Commentary Magazine


Topic: contraception

Free Contraception v. the Constitution

Liberal anger over last week’s Hobby Lobby decision increased on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a provisional exemption to a Christian college that objected to being compelled to pay or even be complicit in the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. This will cause the left to redouble efforts to recycle its “war on women” meme. But like many of the recent criticisms of the court, this argument seemed to have everything to do with politics and nothing with the Constitution.

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Liberal anger over last week’s Hobby Lobby decision increased on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a provisional exemption to a Christian college that objected to being compelled to pay or even be complicit in the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. This will cause the left to redouble efforts to recycle its “war on women” meme. But like many of the recent criticisms of the court, this argument seemed to have everything to do with politics and nothing with the Constitution.

The decision that granted Wheaton College the right to avoid even the appearance of complicity in the use of such drugs provoked a particularly angry response from the court’s three female members. Speaking on behalf of the liberal trio, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that allowing Wheaton to opt out of the Health and Human Services Department’s ObamaCare contraception mandate gave the lie to the conservative majority’s assurances in Hobby Lobby. In that decision, Justice Samuel Alito ruled that all they were doing was ensuring that requirements to provide free contraception coverage in insurance plans were enforced in the manner that would not place a “substantial burden” on the religious freedom of those affected.

Sotomayor believed the plan proposed by the government that would require religious non-profits like Wheaton to submit forms to their insurance carriers instructing them to provide the drugs, albeit without payment from the institutions in question, was an adequate fix. The majority rightly disagreed. While a provision to allow the government to step in and pay for the drugs was legal, demanding those with religious objections to the use of such drugs to take part in their distribution in this manner clearly violated the First Amendment protections of religious freedom.

But the debate about this decision, and the subsequent distortions of it on the Sunday talk shows and on MSNBC, demonstrate something far more insidious than merely the latest iteration of what is generally put down as a “culture war” issue. After all, no one, not even Wheaton College or the Green family that owns the Hobby Lobby company are advocating for the ban of contraception or believe that what they are doing in these suits is part of a campaign to end or even limit legal abortions in this country. Rather, what we are witnessing is a liberal meltdown in which they have come to believe the First Amendment is a technicality that should brushed aside when it comes into conflict with the “right” to free contraception.

The notion of such a right dates only to the aftermath of the passage of ObamaCare in 2010 when HHS interpreted the law as an authorization for a mandate that would require all employers, regardless of whether they were religious institutions or not, or the beliefs of their owners, to pay for a wide range of contraception, including those drugs that are believed to cause abortions.

Most Americans are not opposed to any form of contraception and may even approve of drugs or devices that some believers see as abortion inducers. But one doesn’t have to share the convictions of the Greens or the board at Wheaton to understand that a bureaucratic mandate that runs roughshod over their faith trashes the First Amendment protection of free exercise of religion that all Americans rely upon.

Yet for the political left, the concept of religious liberty has been re-interpreted as to only mean the right to be allowed to pray in private but not to live one’s faith in the public square. When faith conflicts with policy initiatives such as the free contraception mandate, they assume that religion must always lose. However, the court majority has rightly reminded us that the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment cannot be trashed simply because a lot of Americans want not only access to contraception but also think their employers ought to be compelled to pay for it.

But to liberals, a decision that reaffirms the primacy of religious freedom is just the latest iteration of a Republican “war on women.” As a political slogan, that meme has been political gold for Democrats who believe its use guarantees their stranglehold on the votes of unmarried women. But as infuriating and wrongheaded the war on women arguments may be, what is really troubling about them is that they reflect a utilitarian approach to the Constitution that regards any of its protections as expendable if they are obstacles to a liberal policy goal.

It should be pointed out again that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that the court has rightly referenced in its decisions granting relief to opponents of the HHS mandate once had bipartisan support. But Democrats appear to be willing to sacrifice it now that its protections for faith are making implementation of this notion of free contraception for all difficult.

This is significant not because that goal is unreasonable or immoral. No-cost contraception is no more absurd than many other federal entitlements, though even its most fervent advocates must understand that the cause of free condoms and birth control pills has none of the moral authority that efforts to guarantee food, shelter, or even basic health care for the poor can command. But even if we were to agree that this particular prooposal is a laudable program, the idea that providing these items free of charge at the expense of all employers—including those with deep religious convictions—is so important that it must take precedence over religious freedom is insupportable. Indeed, it can only be asserted in the context of a belief that no constitutional protections of any kind can stand against it.

