The Germ of Tyranny

Alexis de Tocqueville

The 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke once astutely observed: “The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” The delusion offered by the Obama Administration is that you can get something (in this case contraceptives) for free, with no cost to yourself. In fact, the cost is very high: we are asked to surrender our freedoms. Yes, only a little bit at a time, but the direction is clear and alarming. It is for this reason that so many allies have come to the defense of the Catholic Church as the government seeks to bully the Church into paying for abortion drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures in its health plans.

The high-handed actions of the Obama Administration represent an egregious example of government overreaching its proper boundaries. Catholic teaching recognizes an important role for government in upholding the common good, but “excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes.

The Catholic Church has dealt with strong governments for centuries and out of this experience it has developed various principles, such as the principle of subsidiarity, which declares that organizations of a higher order (read the federal government) should not usurp the proper functions of organizations of a lower order. Government’s role is to assist and coordinate the activities of more local communities not to run roughshod over their traditions and beliefs.

The Catholic Church is not alone in seeing a value in checking the over-centralizing and tyrannical tendencies of powerful governments. People such as James Madison understood the need to protect individual freedom from even the tyranny of a misguided majority. That is why the U.S. Constitution offers so many checks and balances among the three branches of government. Even a 19th-century French Catholic aristocrat such as Alexis de Tocqueville recognized the value of multiple levels of government in America:

The townships, municipal bodies, and counties form so many concealed breakwaters, which check or part the tide of popular determination. If an oppressive law were passed, liberty would still be protected by the mode of executing that law; the majority cannot descend to the details and what may be called the puerilities of administrative tyranny.

Tocqueville published the first volume of Democracy in America in 1835, and the nation has changed a bit since then. Now no one would dream that a county could resist the designs of the federal government.  But while people recognize how even state rights can be used to justify unjust situations, such as the Jim Crow laws of the Old South, few Americans are comfortable with a federal government that reaches into every crevice of social life and even tries to tell churches and people of faith that they must act against their beliefs.

Some so-called liberals harbor a very illiberal idea; they seek, by their lights, a more rational society in which there is more uniformity and everyone and every institution is made to act just as prescribed by government regulation no matter if such regulation furthers the common good. This is the “administrative tyranny” Tocqueville warns us against, or the “germ of tyranny,” as he puts it in another passage. We will let our French friend have the last word:

Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion. God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power.

This article was featured in the April 2012 MCC Messenger, a quarterly insert into the diocesan newspapers.

The Accommodation That Isn’t

By Tyler McClay, general counsel for the MCC

President Obama’s so-called “accommodation” on the HHS contraceptive mandate changes nothing. Catholic-affiliated hospitals, charities, universities and schools are still going to be required to provide contraception, sterilization and potentially abortion-inducing emergency contraception in their health plans. Saying that the institution’s insurance company will pay for the offending drugs and services changes nothing.

Insurance companies make their money by collecting premiums. If the premiums account for more than what is paid out in claims and overhead, the insurance company makes a profit. Does the Obama administration seriously think that health insurance companies are going to absorb the cost of providing free goods and services to health plan participants without passing the additional cost on to the employers who provide these health plans to their employees?

Have you ever had a car accident or sustained storm damage to your home and NOT seen your premiums increase? As Archbishop Carlson stated in his address at the Rally for Religious Liberty in Jefferson City, “Mr. President, there’s no such thing as a free lunch! Contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs aren’t free. Someone has to pay for them. If the insurance company has to provide them, the cost is passed on to the consumer one way or another – that’s how the economy works!”

Apparently, the Obama Administration hasn’t finished its continued review of this “accommodation.” A willingness to significantly change course, however, isn’t expected. On March 21, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services, announced that it would accept comments until June 12, 2012, “on the potential means of accommodating [religious organizations] … while ensuring contraceptive coverage for plan participants … without cost sharing” (emphasis added).

Clearly, HHS has no plans to rescind the mandate, or to settle for any compromise other than one that provides all women with free contraceptives and sterilization coverage, no matter who they work for – unless their employer meets the strict definition of a “religious employer.”

No longer can Catholic-affiliated hospitals, charity organizations, universities and schools claim to be Catholic and thereby exempt from the mandate. Because these organizations don’t (1) primarily employ Catholics or (2) primarily serve Catholics, they don’t qualify for the “religious employer” exemption. This refusal to truly accommodate Catholic institutions is at the heart of the bishop’s objection to the mandate.

Preventing a Catholic institution from being able to define for itself what health benefits it will provide in accord with its teachings is a denial of religious freedom. Offering an accommodation that forces a Catholic institution to publicly mute its witness to those teachings, claiming that there is no infringement on religious liberty because someone else will pay for and provide the offending drugs and services is no accommodation at all.

This article was featured in the April 2012 MCC Messenger, a quarterly insert into the diocesan newspapers.

Must Universal Access to Health Care Entail Access to Abortion?

In 1948, Britain’s National Health Insurance (NHS) went into operation. It provided free and universal health care to all Britons. Today, Britain’s per person spending on health care is one of the lowest among industrialized nations. Such a single-payer system is the Holy Grail of many American progressives, who are critical of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because of its reliance on a labyrinth of private health plans that might leave too many people without access to affordable health care.

But for pro-life advocates any national system comes with risks attached. In 1967, the British Parliament legalized abortion, making abortions available throughout the NHS system. If you have a national system with uniform benefits and services, then, if the culture becomes more pro-abortion, the likelihood increases that that system will begin to pay for and provide abortions.

The solution offered by libertarians is a complete withdrawal of government from the health care arena, but this seems unlikely to happen. It would require repeal not only of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act but also of Medicaid for the poor and Medicare for the retired. It is also difficult to imagine how offering tax credits to people who set up health savings accounts would be an adequate substitute. The working poor have too little discretionary income to save sufficient cash for a major health crisis; their earnings must put food on the table and keep the car running so they can get to work.

If government withdrawal from health care is unlikely and tax credits are not a feasible alternative, what options remain? For many years pro-life advocates have sought to keep abortion out of federally funded health care programs, and their efforts have often been successful. Prior to 1976, the federal Medicaid program paid for about 300,000 abortions a year. However, after the Hyde Amendment went into effect for FY 1977, the funding levels dropped dramatically. In FY 1977, 182,000 abortions were funded. In FY 1986, the number was 232; in FY 2000, 109; in FY 2004, 159.

The Hyde Amendment must be attached to the various federal health care programs such as Medicaid every year. A more lasting way to keep abortion out of federal health care programs would be for Congress to enact a permanent Hyde Amendment that would apply to all federally funded health care programs.

This article was featured in the April 2012 MCC Messenger, a quarterly insert into the diocesan newspapers.

Awake, O Sleeper

By Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference

After the Rally for Religious Liberty on March 27, I was making my way through a sea of red on the second floor of the Missouri State Capitol when an angry man accosted me and bitterly denounced the bishops for caving in to Obama. I asked him if he had heard Archbishop Carlson’s speech. He said he had been too far back. That’s too bad, I said.

I don’t know how much stronger a person could be. The St. Louis Archbishop put the President on notice: “Mr. Obama, you should know that we are ready to suffer for our convictions. You can fine us and we won’t pay. You can put me in jail. I don’t care.” In mandating that religious employers pay for abortion drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, the Obama Administration has awakened a sleeping giant, namely the Catholic Church.

St. Paul counseled the Ephesians: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). On this day, rally day, the sleepers had arisen and come from all corners of the state. Thousands stood in the first floor rotunda and more circled the banisters on the second and third floors.

When Archbishop Carlson greeted the assembly with “Hello Church!” thunderous applause erupted. You had a sense that the Early Church had been reborn and that for one moment we were all one—Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Assemblies of God and many more people of faith.
President Obama’s Feb. 10 “accommodation” of religious employers had changed nothing, the Archbishop told the faithful to ringing applause. Our religious liberties are under attack. (For why this remains true and a legal analysis of the “accommodation,” read The Accommodation That Isn’t on the next page.)

