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No forced mixing

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Some rather horrifying proposals for Arkansas government have been made this election year — restore slavery, execute disobedient children — and one of the scariest is that to merge a public, tax-supported institution, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, with a church-owned institution, St. Vincent Infirmary. If this plot comes to fruition, the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom will be placed in the intensive care unit of the new St. Uams, not to come out except feet first.

Would there be crucifixes on the walls of St. Uams, as there are at St. Vincent? Most likely. If the bishops can secure a foothold in a public hospital and research center, they'll be emboldened, and they've never believed in separation of church and state anyway. Not allowing them to hang crosses even in the rooms of patients of a different faith, or no faith at all, would be declared an infringement of the bishops' religious freedom, and their religious freedom, they explain, is very important. Yours, not so much.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy is furious over the Obama administration's effort to allow contraceptive insurance coverage for all Americans, even those who work for Catholic employers. Attacks from the pulpit on President Obama and the Democratic Party are numerous and intense. An Illinois bishop tells his congregation they'll likely burn in hell if they vote Democratic; an Arkansas bishop says that "right to life" and "religious liberty" are the most important issues in the election, and it's understood by all that religious liberty in this case means liberty to impose one's own religious beliefs on others.

A level-headed federal judge in Missouri, upholding the contraceptive-coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act, wrote recently that federal law designed to protect the religious liberty of individuals "is a shield, not a sword. It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one's religion forbids, or forbids action one's religion requires; it is not a means to force one's religious practices upon others." She went on to say that employers who disagree with the contraceptive-coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act "remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives." The law protects individuals, not sects; discouragement is permitted, denial is not.

Not all Catholics take the bishops' orders, thank goodness. One Catholic layman, more tolerant and more perceptive than his clergy, responded to their electioneering this way: "We don't want our church to inherit the legacy of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, telling people how to vote." He knows that if government rolls over for the Pope, Pat Robertson and the Falwellians will demand a cut too — and get it in a state like Arkansas. We might see a merger of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. They're a ways apart, but distance learning is the latest thing in higher education.

No good comes from the mixing of religion and government. Much evil does. See the Middle East for details.

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