Hats, Regulations and Worldviews

James Tonkowich | ReligionToday.com Columnist | Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hats, Regulations and Worldviews

Hats do not typically create a buzz in the news, but the hat Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wore to President Obama’s inauguration was an exception. The hat is a replica of the one worn by Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) in a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger given to him by the Thomas More Society.

Justice Scalia has not said what he had in mind by wearing the hat. Nevertheless, I thought of his hat while reading Michael Gerson’s commentary about the Obama administration’s “revised” HHS insurance mandate on contraception, abortion drugs, and sterilization.

Thomas More, you may remember from history or the 1966 film "A Man for All Seasons," was Henry VIII’s most trusted senior advisor. That is, until he retired somewhat prematurely.

Henry, desiring a divorce that the pope would not grant him and in desperate need of money, proclaimed that he was supreme head of not only England, but of the Church in England as well. This allowed him to thumb his nose at the pope, grant himself a divorce, marry his mistress and plunder churches, monasteries and shrines to enrich the royal treasury.

Thomas More wanted no part of Henry’s scheme and would not acknowledge Henry to be head of the Church. So More quietly — without fuss, public statements  or press conferences — retired from public life. But that wasn’t good enough for Henry who demanded More’s and everyone else’s ultimate loyalty. More was arrested, imprisoned, tried, and eventually beheaded as a traitor. His last words were, “The king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

In the final analysis, those last words reflect the worldview that separated Henry from Thomas More. In Henry’s worldview, the state could demand ultimate loyalty. Once he made the church a department of state, even loyalty to God became loyalty to the state.

By contrast, in Thomas More’s worldview, loyalty to the state was at best a distant second to our ultimate loyalty, loyalty to God and Church. In fact, More famously suggested, “Laws could be passed to keep the leader of a government from getting too much power.” And they were when the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

But today Obama administration is overstepping constitutional bounds by their insistence that contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs be provided free with employee health insurance regardless of the employer’s moral and religious objections to these things. As Michael Gerson points out, the newly proposed “compromise" is "a shell game useful only for those who want to deceive themselves."

What, I asked myself, was going through the minds of the people writing these new, but equally objectionable regulations? Gerson hits the bull’s eye. “Liberalism, back to John Locke,” he writes, “has understood religion to be a fundamentally private matter. It has a difficult time understanding the existence of loyalties outside the law, and often views them as dangerous…”

Exactly. It’s not that President Obama, HHS Secretary Sibelius, and their staffs refuse to understand that there is a greater loyalty than loyalty to the state. It’s that they can’t conceive of a greater loyalty than loyalty to the state. In their worldview, even loyalty to God must be subordinated to the state and its demands.  

Richard John Neuhaus, in his book American Babylon, noted, “The political theory and practice of the Western world is the story of a growing [belief in state’s control of spiritual and ecclesiastical matters] in which the modern state, brooking no competition from other claims to sovereignty, has attempted to eliminate the ‘boundary disputes’ between temporal and spiritual authorities.”

Neuhaus cited Henry VIII as someone who instituted this idea with a vengeance. And while the Obama administration is not as blatant as Henry, it is seeking to do the very same thing. In this worldview, religion, religious leadership and religious loyalty must bow to the values and dictates of the ruling elite.

Justice Scalia, I’m certain, understands this far better than I do. But as the good folk at the Thomas More Society wrote in response to the interest in the Thomas More hat, “Whether Justice Scalia’s hat was meant to say he is a principled man who stands for the virtues so valiantly protected by Sir Thomas More or it was merely worn for warmth on a cold day, the hat has served as an inspiration to those fighting to restore respect in law for life, marriage and religious liberty.”

So hats off to Sir Thomas, Justice Scalia and to all others who through history have defended religious liberty and a free conscience against the voracious demands of the City of Man. And where can I get one of those hats?

Publication date: February 6, 2013