The mandate tells the Catholic Church that it can keep running its Catholic schools and hospitals so long as it pays for contraceptives and abortion drugs in its health plans. Or, it can refuse to do these things and scale back its ministries to Catholics only.

It seems as if the President has forgotten that church is about more than an hour of worship on Sunday. We can’t lock our religion away in a dark room. We have to spread the light of Christ and that includes those corporeal works of mercy we learned about as children. As Maggie Karner, the director of Life and Health Ministries for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, put it at the rally: “Mercy is intrinsic to Christian life. It’s not what we do. It’s who we are.”

Much of the secular media has simply ignored this point. They want to make this controversy about women’s health, or more specifically contraceptives. One nominal Catholic recently told me the men in red caps should quit interfering in women’s health care. If this were the real issue, then churches that disagree with Catholic teaching on contraceptives would not be opposing the HHS mandate. Mrs. Karner said the issue wasn’t about birth control and, “Quite frankly, when I see it represented in the media that way, I instantly know the reporter hasn’t done his homework.”

Yet many continue to view the whole matter as a tempest in a teapot. No one is stopping priests from saying Mass, after all. The editors of the Jesuit magazine America are chastising the bishops for exceeding their pastoral role by getting into the “fine points of the public policy” while pressing their religious liberty claims too far. In a March 5 editorial, the magazine lectured the bishops that the American public is “uncomfortable with an overt exercise of political muscle by the hierarchy.” Then, the editors opined: “They [the public] hope bishops will accept honorable accommodation and when provoked, not stir up hostility.”

Imagine these folks counseling the American colonists. We might still be British possessions. The editors of America magazine simply don’t get it. There are principles at stake here and if you surrender in one instance you weaken your right to object later.  What America magazine calls “honorable accommodation” is nothing more than appeasement.

The editors of America think the bishops’ campaign “fails to acknowledge that in the present instance, claims of religious liberty collide with the right to health care …” Memo to the editors: what the Obama Administration is proposing is not “health care.” Pregnancy is not a disease, sterilization procedures for the sake of sterilizing are not medically necessary, and abortion drugs don’t promote health but kill an unborn child.

There is no compelling state interest behind the HHS mandate that would even remotely justify an abridgement of religious ministries offered by the Catholic Church. Yes, both Catholic teaching and the laws of our nation recognize there are limits to religious liberty. A person who invokes “religious liberty” to handle rattlesnakes in public places may end up in jail. But how is handing out free contraceptives a matter of public safety or public health?

The Obama Administration has overstepped a sacred boundary. In the process the administration has allowed the “reproductive freedom” ideology of Planned Parenthood and its minions to trump any concern for the poor, for what could be more detrimental to the poor than forcing out of business the many Catholic charities and hospitals that serve the needy of our country?

There are those who would like nothing better than to see the Church take its ball and go home, to exit the public square. But the Church is not going to run and hide. There is nothing wrong (and everything right) with the way the Church ministers to all Americans. We are here to stay and serve and do it in keeping with our religious values. The sleeper has awakened and, as Archbishop Carlson declared, “We are ready to march!”

This article was featured in the April 2012 MCC Messenger, a quarterly insert into the diocesan newspapers.

Church and State: Partners for the Common Good

Since 1846, St. Peter Parish has been educating children and developing highly educated citizens of Missouri.

In this photo provided by the Missouri State Archives, the Missouri Capitol burns after being struck by lightning the evening of Feb. 5, 1911, in Jefferson City, Mo. City firefighters, state penitentiary inmates and fire crews from Sedalia, Mo., who rushed by train to assist from more than 60 miles away, fought the blaze but the building was a total loss. (AP Photo/Missouri State Archives, Thomas Cooper)

The first classes were taught by parishioner Mr. F. Roer in his home free of charge. In 1854, St. Peter School was established in a small brick building near the church. A larger church was built in 1857, and the old frame church was converted into a second school building to provide more classroom space. In 1868, the School Sisters of Notre Dame arrived from Wisconsin and this order, along with many lay staff members, maintain St. Peter Interparish School today.

