ACRU Senior Fellow Ken Blackwell wrote this column appearing July 15, 2010, on The American Spectator website, Spectator.org.
James Carville, Bill Clinton’s political strategist supposedly coined the now infamous: “It’s the economy, stupid.” This admittedly smart strategy, widely attributed to have won Clinton the Presidency, is now being chanted, mantra-like, by the mainstream media and the Washington political elite as they fundamentally misunderstand the brewing anger and frustration amongst everyday Americans.
They think this is all about dollars and cents. They think that it’s all about a $13-trillion debt and trillion-dollar annual deficits far into the future. Washington, in its arrogance, thinks this is all about spending the people’s money.
But that’s a somewhat superficial reading of the people’s discontent. The grassroots grumbling is not just about money. It’s about freedom. The people are justifiably annoyed that their pockets are being picked; however, they know that the loss of their God-given, constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms is as grave a concern.
The past eighteen months have seen a brutal assault on liberty. As government grows, personal freedoms shrink. The private industry buy-offs and bailouts, cap-and-trade, the government takeover of health care. The price tags are bad enough. But what’s truly frightening is how they diminish freedom.
Take religious liberty, the first among equals, so to speak. As Thomas Jefferson once defined it, “a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.”
When it comes to religious liberty, this Administration has vacillated between indifference and contempt — both of which are equally dangerous to this important and fundamental human right. For instance, only a few weeks after Obama moved into the White House, his Administration filed a rescission proposal to undo a Bush-era regulation protecting the conscience rights of health care workers. And the sweeping changes to American health care delivery just signed into law similarly include no real conscience protections.
The Obama Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reversed a previous EEOC ruling, accusing a small Catholic college in North Carolina — Belmont Abbey — of sex discrimination because it doesn’t cover contraceptives in its faculty health insurance plan. By this reasoning, what religious institution — be it hospitals, colleges, nursing homes — will not be forced to choose between upholding the doctrines of its faith and meeting its secular mission?
Some could argue that this is just as much an aversion to all things George W. Bush as it is the stereotypical liberal distaste for all things religious. But the Obama Administration has been equally disdainful of religious liberty activities championed by the Clinton Administration.
President Bill Clinton and his State Department signed the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act into law and aggressively executed its protections. However, President Obama did not nominate an Ambassador to fulfill that role for a year and a half, signaling that senior envoys for HIV/AIDS and Guantanamo took precedence over worldwide promotion of religious freedom.
But the American people are not contemptuous of or indifferent to religious liberty. Perhaps that is why Professor Robert P. George is emerging as a leader in today’s movement for freedom.
As the McCormick Chair of Jurisprudence at Princeton University; founder of the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank; and founder of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, which is being emulated on college campuses from NYU to Williams, Professor George is best known in academic circles as a constitutional and legal scholar.
But George is equally respected amongst policy-makers and commentators, having pursued the practical application of his ideas as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the President’s Council on Bioethics.
Hailed as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker,” George was recently featured in a long profile in the New York Times. He is considered a bridge between academia, policy, and religion. Politicians, including several presidential contenders, seek his scholarly insight and religious leaders seek his political acumen. As Rev. John Myers, Archbishop of Newark, has put it, “Whenever I venture out into the public square, I would almost invariably check it out with Robby first.”
George does not shy away from the culture wars. In fact, he seems to relish confronting the “secularist orthodoxy” of today’s liberals. He sits squarely on the side of the so-called Religious Right, though that would be a far too simplistic characterization of his dogma.
At the center of George’s philosophy is the premise that the principles of morality are not necessarily divined through faithful revelation; they are born of right reason and natural law. In spite of this seeming dissociation with faith — or perhaps because of it — George passionately defends the right of every person to pursue his relationship with his Creator in the way that suits his conscience.
I was recently a vice chairman of the dinner when George was honored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for his work promoting this fundamental right. He received the fund’s Canterbury Medal, joining a prestigious group of defenders of religious freedom, including Elie Wiesel, Chuck Colson, and Archbishop Chaput. In a tribute to George and recognition of the importance of religious liberty, the Four Seasons stately dining room where the award was presented was filled to capacity with religious, intellectual, and political leaders.
The Becket Fund and Family Research Council, on whose boards George sits, are dedicated to defending religious liberty. For more than a decade, the Becket Fund has pursued freedom of faithful expression in all its forms — from defense of the words “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to defense of the conscientious objections of faithful pharmacists to pursuit of international religious freedom. The Becket Fund and FRC are taking Washington ‘s assault on religious liberty head on.
And Washington better start listening. As George recently said: “The moral foundations of economic conservatism are precisely those of social conservatism, namely, respect for the human person, which grounds our commitment to individual liberty and the right to economic freedom and other essential civil liberties….”
The mainstream media and the political elites may not have made the connection yet, but freedom is at the heart of this grassroots insurrection. And they are ignoring this at their own peril.