Do single women truly believe that their desire for free contraception is a principle of such importance that it trumps the First Amendment? That is a doubtful proposition. But it makes sense in a liberal political environment in which the Constitution no longer commands the respect of one side of the political aisle.

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Smearing Religious Freedom’s Defenders

The verdict of national public opinion about what was universally represented as an attempt by Arizona’s legislature to authorize discrimination against gays was overwhelming. Though support for gay marriage is not yet unanimous, Americans don’t like prejudice and think laws that might legitimate bias are, by definition, wrongheaded. By vetoing Arizona’s SB1062 bill, Governor Jan Brewer was simply practicing political common sense and saving both her state (which stood to lose conventions and even an upcoming Super Bowl over the controversy) and the national Republican Party a great deal of grief over what was claimed to be a new version of Jim Crow. The “anti-gay bill” stood to become this year’s version of Todd Akin’s infamous comments about rape and abortion and could have been a millstone around the necks of all conservatives even in a year in which the GOP stands to gain ground across the country.

Fresh off this almost uncontested victory, liberals like The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin are hoping to follow up on their triumph by pivoting from this controversy to ratcheting up anger at the prospect that the Supreme Court will allow religious business owners to claim religious exemptions from the federal government’s demands that they pay for insurance coverage of acts that violate their religious beliefs. What has that got to do with an “anti-gay bill?” And how can liberals hope to mobilize Americans on this issue the way they did on the Arizona bill given the significant public sympathy for the religious freedom protest of companies like the Hobby Lobby chain as well as antipathy for the ObamaCare mandates?

In order to answer that question you would have had to have actually read the Arizona bill, something that few media figures, let alone the general public actually did before lambasting it. As National Review editor Rich Lowry, pointed out in an insightful Politico op-ed published last week, even a cursory glance at the bill yielded nothing to justify the universal condemnation that rained down on it from the mainstream media. But at the heart of that dustup and the one on the ObamaCare Mandate is the same question of religious liberty that got steamrollered in Arizona and is again being attacked in the Hobby Lobby case. The principle being defended here isn’t Jim Crow or any other form of prejudice but the constitutionally protected right to religious freedom.

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The verdict of national public opinion about what was universally represented as an attempt by Arizona’s legislature to authorize discrimination against gays was overwhelming. Though support for gay marriage is not yet unanimous, Americans don’t like prejudice and think laws that might legitimate bias are, by definition, wrongheaded. By vetoing Arizona’s SB1062 bill, Governor Jan Brewer was simply practicing political common sense and saving both her state (which stood to lose conventions and even an upcoming Super Bowl over the controversy) and the national Republican Party a great deal of grief over what was claimed to be a new version of Jim Crow. The “anti-gay bill” stood to become this year’s version of Todd Akin’s infamous comments about rape and abortion and could have been a millstone around the necks of all conservatives even in a year in which the GOP stands to gain ground across the country.

Fresh off this almost uncontested victory, liberals like The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin are hoping to follow up on their triumph by pivoting from this controversy to ratcheting up anger at the prospect that the Supreme Court will allow religious business owners to claim religious exemptions from the federal government’s demands that they pay for insurance coverage of acts that violate their religious beliefs. What has that got to do with an “anti-gay bill?” And how can liberals hope to mobilize Americans on this issue the way they did on the Arizona bill given the significant public sympathy for the religious freedom protest of companies like the Hobby Lobby chain as well as antipathy for the ObamaCare mandates?

In order to answer that question you would have had to have actually read the Arizona bill, something that few media figures, let alone the general public actually did before lambasting it. As National Review editor Rich Lowry, pointed out in an insightful Politico op-ed published last week, even a cursory glance at the bill yielded nothing to justify the universal condemnation that rained down on it from the mainstream media. But at the heart of that dustup and the one on the ObamaCare Mandate is the same question of religious liberty that got steamrollered in Arizona and is again being attacked in the Hobby Lobby case. The principle being defended here isn’t Jim Crow or any other form of prejudice but the constitutionally protected right to religious freedom.

As Lowry pointed out:

It was jarring to read the coverage of the new “anti-gay bill” passed by the Arizona Legislature and then look up the text of the instantly notorious SB 1062. The bill was roughly 998 pages shorter than much of legislation that passes in Washington, so reading it didn’t take much of a commitment. Clocking in at barely two pages, it was easy to scan for disparaging references to homosexuality, for veiled references to homosexuality, for any references to homosexuality at all.

They weren’t there. A headline from The Week declared, “There is nothing Christian about Arizona’s anti-gay bill.” It would be more accurate to say that there was nothing anti-gay about Arizona’s anti-gay bill.

The legislation consisted of minor clarifications of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA], which has been on the books for 15 years and is modeled on the federal act that passed with big bipartisan majorities in the 1990s and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

If you’ll excuse a brief, boring break from the hysteria to dwell on the text of the doomed bill, it stipulated that the word “person” in the law applies to businesses and that the protections of the law apply whether or not the government is directly a party to a proceeding (e.g., a lawsuit brought on anti-discrimination grounds).

The reason that the law was so fiercely denounced was because it opened up the possibility that a business such as florist or a baker could use the state’s version of the federal FRFA in order to back up a refusal to take part in activity that might violate their religious beliefs such as a gay wedding. The legal distinction here is a fine one. No one disputes (or at least no one should) that businesses that are a public accommodation have no right to turn away customers on the basis of their race, religion, beliefs or, their sexual orientation. But commissioning someone to create a floral arrangement or display to celebrate something they oppose is not quite the same thing as merely showing up and asking to buy flowers or bread or to sit at a lunch counter. Where exactly the law comes down on such situations is a matter of debate. You might well argue that such vendors should just accept the business or lose it to competitors. But arguing that their personal beliefs should be ignored when someone demands they participate in events that, however sympathetic, violate their beliefs, is rightly considered a bridge too far for many civil libertarians.

What happened in Arizona was that the growing support for gay marriage was used to delegitimize anyone who sought to carve out some legal space for those disagreed on religious grounds and the affair snowballed into a national furor that drowned out opposing arguments. What Toobin and other liberals would like to see is the same process apply to Hobby Lobby and other religious believers who see the ObamaCare mandate as violating their liberty by painting them as opponents of women’s rights.

The conceit of the liberal argument is to brand as intolerant those who oppose forcing religious institutions or business owners to pay for abortion drugs or contraception for their employees under the mandate. According to Toobin and the administration, those who oppose the Mandate are seeking to impose their religious views on employees and to deny them necessary services. But this is false. No one is preventing anyone from obtaining access to birth control or even an abortion drug. What the owners of Hobby Lobby and the many other plaintiffs in these cases are seeking is to not be involved in the purchase of products and services they oppose. It is the government and its liberal cheerleaders who are seeking to impose their beliefs on religious believers, not the other way around. And, unless the U.S. Supreme Court stops them by ruling in favoring of Hobby Lobby, that is exactly what they will do. One doesn’t have to oppose abortion or contraception to understand that if the government can have its way in this case, no one’s rights are safe.

The problem liberals face in seeking to demonize persons of faith who oppose the ObamaCare Mandate is that, unlike Arizona’s SB1062, the public is already well aware of its intrusive nature and the assault on individual rights it represents. Opponents of RFRA were able to buy the Arizona bill under a mountain of obfuscation, innuendo and disinformation. Liberals should forget about being able to play the same game in defense of a position that seeks to restrict religious freedom for the sake of a vast expansion of government power that a majority of Americans already oppose.

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GOP Hoof-in-Mouth Outbreak Helps Dems

Mike Huckabee is defiant. Faced with a torrent of criticism for comments he made during his address to last week’s meeting of the Republican National Committee, the talk-show host and former Arkansas governor isn’t backing down from saying Democrats want women to think “they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government”—a reference to the ObamaCare mandate that effectively treats free contraception as a constitutional right.

“I am not going to roll over and apologize,” Huckabee said in an interview on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio show. “Without a doubt this was a way to knock me out early by the left.”

Many conservatives came to his defense, claiming his critics are manufacturing a controversy over his words that distorts his meaning. They point out Democrats are trying to change the subject from a discussion of ObamaCare and a paternalistic liberal philosophy that reduces citizens to dependency to one about a nonexistent Republican war on women. They’re right about that. But it doesn’t matter.

Huckabee’s comments on ObamaCare are accurate, but by using words that obscure his principled and constitutional objections to the mandate he made it appear that he and other conservatives want to control women’s sexual behavior. In doing so he handed liberals the same kind of gift that Rush Limbaugh gave them in 2012 when he called Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before Congress about her belief that she was entitled to free contraception—a slut. That single word—trumpeted throughout the mainstream liberal media as an unconscionable attack on a courageous young woman for speaking her mind—altered the national discussion from one about the administration’s outrageous onslaught on religious freedom through ObamaCare to a debate about Republicans who were portrayed by the mainstream liberal media as seeking to deny women the rights only Democrats would “protect.”

Rather than simply defending Huckabee, what conservatives should be doing instead is asking themselves why some of their most prominent speakers are so slow to understand how gaffes such as these undermine the very cause they seek to promote. The defeat of an oppressive government regulation and giveaway will not be achieved by language that seems to attack the women who wish to avail themselves of such an entitlement.

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Mike Huckabee is defiant. Faced with a torrent of criticism for comments he made during his address to last week’s meeting of the Republican National Committee, the talk-show host and former Arkansas governor isn’t backing down from saying Democrats want women to think “they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government”—a reference to the ObamaCare mandate that effectively treats free contraception as a constitutional right.

“I am not going to roll over and apologize,” Huckabee said in an interview on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio show. “Without a doubt this was a way to knock me out early by the left.”

Many conservatives came to his defense, claiming his critics are manufacturing a controversy over his words that distorts his meaning. They point out Democrats are trying to change the subject from a discussion of ObamaCare and a paternalistic liberal philosophy that reduces citizens to dependency to one about a nonexistent Republican war on women. They’re right about that. But it doesn’t matter.

Huckabee’s comments on ObamaCare are accurate, but by using words that obscure his principled and constitutional objections to the mandate he made it appear that he and other conservatives want to control women’s sexual behavior. In doing so he handed liberals the same kind of gift that Rush Limbaugh gave them in 2012 when he called Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before Congress about her belief that she was entitled to free contraception—a slut. That single word—trumpeted throughout the mainstream liberal media as an unconscionable attack on a courageous young woman for speaking her mind—altered the national discussion from one about the administration’s outrageous onslaught on religious freedom through ObamaCare to a debate about Republicans who were portrayed by the mainstream liberal media as seeking to deny women the rights only Democrats would “protect.”

Rather than simply defending Huckabee, what conservatives should be doing instead is asking themselves why some of their most prominent speakers are so slow to understand how gaffes such as these undermine the very cause they seek to promote. The defeat of an oppressive government regulation and giveaway will not be achieved by language that seems to attack the women who wish to avail themselves of such an entitlement.

Let’s be clear that the distortions of Huckabee’s words, just like the similar treatment afforded Limbaugh, are unfair. Neither Huckabee nor Limbaugh was seeking to oppress women or deny them any rights. Limbaugh erred by attacking Fluke personally; his correct opposition to Fluke’s disingenuous advocacy of free contraception could easily have been made in a way that didn’t insult the student. But while Huckabee avoided singling out any specific woman, his statement that without ObamaCare’s help women may be unable to control their sexual urges, he made the same mistake as Limbaugh.

That’s a shame, because the content of his speech was otherwise a laudable description of the inherent dangers of an administration policy that sees all women as the mythical “Julia” of the 2012 Obama campaign commercial whose life story could be told through the government programs, including ObamaCare, that funneled benefits to her. Rather than waging a war on women, conservatives are, as Huckabee rightly pointed out, fighting for their empowerment and against a paternalistic Democratic mindset that sees them only as victims or grateful recipients of big-government largesse.

But politics is, as Huckabee ought to know by now, a contact sport. Conservatives who have no compunction about exploiting gaffes by liberals cannot cry foul when liberals play the same game.

Conservatives have an excellent case against the ObamaCare mandate that forces all employers—including religious institutions and businesses owned by people of faith—to pay for services that offend their consciences and are directly contrary to their religion. To claim that opposition to the mandate is merely an attempt to deny women the right to seek any contraception is a lie. One needn’t share the beliefs of such individuals to understand that a government mandate of this kind is an attempt to roll back First Amendment rights of religious freedom. But when leading conservative figures use language that is open to interpretation as demonizing women who use contraception, that makes the Democrats’ case for them.

The same thing happens when conservatives who rightly oppose late-term abortions and support sensible restrictions on the procedure, which are supported by the vast majority of Americans, discuss abortion and rape in ways that are clearly offensive and allow liberals to blast them as Neanderthals who hate women.

There is no Republican war on women. Conservatives speak for the majority of Americans when they oppose ObamaCare. There is no constitutional right to free contraception and it is no offense to women to state this just as it is not an insult to women to oppose the butchery of viable infants that takes place in the name of abortion rights, as we saw in last year’s Kermit Gosnell murder trial.