In 1872, a boy’s school was constructed where the current school stands. As enrollment grew rapidly, a larger facility was erected in 1889. The structure was designed by architect Frank Miller, who also designed the Cole County Courthouse. The basement of this building held six meeting rooms and a bowling alley. The first floor contained six classrooms. The entire second floor was known as St. Peter’s Hall, an auditorium with a large stage. Because it was the largest assembly hall in the area for many years, St. Peter’s Hall was the site of many historic events in Jefferson City and Missouri.

St. Peter Interparish School has the distinction of being the “Ninth Capitol of Missouri.”  For many years, Jefferson City struggled to remain the state capital as other Central Missouri towns vied to have the seat of government moved to their communities. In February 1911, this controversy came to a head when the Missouri State Capitol was struck by lightning and burned. The pastor of St. Peter Parish, Fr. Joseph Selinger, and the Parish Committee quickly offered use of the school to the Legislature at no charge. The offer was accepted and for the remainder of the 46th General Assembly the House of Representatives met in session in St. Peter’s Hall on the second floor of the school building.

William Jennings Bryan, noted American orator and political leader, addressed the Joint Legislative Assembly in St. Peter’s Hall during the session. School classrooms were used for committee meetings and school classes for the children were held in private homes. The Senate met in session in the Supreme Court Building.

A short time after the House of Representatives moved into the school building, the Missouri State Legislature voted to keep the seat of government in Jefferson City, probably in large part because of the community’s rapid response to the crisis and the generosity and concern of St. Peter Parish.

In 1931, St. Peter High School began classes and shortly thereafter, the Christian Brothers arrived. St. Peter remained a first grade through high school facility (accredited though the University of Missouri) until the founding of Helias High School (now Helias Catholic High School) in 1956.

Msgr. Joseph Vogelweid believed that parents who wanted their children to have a Catholic education, no matter the learning ability or educational needs of the child, should be able to have their desire met. To that end, the Vogelweid Learning Center of special education was founded and began serving children in Sept. 9, 1964.

The Vogelweid Learning Center is currently a special services inclusive program within St. Peter Interparish School. The Center’s mission is to promote and act upon the belief that the students served must be accepted and instructed as individuals. As such, the potential and rate of learning for each child is different. There are differences in personality and temperament. Students with a variety of cultural, economic and religious backgrounds and varying degrees of disabilities are enrolled. Children from other Catholic parishes as well as children of other faiths are enrolled. Children receiving services through the program remain in the regular classroom whenever possible and also receive small group or one-to-one instruction.

In 2007, a large addition to the school was constructed, which included several classrooms, a cafeteria, multipurpose facility/gymnasium, elevator, band room, art room and restrooms. The Vogelweid Leaning Center was brought into the main building and the original Vogelweid Building now houses the St. Peter Interparish Preschool.

This venerable old school was opened, maintained and has prospered because of generous believers with deep faith and commitment to the opportunity of parochial education for the families and children of the Jefferson City area.

In times of disaster and human need the legislative stance regarding the “separation of church and state” was modified and adjusted because we really were (and still are) all one in spirit (the spirit of American Missourians).

In a time of normalcy, can we not look with a compassionate eye at modifying the rules and regulations in place today to decrease the financial burden parents and faculty members of parochial schools face in educating students? Does compassion and cooperation only have to arise from tragedy and grief? Yes, we do choose to exist and be separate from the governance of public school systems, but schools that are successfully educating the children of Missouri are saving the citizens of Missouri many tax dollars. Full funding of parochial schools in Missouri would be an unreasonable request, but funding assistance in forms (such as tax deductions or credits for other K-12 educational expenses) maintained by other states would be a logical place to look and would be greatly appreciated.

Joseph Gulino is the principal of St. Peter Interparish School in Jefferson City.

Catholic School Creates Environment of Success

A St. Louis Catholic Academy student reads during class.

