To be clear, then: Packer believes that forcing Catholic colleges and hospitals to buy health insurance plans that pay for sterilization and morning-after pills does not impinge upon religious liberty in any way, but allowing Catholic colleges and hospitals to decline to cover drugs and procedures that their faith considers gravely immoral is analogous to an official establishment of religion. The first belief, I presume, depends on some version of Kevin Drum’s suggestion that the state has no obligation to respect conscientious religious objections if the objectors represent a sufficiently marginal minority within American society and culture. The second seems to depends on a fear that if you give a marginal minority that you find disagreeable an inch, you’re guaranteeing that they’ll take a mile. (Today, conscience exemptions; tomorrow, the Comstock Act; the next day, the Spanish Inquisition.) Taken together, you have the following argumentative method: ”Our enemies are too marginal, extreme and out-of-step with the times to deserve to have their liberties respected, but at the same time these marginal extremists must be brought to heel because they’re an enormous threat to our liberties and freedoms.”

I would submit that this is not the argumentative method of a tolerant liberalism, or the kind of premise that sustains a “vast, pluralist, heterodox, freedom-loving democracy.” It’s crudely majoritarian, explicitly anti-pluralist, and as much a form of culture war aggression as any of Rick Santorum’s positions and assertions.

Ross Douthat


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