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Ruling on health care needs to be judged in light of truth

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Zenit) -- There is a lot of anger over the Obama administration's recently announced decision to require religiously-affiliated employers to cover contraceptive services in their insurance plans, and rightly so. On Friday, the secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Kathleen Sebelius, announced that institutions such as Catholic universities and hospitals have one-year to "adapt" their policies to ensure employee coverage for all FDA approved contraceptives, including the abortion drug Ella, no copays, no deductibles.

Opponents of the mandate are crying foul: "Obama has waged a war on religious liberty!" "Conscience rights are being trampled!," and so on. Because I hold the Obama administration in such disdain, I feel sympathy for these battle cries. But I fear the problem is deeper; and that if we don't take a harder look at what's going on around us, we'll all end up like Dr. Seuss' North-going Zax and South-going Zax, puffing out our chests, standing nose to nose with our enemy, barking out disagreements devoid of understanding of the deeper problem. Easy as it is to blame the liberals for this appalling state of affairs, I think the problem to a certain degree is that none of us any longer believe in truth.

This wasn't always so. Once upon a time, "reasonable laws" were the aims of lawmakers. "Reasonable" in the eminent tradition of English common law -- the seedbed for our Anglo-American legal tradition -- meant "in accord with right reason," which meant "true." So reasonable standards were true standards. And true standards were something that stood over and above the standard-bearer. They corresponded in some primordial way with reality, to which republicans and monarchists, conservatives and liberals alike were subordinate. Everyone knew, of course, that error was possible and no one was brash enough to hold that every policy proposed or adopted was timelessly true. But the standard toward which political discourse aimed was a standard of truth.

We are now embarrassed by the term "truth." As an artifact of language ("We hold these 'truths' to be ... "), the term is still occasionally heard in the public sphere. But as a normative term affirming the correspondence of some proposition with reality, the term in the public sphere has been dead and buried for decades. It connotes being inflexible and uncompromising, a genuine threat to pluralism, an offense against dialogue, and an insult against inclusivity -- American virtues all. Down deep in our democratic soul, we suspect -- yes, even conservatives -- that those who assert "truth" in the public sphere are dangerously slouching toward tyranny. After all, we rejected in 1776 Britain's Erastian politico-religious system of the "divine" right of kings.

So we talk rather about opinion, consensus and party platforms. We reduce moral judgment and religious belief to sectarian "rights," with the full implication that no moral judgment or religious doctrine is timelessly true. In order to avoid sectarian conflict, we agree to tolerate the ideas of the other side. But we believe they (i.e., the other side and their ideas) are stupid and our side is right. And rightness -- and this is the clincher -- is an essentially subjective concept, no connection to truth. Of course, to sever rightness and truthfulness is philosophically untenable. But dammit we're Americans, not philosophers.

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