When you walk through St. Louis Catholic Academy, you might mistake Meke Smith for a father of one of the students.

He knows each one of them by name, the exams they have coming up and the clubs they participate in.

He talks about the achievements and accomplishments of his students with pride. He knows their personalities: who is the class clown or the social butterfly. But he isn’t their father; he’s their principal.

Although he’s friendly with the students, Smith’s goal isn’t to be their friend. His goal, and that of the rest of the faculty and staff, is to put the students in a position where they can be in a relationship with Christ and to help them achieve success academically.

Instilling these values onto 165 pre-K through eighth-graders (less than half of whom are Catholic) might seem like an impossible task, but Principal Smith makes it sound easy.

“We have to make sure that everybody who’s here, from the person who sweeps the floors to the person who runs the building, understands that we all teach two things no matter our subject, no matter our responsibilities: We all teach language arts because children need to learn how to speak, and we all teach religion because children need to have faith.”

Smith stressed that while the school seeks to develop the total person, religion serves as the basis for everything they do, whether it’s Spanish class, core religion courses, after-school violin lessons, athletics, choir or astronomy club.

Smith also doesn’t let the children’s demographics dissuade him. Seventy to 75 percent of the students at St. Louis Catholic Academy qualify for free and reduced lunch, a rough estimate of poverty according to the government, and most of the children come from single-parent homes. Roughly a quarter of the students have a primary caregiver that isn’t their mom or dad.

While Smith noted that these are challenging circumstances, he explained that he and the rest of the faculty and staff hold the students to the same, or higher, standards as they would students from any other background.

“We will give them the support they need because of the difficulties of their background, but they are not allowed to use their background as an excuse for not performing, and we, as an institution, are not allowed to use their background as an excuse for not performing,” Principal Smith said.

Smith also credits the faculty and staff’s expectations of the students for their success.

“We have dozens upon dozens of success stories … where this school has been a transformative influence in their lives, and not just their lives, but their families’ lives,” he said.

And while Smith and the faculty are completely invested in the students, they realize that they are only part of the equation because student success also depends on the parents’ investment in the child’s education.

“We do everything we can to bring our parents into the fold,” Smith said. “No school that’s successful can have parents that simply push their children through the door.”

This is why St. Louis Catholic Academy has an employee who works full time on parent communication and integration.

Emily Bland is the parent liaison for St. Louis Catholic Academy, one of the few schools that has such a position. Like Smith, Bland stressed the importance of working alongside parents. She said she views her job as a partnership, not as a service provider.

“We’re in this together; it’s not just me educating [their] child. We all need to work together,” Bland said.

She said that while a lot of parents have the best intentions, they just don’t realize the resources that are available to them and their children. For instance, if a parent realizes their child needs tutoring, but thinks that an expensive private tutor is the only option, she can point them toward less costly choices, such as volunteer tutors that come to the school.

A St. Louis Catholic Academy student studies in class. The school has students from 30 different ZIP codes attending.

Bland also arranges events for the parents, such as the parent appreciation night last fall, which included dinner and a DJ.

Other assistance the school offers includes its Family Resource Center, complete with computers and printers for parents who don’t have one at home. The center also serves as a library with books about parenting, adult fiction and other books parents can check out to read with their children. The school has an automated call system to make it easier for parents to keep up with their children.

While St. Louis Catholic Academy has a lot to offer, it relies on fundraisers,
private donations and financial assistance from organizations such as the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation (TTEF) to maintain its resources. A substantial portion of the school’s budget comes from TTEF, which helps private and faith-based schools in the St. Louis area generate financial assistance for economically disadvantaged students. Smith also credited Father Jeff Vomund for his work in establishing fundraisers to raise money for scholarship assistance.

According to Principal Smith, about 60 percent of the families from St. Louis Catholic Academy receive some sort of financial assistance. Smith also said that most of the money the school receives that is nonrestricted goes toward tuition assistance for the families. Without financial help from organizations such as TTEF, many of the children at St. Louis Catholic Academy might not be able to afford the opportunity to attend the school. Instead, they might have to look at less expensive options, including public schools such as those in the unaccredited district of the City of St. Louis.

This is why the MCC supports legislation that will assist families in failing districts who want to send their children to schools such as St. Louis Catholic Academy.

Melissa Varner is the communications director for the Missouri Catholic Conference.

Time to Say “Goodbye” to Mr. Blaine

Proposed Amendment would repeal outdated, discriminatory provision in Missouri Constitution

Blaine Amendments appear in 40 state constitutions, including Missouri’s. They are vestiges of anti-Catholic sentiments that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America as large immigrant Catholic populations moved to the new world seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Named for James G. Blaine, a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who first championed the idea in 1875, the amendments provide that no school funds or benefits shall be expended in aid of “sectarian” (read Catholic) sects or denominations.

Blaine Amendments were popular at a time when some saw the building of Catholic schools as a papal plot to take over America. Missouri has one of the strictest Blaine Amendments in the nation, and it makes our state an odd man out in federal education programs that are supposed to provide services to all school children, public and private alike. Where in most other states public school teachers can enter a Catholic school to provide educational services under a federal program, such practices are discouraged in Missouri for fear of running afoul of the state’s Blaine Amendment.

As a consequence, the federal government often bypasses the state of Missouri and hires a private contractor to provide the services to the private school children. This sets up a dual universe of administration that wastes taxpayer dollars. Getting rid of Blaine would actually save the state of Missouri money.

It is time to politely say goodbye to Mr. Blaine. His idea has stymied meaningful school reform and frustrated the desire of parents to educate their children in a school that corresponds to their own moral convictions. In the 21st century, people expect to have some choice in their children’s education, just as they have some say in who their health care provider will be.

The old distrust of Catholics and Catholic schools is rapidly vanishing. Even in areas of the state where Catholics are a distinct minority, they are a welcomed part of communities. Meanwhile, support for giving parents more choices in their children’s education continues to grow. Perhaps it is fitting that this year the sponsor of an amendment to repeal Blaine is State Rep. Shane Schoeller, a Baptist from Southwest Missouri.

Public Education is More Than Public Schools

By Rep. Jay Barnes

What makes education ‘public’? Is it our commitment to school buildings and bureaucracies? Or is it our commitment to children?

I believe ‘public’ education should be about helping all children in our state achieve their highest possible level of success – whether those children attend public schools, private schools or are home-schooled.

In my legislative district, which includes parts of Jefferson City and Cole County, we are fortunate to have a rich mix of public, private and religious schools, as well as many parents who home school their children.

All of these schools add to the quality of life in Jefferson City and Cole County. It is no accident, for example, that this area has one of the best-educated workforces in the state of Missouri.

What would happen if there were only public schools? Well, it would certainly make Jefferson City and Cole County a less attractive place to live. This would be true not because the public schools in my area provide poor education, but because parents want options, just like people want options in their health care providers.

Educating children is not easy. For some children, the local public school is not a good fit. And some parents want their child to receive an education that is grounded in their religious faith.

There would be a fiscal impact, too, if our nonpublic schools closed down. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, statewide there are 83,682 nonpublic school students. If all of these students attended public schools, the state of Missouri would have to shell out an additional 815 million in tax dollars.

Other Midwestern states such as Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois recognize the sacrifices parents make when they educate their children in a setting other than a public school. These states offer tax deductions or credits for the K-12 expenses parents incur in educating their children.
I think it is time for Missouri to do the same thing. To help ensure families have better access to the education of their choice, I am sponsoring a bill in the Missouri General Assembly this year to allow parents a tax deduction for educational expenses related to attending K-12 school (public, private or religious) or home schooling.

HB 1133 would allow parents a deduction of up to $2,500 for each child for which they have expenses, such as school tuition, tutoring and school supplies, including computer software.

I believe all Missouri K-12 school parents should be able to educate their child in a school best suited for their children. One size (school) does not fit all. It is time we set aside public versus private school debates and put the educational needs of children first.

Jay Barnes is a state representative representing Jefferson City and parts of Cole County.