BOOK REVIEW: ‘No Higher Power’
Published with the speed of a Revolutionary War-era pamphlet, “No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom” bangs the drum loudly about the “change” authors Phyllis Schlafly and George Neumayr assert President Obama and his administration are bringing to America’s faith-based institutions. In short, freedom of “worship” — inside your church, mosque or synagogue — may be guaranteed, but schools and hospitals affiliated with religious institutions may be in danger. Ditto for military chaplains, physicians, nurses or employers whose faith won’t allow them to support same-sex wedding ceremonies or pay for employee’s contraception.
Mrs. Schlafly, a conservative firebrand for five decades, and Mr. Neumayr, a contributing editor of the American Spectator magazine, are each devoted members of the Roman Catholic Church, and, presumably, traditional ones at that. It is from that perspective, and that of conservative bishops, that this book first springs, even if its warnings transcend any one denomination or faith.
What set Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Neumayr off, in many respects, are the provisions of the 2010-passed Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) leading to a Jan. 20 mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services. This mandate, which HHS finalized less than three weeks later, requires charitable institutions, hospitals, colleges and universities to offer employees insurance coverage for sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception. Refuse and face an annual fine of $2,000 per employee.
“This bill of fines will add up quickly for Catholic hospitals that employ thousands and that provide millions of dollars worth of free and charitable care to the indigent,” Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Neumayr write. “The fines will effectively bankrupt these hospitals. The Obama administration remains blithely indifferent to that prospect,” they add.
In a bow to an apparently unanticipated backlash, HHS said it would delay implementing the rules for one year, but said it would hold the line on granting exemptions to religious institutions that primarily employ its own members and “inculcate religious values,” as opposed to, say, feeding the poor or educating inner-city youth. That refusal to recognize the broad protections of the First Amendment may be one reason why leading evangelical Protestant school Wheaton College last week joined many Catholic institutions in suing to overturn the mandate.
From the land of HHS dictates, the authors swiftly catalogue a laundry list of impositions: The Pentagon quickly dropped an invitation to the Rev. Franklin Graham, evangelist Billy’s son, from its National Day of Prayer because of the younger’s public statements about Islam. When Mr. Obama spoke at Georgetown University — a Catholic school run by the Jesuit order — the monogram symbolizing the name of Jesus was removed, which the authors contend was at Mr. Obama’s demand. In December 2011, the administration allegedly gave the Department of State a new mission: Promote homosexual rights overseas.
The authors also lambast the Obama administration for further “secularizing” the judiciary, the military and education. On the bench, they contend, this is done largely through appointing people whose worldview is at variance with more traditional understandings of the role of faith in American life. But even this can backfire: former Solicitor General Elena Kagan, now an associate justice of the Supreme Court, could scarcely believe it when Leondra Kruger, an associate solicitor general, argued that a Missouri Synod congregation of the Lutheran Church did not have the right to control the hiring and dismissal of religious employees.
In the military, the authors contend Pentagon bureaucrats and higher-level officers, intent on implementing administration programs and changes, are stifling the free expression of those who don’t agree with new views of marriage or the HHS mandate. A Jan. 26 letter from Catholic Archbishop Timothy Broglio drafted to be read at Catholic services on U.S. Army bases was first blocked and then “edited” by the Pentagon. The letter was permitted, but reading of the sentence, “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law,” was removed by request of Army Secretary John McHugh, an Obama appointee.
On the educational front, Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Neumayr blast an emphasis on “social justice teaching” as a means to indoctrinate against traditional American values of independence and the free market. Coming in for examination here is University of Chicago education professor (and former self-confessed Pentagon bomber) William Ayers, who proposes a “pedagogy of the oppressed.”
The essential message of this book, that the current administration seems at best naive and at worst openly hostile to people of faith, is one that deserves a wide hearing. But several factors may block the book from reaching — and convincing — as many people as it should.
Instead of a hardcover, a paperback release might have placed the book into more reader’s hands and at a lower price. Chapters detailing the “great con” Mr. Obama perpetrated in his 2008 campaign, putting forth a Christian image the authors say is inauthentic, or about the “cult of Obama” and calling for “civil disobedience” if the president is re-elected, could, I believe, have been trimmed or eliminated to keep the focus on the main subject. We’ve heard (almost endlessly, it seems) about and even from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Mr. Obama’s now-former pastor and mentor. What’s more essential is knowing what Mr. Obama and his appointees have done to people of faith, and what they plan to do.
Mark A. Kellner has contributed to The Washington Times since 1991.