHS fight. First, how can the administration insist that “decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss” and at the same time urge employers to tell their workers how to manage their fitness and weight? Meanwhile, some faith-based organizations that have garnered the administration’s praise for their participation in “Let’s Move!” now face a threat to their very survival from that same administration. Such organizations may want to reconsider how much friendly cooperation and blog-post fodder they will render unto Caesar—and Caesar’s wife.

Despite the evident contradictions, though, the administration’s positions are, at bottom, remarkably consistent. The Obamas are happy to exploit religious institutions insofar as they serve the broader purposes of progressive government—and to ride roughshod over them when they get in the way. 

“It’s a heads I win, tails churches lose proposition,” says Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University in southwestern Florida, which is suing the federal government over the contraception mandate. But Towey has some other relevant experience: He is the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush. He says the Obama administration’s efforts to manipulate religious institutions are unprecedented. 

“Democratic and Republican presidents alike—nobody would cross this line until now,” Towey explained. “There was always respect for conscience rights, and the fact that maybe government didn’t have the only voice on moral issues like this.” 

The notion that such moral questions should be settled by government—that the views of churches and other mediating institutions only complicate matters more efficiently managed by the state—is at the heart of the progressive project that animates the Obama presidency. This is why the administration claims for itself the right to decide when it is acceptable for churches to speak in the public square. It is why the administration sought even to determine what is and is not religious activity—until that position was rejected by a unanimous Supreme Court in January in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. E.E.O.C. And it is why the administration resorts to what Cardinal George calls “a tactic now familiar in our public life: Those who cannot be co-opted are isolated and then destroyed.” 

“The state is making itself into a church,” the cardinal adds. Indeed. It may be a poor substitute for real churches, but there is an upside. This new church teaches a much simpler theology of the body: “Do whatever the Obamas say.”

Meghan Clyne is managing editor of National Affairs.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers