Between the media's uproar after a cancer-research charity temporarily suspended grants to the nation's leading abortion provider, and the Obama administration's recent decision to force Catholic schools to pay for 100 percent of their employees' contraception, the last two weeks have helped clarify the shape of the culture war in America today.
The battleground is this: The Secular Left is on the offensive, while the oft-demonized Religious Right is mostly playing defense, trying to preserve the liberty of religious adherents to conduct their lives according to their own consciences.
"The right's recent jihad against Planned Parenthood is about as loathsome as anything I've ever seen come out of them," seethed Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum after Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leading breast-cancer charity, briefly decided to not give new grants to Planned Parenthood for the coming year.
Drum was writing about conservatives' opposition to taxpayer subsidies for Planned Parenthood, and, in this case, a charity under pressure from pro-lifers temporarily suspending funding for the abortion provider. It's a peculiar "jihad" whose main weapon is refusing to give away your money to the enemy.
Who's attacking whom? Planned Parenthood exacts tribute from all Americans, willing and unwilling, through the weapon of federal taxation. Democrats are so dedicated to this mandatory funding of the abortion lobby that President Obama during the late-2010 budget showdown, stuck up for Planned Parenthood subsidies as nearly his only line in the sand.
Last Thursday, hours after most Democratic senators sent a threatening letter to the Komen Foundation, the charity decided to apologize, and made it clear that it was still dedicated to funding Planned Parenthood.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is attacking the Catholic Church, again using the brutal power of government. Under a new rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, every employer who offers health insurance for employees must cover every penny of contraception for employees. Obama's HHS tailored the religious exemption of this law so narrowly that it doesn't apply to Catholic schools or Catholic hospitals.
Sex, marriage, and family are bound together, and contraception disrupts this bond, the Catholic Church teaches. Despite unhinged warnings that Rick Santorum wants "a contraception ban that would send the condom police into America's bedrooms," as one Salon.com writer put it, neither the Catholic Church nor any significant Catholic politician wants to outlaw contraception.
The Catholic Church instead seeks the freedom to spread its teaching on love, marriage, sex, and the family, and to conduct its own affairs according to those teachings. But it is now illegal to cover an employee's hospital bills without paying for her birth-control pills.
Still, some of the Left claim to be the victims here. "What the bishops and their allies are asking for," American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Sarah Lipton-Lubet told NPR, "is the ability to impose their religious beliefs on people who don't share them." Who is "imposing" here? The Catholic Church that doesn't foot the bill for an employee's birth-control pills, or the government that forces the church to buy the pills?
Who knew it would be Obama and Kathleen Sebelius who pushed the Catholic Church into the sex lives of its employees?
Many liberals falsely tie Obama's contraception mandate to government funding. Drum, writing in Mother Jones, suggested Catholic hospitals deserve the mandate for "taking secular taxpayer money."
But even this argument -- don't take federal money if you don't want to follow Obama's catechism -- is insidious when it comes from big-government liberals.
Washington has expanded its role in our lives, and government's growth crowds out civil society. Welfare displaces volunteerism. Taxes displace charitable giving. "The more things we 'do together' as a government," Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times last week, "in many cases, the fewer things we're allowed to do together in other spheres."
In charity, just as in commerce, government involvement distorts the market, making it harder for anyone to get by without government aid. Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, from where I write this column, must either accept federal funds or simply refuse to serve the poor. The possible alternatives -- funding their service to the poor through private donations -- have been crowded out by the Great Society.
While the contraception mandate has nothing to with federal funding, it reflects a similar principle: the federal government's growth makes cultural truce more difficult.
If government is funding "women's health," it has to either discriminate against abortion institutions like Planned Parenthood, or force pro-lifers to subsidize them. Without Obamacare, HHS wouldn't be sifting through Catholic sexual morals.
So while the Left cries "theocracy" and employs the talk of "privacy," it uses government not just to chase religion from the public square, but from the private sphere, too.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.