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It’s Our Government, Not the Court’s

Fortnight for Freedom, Day 8

For each day of the Fortnight for Freedom, the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College is offering practical suggestions for promoting Catholic identity in public life. Today: Don’t despair; educate.

The proper response to bad Supreme Court decisions (and bad presidential decisions and bad legislative decisions) is to “check” and “balance” them.

We all know that the United States was founded on a system of checks and balances that limit the power of three branches of government. But these “checks and balances” are not meant to be polite. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” as James Madison put it.

Sometimes, when one branch checks another, it should look like a check in hockey. The ultimate check and balance has to come from “we the people,” from voters educating ourselves and others about the crucial issues of our day. We Catholics in particular should be keen to check and balance yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act.

The federal contraceptive mandate that Catholics have been suing and protesting about wasn’t at issue in the case the Supreme Court ruled on yesterday. But the HHS mandate is a good demonstration of what is so dangerous about government-run health care. Once health care is taken out of the hands of the people who care for patients and put in the hands of bureaucrats, lawyers and insurance companies, the system goes off the rails.

We Catholics should know. The Catholic faith motivated and shaped the first health care system, founded in answer to Christ’s mandate to “heal the sick,” perfected by religious sisters, and, in its heyday, carried out in conformity with the teachings of the Church.

It is that kind of health care the Catechism has in mind when it says, “The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially, in keeping with the country’s institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits.”

The problem with the Affordable Health Care Act wasn’t that it tried to extend health care, but that it didn’t honor the family, and insisted on anti-family “benefits.” Those pitfalls were inherent in the attempt to federally control all health care.

The very title of Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate explains the approach Catholic social teaching takes toward public policy. Caritas, love, is what makes a health care system work. “When animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have,” wrote the Pope. Veritate, truth, is what directs a health care system to do good and not evil. “Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power,” Benedict warns.

His encyclical spends a lot of time explaining how Caritas in Veritate means balancing the “love” principle of solidarity (which he calls the “sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone”) with the “truth” principle of subsidiarity (which says “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its function”).

Solidarity should guide health care reform by saying “we owe it to others to do for them what they can’t do for themselves.” Subsidiarity should guide health care reform by saying “we owe it to others to allow them to do for themselves what they can.”  A truly human approach should do both.

The beauty of our American system of government is that it brings together the right mix of powers to guard both solidaritiy and subsidiarity. The executive branch may push for federal “do-good” measures. The legislative branch, feeling their constituents’ pain, should push back for more local control. The Supreme Court should push its judgments – and when they get something wrong, the other branches should not give up, but rub their noses in their mistake by sending them law after re-affirming law.

Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion on behalf of the court, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

He’s right there. That’s our job.

Catholics who are experts on the issues of our day, sharing what they know, in charity and truth, can be an enormous force for good. As we pointed out yesterday, we are on the winning team. But the win won’t come automatically. We need to pray. And educate others. Look to the Gregorian Institute to recommend specific ways to do both.

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Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes is vice president of college relations at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer and then spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. He writes weekly for Catholic Vote, the National Catholic Register and Aleteia. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Catholic Digest. He lives in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife, April, and nine children.