But it’s no use whining about unfair liberal pundits distorting their words when conservatives themselves employ arguments that place the focus on sexuality rather than the Constitution and individual rights. That’s not evidence of a Republican war on women. It is, however, indicative of an outbreak of hoof-in-mouth disease among Republicans. Far greater discipline is necessary when anyone on the right discusses this explosive issue. Off-the-cuff comments such as these can spell disaster in November, in a year when Democrats have an uphill fight against the backlash of the millions hurt by ObamaCare. Conservatives must learn from Huckabee’s self-inflicted wound and ensure that such discourse doesn’t become another epidemic of the kind that helped Democrats win in 2012.

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Sotomayor Gives Hope to ObamaCare Foes

For most of the last three years since ObamaCare was passed by Congress, liberals have dismissed efforts to overturn the portion of the law mandating that employers pay for contraception and abortion drugs as the province solely of right-wing extremists. They have mocked the notion that the religious rights of churches, religious groups, and believers who own private businesses have been violated by the government’s order.  Even as lawsuits challenging the legality of the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate have gradually made their way through the federal system, the reaction from the White House and prominent liberal outlets such as the New York Times has been to deny the legitimacy of the debate. Even worse, they have maliciously tried to turn the discussion from one of religious liberty to a false charge that it is the plaintiffs in these suits that are trying to impose religious views on their employees.

But with the Supreme Court already agreeing to consider some challenges to the law, the effort to ignore the appeal to religious liberty received another blow this week when Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed to issue an injunction against enforcement of the mandate pending resolution of litigation. While in no way a guarantee of future success in court, the liberal Sotomayor’s ruling preventing the government from imposing fines against the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor for refusing to obey the ObamaCare dictate is a sign that the plaintiffs have not only a strong argument but a reasonable chance to prevail. This should encourage those who entertain the hope that the administration’s abuse of power may yet be reversed. But it also demonstrates the seriousness of an argument that liberals would prefer to ignore.

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For most of the last three years since ObamaCare was passed by Congress, liberals have dismissed efforts to overturn the portion of the law mandating that employers pay for contraception and abortion drugs as the province solely of right-wing extremists. They have mocked the notion that the religious rights of churches, religious groups, and believers who own private businesses have been violated by the government’s order.  Even as lawsuits challenging the legality of the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate have gradually made their way through the federal system, the reaction from the White House and prominent liberal outlets such as the New York Times has been to deny the legitimacy of the debate. Even worse, they have maliciously tried to turn the discussion from one of religious liberty to a false charge that it is the plaintiffs in these suits that are trying to impose religious views on their employees.

But with the Supreme Court already agreeing to consider some challenges to the law, the effort to ignore the appeal to religious liberty received another blow this week when Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed to issue an injunction against enforcement of the mandate pending resolution of litigation. While in no way a guarantee of future success in court, the liberal Sotomayor’s ruling preventing the government from imposing fines against the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor for refusing to obey the ObamaCare dictate is a sign that the plaintiffs have not only a strong argument but a reasonable chance to prevail. This should encourage those who entertain the hope that the administration’s abuse of power may yet be reversed. But it also demonstrates the seriousness of an argument that liberals would prefer to ignore.

The injunction in this case is significant because it stops the government from stifling challenges to ObamaCare before the legal process is completed. With organizations and companies that defy the mandate subject to crippling fines that could put them out of business, plaintiffs can be effectively destroyed before a definitive ruling has been reached. While the lower courts in 18 out of 20 such cases have rightly granted such injunctions in the federal system, Sotomayor’s rescue of this group of charitable nuns who had been previously denied judicial relief is a signal victory. That a liberal who is an Obama appointee would act in this way demonstrates that the challenge to the mandate is not a case of conservative groups tilting at windmills.

Liberals have used complaints about the mandate to promote the myth that conservatives were waging a “war against women” as if free contraception were a basic constitutional right. It also ignores the government’s effort to restrict the rights of those being asked to pay.

As some federal courts have already ruled in related cases, the imposition of the president’s vision of a health-care system where all employers — including religious believers whose faith precludes such actions — must pay for contraception or abortion drugs places a severe burden on the free exercise of the religious freedom of those involved. In the absence of the demonstration of a compelling government interest that would force nuns or other groups or individuals opposed to such practices to pay for such services, the law is a clear violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as a blow to First Amendment rights. In response to these appeals, the Justice Department has dismissed the idea that anyone’s rights are violated and instead argued that those who work for the nuns or any other religious group or company owned by believers are entitled not only to access to such services but that their employers must pay for it. If this argument were to prevail, the result could be a new and dangerously restrictive definition of religious freedom that would confine the right to practice one’s faith to houses of worship and in the home but not in the public square.

