Levin’s objection is that HHS is just looking for a way in which they can say that, technically, we’re not doing this thing people say infringes their religious liberty. HHS is hereby neglecting to address the larger spiritual issue of religious freedom. But the original complaint about the contraception mandate was that technically you can be made out to be making us do this thing. Technical hitch calls for technical fix. It ain’t pretty, but what were you expecting from a lawyerly work-around?
The Obama administration was not motivated, originally, by animus to religious freedom. The goal wasn’t to humiliate Catholics. It isn’t the case that no one gave a damn about contraception, one way or the other, except as a convenient device to force religious believers to do things against their conscience, for the sheer sake of forcing them to do things against their conscience. The purported insult to religion, such as it was, was an accident, due to the kludgy quality of employer-provided healthcare. It isn’t like the Obama folks only went for employer-provided healthcare because they could see that this set-up was ripe for forcing employers into a posture of religious self-humiliation. Letting the private sector run things is a concession to those who want the private sector to stay powerful, not a sop to those who want to throw Christians to the lions, like in the good old days.
Now, courtesy of HHS, we have a fresh kludge to slap onto that more time-honored kludge of employer-provided health insurance. Can anything look less like an insult to religious liberty? Yet, bizarrely, Levin objects that all the change does is make a conceptual change that “makes the rule less insulting”, by substituting IRS definitions for other stuff. Somehow removing the unintended insult, which was the only injury, is adding insult to injury.
Why bang on about the true spirit of religious liberty when there is, patently, no threat to that, just a technical bump on the road to somewhere else: healthcare ends everyone agrees are permissible, in principle [UPDATE: legally permissible. I had assumed it was clear enough that this was the relevant sense of permission, but comments have shown me the need to be clearer.] Those who sincerely care about religious freedom should be happy to see healthcare clear the bump and be on its way.
Unless, of course, they are just looking to take offense. And this is precisely what Levin implies that proponents of religious freedom should not do. (At least it looks to me like he is implying this.)
Religious liberty is an older and more profound kind of liberty than we are used to thinking about in our politics now. It’s not freedom from constraint, but recognition of a constraint higher than even the law. It’s not “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” but the right to answer to what you are persuaded is the evident and inflexible reality of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. It’s not the right to do what you want; it is the right to do what you must.
The more truth there is in this thought, the less appropriate it is to be on a lawyerly hair-trigger for every last little technical sense in which someone might be construed as having trod on your little toe, where religion is concerned. Civil life should be not lived, permanently, at the very cliff’s edge of civil disobedience. Isn’t that Levin’s point?
It is therefore incumbent upon the government of a free society to seek for ways to allow people to live within the strictures of their consciences, because it is not possible for people to live otherwise.
How can it not be likewise incumbent on religious believers, in a free society, to see if there is some way to live within the legal strictures of that society, arrived at by people who may not share all of their specific religious beliefs? (Isn’t it obvious that this cuts both ways, if it cuts either way?)
This is particularly obvious with regards to the sorts of institutions that are in question. Faith-based institutions that are part of civil society and semi-entangled in government, in a technical sense – hospitals and schools and so forth. The government should try to make fixes to its rules, to accommodate religious sensibilities. And believers should try, in turn, to be willing to accommodate this need to operate by means of technical accommodations. How else could the whole thing possibly work? Unless the rule is just: whatever religious believers want, they get, even if it tramples on the freedoms of non-believers not to get that particular, religion-driven result? But that can’t be right.
Why be a sore winner? You got your technical fix to your technical hitch. K-Lo acts as if the fact that the fix is 80-pages long (“enjoy!”), and written by a lot of people who are on the other side of aisle, politically, shows how inconsiderate they all are of the religious sensibilities of folks like her. But surely it shows the opposite: those people are obliged to take the religious sensibilities of folks like K-Lo at face value, even if they suspect (as would be quite reasonable, under the circumstances) that she is making exaggerated faces, for effect. “Enjoy!” is a double-edged sword, after all. I’m sure these folks had more fun things to do with their day than write an 80-page thing that did the same thing, basically, as the other thing did before they added the 80-page thing.