Big Government as the rival and enemy of religion

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The icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe hung behind the podium. One organizer of the rally held a 3-foot-long wooden crucifix. Some in the crowd quietly prayed the rosary.

On a few occasions, the crowd, just outside the Capitol, chanted in unison. But the words weren't the sort you'll hear at Sunday Mass.

"We will not comply! We will not comply!" they yelled. Some wore "Don't Tread on Me" shirts. One leader of this Rally for Religious Freedom on Friday lamented over the speakers, "In America, unfortunately, there's a rule against everything."

The cultural Left is turning the Catholic faithful into anti-authoritarians.

What should have been obvious is becoming clearer to religious conservatives: Government is always a rival, and often an enemy, of religion.

Last week, New Mexico's Supreme Court ruled that the state government can force a wedding photographer to shoot a gay wedding, even though she holds the view that marriage is between one man and one woman -- and even though New Mexico doesn't perform same-sex marriages.

A lesbian couple queried photographer Elaine Huguenin about shooting their wedding. Huguenin, a Christian, responded that she only works "traditional marriages."

The couple, rather than turning to any of the dozens of local photographers who would take their money in exchange for services, asked the government to compel Huguenin to take their picture, or at least punish her for clinging to her unfashionable moral views.

The New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruled that Huguenin had violated the couple's rights. The state's high court has consistently agreed with the bureau and last week rejected Huguenin's religious-liberty defense.

Government is dictating to private citizens how they must spend their time and use their skills, and whom they must work for. The court ruled that Huguenin's business -- consisting of her, her camera equipment and her husband -- was a "public accommodation," and so was subject to civil rights laws.

Who else is a "public accommodation"? In what other aspects of our lives will the court take away our freedom of association and freedom of contract? If government can tell a freelance photographer how she may or may not choose her own jobs, why not a freelance writer? Don't want to accept an article assignment from a magazine you dislike? Better hope they're not part of a protected class.

Is a baby sitter still free to choose which families she'll work for? Can a doctor still choose which procedures she'll perform? Actually, a Michigan court has already answered that one, saying an in-vitro fertilization clinic violated a woman's rights by refusing her IVF on the grounds of her being unmarried.

Many Christians fear that Europe is becoming the model for American culture. Denmark's Parliament voted last week to force all churches to conduct gay weddings.

The European media frames this diktat as a matter of gay rights. "Homosexual couples in Denmark have won the right to get married in any church they choose," writes the Telegraph.

The American media used the same Orwellian language when President Obama forced all employers providing health insurance, including religious institutions, to buy health plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including morning-after pills. The New York Times editorial page said the Catholic Church, by suing for the freedom to pay its employees in cash instead of Plan B insurance, was "impos[ing] their dogma on society through the law."

This is how the culture war generally plays out these days: The Left uses government to force religious people and cultural conservatives to violate their consciences, and then cries "theocracy" when conservatives object.

This truth needs to get out there. The media need to figure out who is imposing morality on whom. Libertarians need to reassess their allegiances on social matters. And cultural conservatives need to understand that government is inherently their enemy.

Faithful Catholics have too often embraced government, either in the name of social justice or traditional values. Even many Catholics opposed to Obamacare's abortion subsidies embraced the parts of the bill guaranteeing "basic health coverage." Those basic-coverage provisions were Obama's weapon for compelling Catholic organizations to violate their own conscience.

Some at the rally Friday wanted to blame this clash entirely on Obama. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, for instance, said the lesson was that "we need a new president." But the clash runs deeper than one man.

"The church is the government's biggest rival" in providing social services, said Ashley McGuire, Neuhaus fellow at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "That inevitably led to a conflict."

And as government grows, so will the conflict.

tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com

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