Anyone who attempts to predict how the Supreme Court will rule on any aspect of ObamaCare is unwise, as Chief Justice John Roberts’s illogical opinion, upholding the law as a tax, proved in 2012. But the injunction from Sotomayor, who has already upheld the constitutionality of the law, has to scare liberals who have assumed there was no merit whatsoever to the religious freedom challenge.

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Why the GOP Doesn’t Trust Philly Dems

One of the sidebars to the story about the passage of the voter ID law in Pennsylvania was the fact that most of the state’s Republicans think Democrats, particularly those in Philadelphia, cheat with impunity. Democrats claim this is all nonsense, but those who know the city’s political history understand that this is one place where machine politics is not something confined to the history books. That law won’t be enforced this year as a result of a court ruling that more time is needed to prepare voters. However, suspicion that Democrats are up to no good lingers and a partisan email blast from the city official who supervises elections isn’t helping matters.

Stephanie Singer is the chairman of the City Commission, the body that supervises, among other things, Philadelphia’s Board of Elections. In a normal city where such an office is a non-partisan or civil service post, it would be inconceivable that the person who is in charge of ensuring a fair vote would be involved in partisan politics, but when it comes to civics or ethics, Philadelphia remains mired in the bad old days of machine politics. Therefore, when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Singer sent out an email blast urging citizens to vote to re-elect Barack Obama, the city of Brotherly Love merely shrugged. That Singer also went on in the email to claim that Judaism demands its adherents vote for the Democrats illustrates the way Jewish liberals have attempted to politicize their faith. But the willingness of the city to accept a situation where the elections commissioner is a rabid partisan tells us a lot about why there is so much distrust in Pennsylvania about the honesty of the elections system in the state’s largest city.

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One of the sidebars to the story about the passage of the voter ID law in Pennsylvania was the fact that most of the state’s Republicans think Democrats, particularly those in Philadelphia, cheat with impunity. Democrats claim this is all nonsense, but those who know the city’s political history understand that this is one place where machine politics is not something confined to the history books. That law won’t be enforced this year as a result of a court ruling that more time is needed to prepare voters. However, suspicion that Democrats are up to no good lingers and a partisan email blast from the city official who supervises elections isn’t helping matters.

Stephanie Singer is the chairman of the City Commission, the body that supervises, among other things, Philadelphia’s Board of Elections. In a normal city where such an office is a non-partisan or civil service post, it would be inconceivable that the person who is in charge of ensuring a fair vote would be involved in partisan politics, but when it comes to civics or ethics, Philadelphia remains mired in the bad old days of machine politics. Therefore, when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Singer sent out an email blast urging citizens to vote to re-elect Barack Obama, the city of Brotherly Love merely shrugged. That Singer also went on in the email to claim that Judaism demands its adherents vote for the Democrats illustrates the way Jewish liberals have attempted to politicize their faith. But the willingness of the city to accept a situation where the elections commissioner is a rabid partisan tells us a lot about why there is so much distrust in Pennsylvania about the honesty of the elections system in the state’s largest city.

It should be stipulated that what Singer did is not illegal according to city law. She is herself a former Democratic ward leader who was elected to the post she now holds by defeating another longtime member of the party machine. As the Inquirer explains, her partisanship is not supposed to influence matters because in addition to the chair, the City Commission has both a Republican and a Democratic member. But such a scheme could only breed confidence in the system if a non-partisan chair supervised the two partisans. But since the system allows the majority party to be able to control the leadership of the commission, the result is 2-1 Democrat hegemony. It is hardly surprising that Republicans don’t feel the system guarantees fairness.

Singer has posed as a good-government type but even Zach Stolberg, a liberal and the former editor of the Philadelphia Daily News who heads the city’s election watchdog group, the Committee of Seventy, was dismayed by her action. Stolberg told the Inquirer, “It seems inappropriate for the person who runs elections in Philadelphia to have such a partisan message so close to the election.” That is the understatement of the year.

According to Singer’s email, the top issue facing the country is free birth control:

As a woman, and as a Jew, I am horrified at the prospect of Republican control of government. If you are glad to see me doing the work I am doing, please consider this: it would have been much harder to dedicate myself to work through my entire adult life to date if I had to either prepare for the prospect of unplanned motherhood or forego that natural, healthy source of joy and comfort, sex. Republican policies would keep women down by denying them affordable, safe birth control. This is bad for America.

