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Never mind the red herring in this defense of the contraceptive mandate (which applies whether or not you take federal money), the argument itself is quite breathtaking.  The argument goes something like this: when you take money from the federal government, you sell your soul to the [fill in the blank].  Recipients of federal funding can be forced to behave in all sorts of ways that violate their consciences.

The only way to avoid this is to opt out of government money, not really practical (let alone desirable) for hospitals, universities, or social service agencies.  (Yes, I’ve heard of Hillsdale and Grove City, which may have come close to cornering the fund-raising market for not being beholden to Mammon.)  If government were to be pared back to a pre-New Deal size, institutions that weren’t recipients of public funding wouldn’t be at a competitive disadvantage.  But for the foreseeable future, the only effect of opting out would be that non-governmental purveyors of health, educational, and social services would be crowded out of the market.  Doubtless some people would like to see this happen, but I’m not one of them.

This brings me back to the principle articluated by Prof. Fendrich.  Let’s apply it to higher education.  She is doubtless employed by an institution that receives federal funds.  By her lights, that means that the federal government can dictate curriculum and the contents of courses, regardless of some quaint concern with academic freedom.  She’d probably be O.K. with Professor Obama’s gentle hand at the helm, but Rick Santorum’s old friend Bill Bennett?

It seems to me that there are two alternatives to this highly undesirable (albeit not altogether implausible—consider the ways in which states regulate elementary and secondary curricula) situation.  One is to insist that government expenditures have to respect First Amendment (freedom of speech and of religion) strictures.  The other is to argue that, regardless of the precise applicability of the First Amendment, government ought to leave as much autonomy as possible to the institutions it helps finance.  In practice, the former argument leaves our conscientious freedom to the vagaries of the composition of the Supreme Court, while the latter leaves them to the composition and far-sightedness of legislative majorities.  At the moment, I’m actually somewhat more inclined to rely on those majorities, given what I’ve seen from all too many judges.

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