While I’m sure everyone is very happy to know that Singer has not been deprived of the joy and comfort she sought, the issue she references has nothing to do with access to contraception. Rather it is the ObamaCare mandate that requires religious institutions and believers to pay for practices that their faith proscribes. The question there is not birth control, which may be obtained at any doctor’s office or drug store, but protecting the religious freedom of many Americans who have different views about sex than Ms. Singer.

As the Inquirer notes, she went on with more generalized arguments about the election and the two parties saying,

Her Jewish faith emphasized the “obligation to repair the world around us.” In contrast, she said, “Republicans deny responsibility — they like to use the phrase ‘personal responsibility,’ which means, ‘if a person fails it is that person’s fault.’ Republicans excuse themselves from the adverse effects of their policies on individuals.”

The mind boggles at such simple-minded theology and political theory but suffice to say that while Jews can be liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, if Judaism is anything, it is a faith that promotes personal responsibility. One can just as easily argue that the welfare state liberals constructed has done as much if not more harm to individuals, and that Democrats like Singer excuse themselves from the adverse effects of their policies on those who have become dependent on the system they created and the devastation it has wrought, especially in a city like Philadelphia where poverty remains endemic. The difference between the parties is not whether they want to help people, but how best to do so. On that, reasonable persons may differ, but the infusion of bowdlerized religion into the equation does nothing to promote understanding of the issues let alone civility.

It is bad enough for a garden-variety politician to indulge in this sort of low political discourse and partisan invective. But it is nothing short of a scandal for the person entrusted with the responsibility to ensure honest elections in the city to do so.

Throughout the past year, liberals have expressed incredulity at the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s charges that Philadelphia’s elections are crooked. Stephanie Singer has just given the lie to their claims of innocence.

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Even Moderate Mitt Should Talk About Religious Freedom

In the aftermath of the second presidential debate, Democrats are attempting to reboot the “war on women” theme that was the keynote for President Obama’s re-election campaign during the spring and summer. That’s being driven in large part by Mitt Romney’s “binders of women” comment, but it was also the product of the exchange at Hofstra between the two about insurance coverage of contraception. The president slammed Romney for opposing universal coverage of contraception under his ObamaCare bill, while the Republican claimed he wanted to ensure full access to it for all women.

Democrats are claiming this is another example of the new “Moderate Mitt” that has replaced the “severely conservative” candidate that campaigned in Republican primaries, and to some extent they are right. Romney was telling the truth in that he clearly does not oppose denying access to contraception to anyone, nor does he think that “employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not.” But he passed on the chance to explain to voters how the ObamaCare mandate infringes on the religious freedom of religious institutions and individuals, since it forces them to pay for services that violate their consciences and their faith. This was just one of a number of flubbed opportunities to hit the president on issues where he is vulnerable on Tuesday, but it reinforced the impression that in his desire not to offend moderates and especially women voters, he is willing to abandon the principles he campaigned on up to this point. Given the stakes that might be understandable, but the Romney campaign ought not to confuse the need to portray the candidate as a reasonable person that women can trust with a less laudable desire to fudge the differences with Obama on important issues. Romney should be speaking more about religious freedom, not abandoning the issue to the president.

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In the aftermath of the second presidential debate, Democrats are attempting to reboot the “war on women” theme that was the keynote for President Obama’s re-election campaign during the spring and summer. That’s being driven in large part by Mitt Romney’s “binders of women” comment, but it was also the product of the exchange at Hofstra between the two about insurance coverage of contraception. The president slammed Romney for opposing universal coverage of contraception under his ObamaCare bill, while the Republican claimed he wanted to ensure full access to it for all women.

Democrats are claiming this is another example of the new “Moderate Mitt” that has replaced the “severely conservative” candidate that campaigned in Republican primaries, and to some extent they are right. Romney was telling the truth in that he clearly does not oppose denying access to contraception to anyone, nor does he think that “employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not.” But he passed on the chance to explain to voters how the ObamaCare mandate infringes on the religious freedom of religious institutions and individuals, since it forces them to pay for services that violate their consciences and their faith. This was just one of a number of flubbed opportunities to hit the president on issues where he is vulnerable on Tuesday, but it reinforced the impression that in his desire not to offend moderates and especially women voters, he is willing to abandon the principles he campaigned on up to this point. Given the stakes that might be understandable, but the Romney campaign ought not to confuse the need to portray the candidate as a reasonable person that women can trust with a less laudable desire to fudge the differences with Obama on important issues. Romney should be speaking more about religious freedom, not abandoning the issue to the president.

Far from a minor point, ObamaCare remains one of the key points at stake in this election. If the president is re-elected, the legislation will be fully implemented. Opponents of the bill, among whom Romney presumably numbers himself, believe that the president’s efforts to impose this mandate unconstitutionally infringes on our first freedom — religious liberty — and must be stopped. If it is implemented it will mark a turning point in which liberals will be able to redefine religious freedom in such a way as to restrict to it the home and the church, but to rout it out of the public square.

It is vital that Romney show himself not to be the monster that is shown in Democratic attack ads. The first debate was important because it was the first opportunity for many American women to take a good look at the Republican alongside the president. The boost in Romney’s popularity among women was far more the result of their favorable opinion of him than the president’s lackluster performance.

Maintaining that momentum among female voters doesn’t require Romney to backtrack on ObamaCare or religious freedom. To the contrary, these are issues that are as important to women as to men. The idea that free contraception is the issue on which the female vote will turn is a liberal myth. Women won’t be threatened by a discussion that centers on the rights of believers so long as he makes it plain that he isn’t interested in stopping anyone from doing what they want in their personal lives. Romney’s failure to explain his differences with the president on the issue won’t help him win the women’s vote, or anybody else’s for that matter.

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Ryan’s Social Views No Burden to GOP

The assumption among liberals is that the more the public learns about Paul Ryan, the easier it will be to brand him (in the words of Obama campaign honcho David Axelrod) as a “certifiable right-wing ideologue.” The core of that strategy is the belief liberals can demonize Ryan’s budget and his effort to reform entitlements. But another aspect of it is the notion that the Republican vice presidential candidate’s social conservatism is also an easy target. As a New York Times article details, Ryan is pro-life, an opponent of gay marriage and opposes the federal mandate that all employers must be compelled to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs even if it contradicts their religious scruples. The assumption is that the mere listing of these positions that so offend liberal orthodoxy will ensure the defeat of the Republicans.

But as Politico notes today, as much as Ryan helps energize the conservative base behind a Romney candidacy about which they were lukewarm, placing the articulate congressman from Wisconsin on the ticket also helps put the votes of Catholics who are independents or conservative Democrats into play. While those who look to the editorial page of the New York Times for guidance may be outraged about Ryan’s positions on social issues, the number of those voters — including those whose support might be up for grabs in November — who share his view of ObamaCare as well as on abortion, gay marriage and guns is far greater. Ryan’s impact on the working-class Catholic vote that helped make the difference for Barack Obama in some states four years ago is a factor that many analysts are underestimating.

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The assumption among liberals is that the more the public learns about Paul Ryan, the easier it will be to brand him (in the words of Obama campaign honcho David Axelrod) as a “certifiable right-wing ideologue.” The core of that strategy is the belief liberals can demonize Ryan’s budget and his effort to reform entitlements. But another aspect of it is the notion that the Republican vice presidential candidate’s social conservatism is also an easy target. As a New York Times article details, Ryan is pro-life, an opponent of gay marriage and opposes the federal mandate that all employers must be compelled to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs even if it contradicts their religious scruples. The assumption is that the mere listing of these positions that so offend liberal orthodoxy will ensure the defeat of the Republicans.

But as Politico notes today, as much as Ryan helps energize the conservative base behind a Romney candidacy about which they were lukewarm, placing the articulate congressman from Wisconsin on the ticket also helps put the votes of Catholics who are independents or conservative Democrats into play. While those who look to the editorial page of the New York Times for guidance may be outraged about Ryan’s positions on social issues, the number of those voters — including those whose support might be up for grabs in November — who share his view of ObamaCare as well as on abortion, gay marriage and guns is far greater. Ryan’s impact on the working-class Catholic vote that helped make the difference for Barack Obama in some states four years ago is a factor that many analysts are underestimating.

While it is possible that Mediscare tactics will stampede some voters who would otherwise vote against the president’s re-election, the idea that independents will be scared away from a conservative because of his views on abortion is something of a liberal myth. Those who have no sympathy for Ryan’s pro-life views or disagree with his opposition to more restrictions on gun ownership were never going to vote for Romney anyway.

But, as much as this may surprise the editorial board of the New York Times, there are voters out there who will see the elevation of a faithful Catholic to the GOP ticket as motivation to vote for Romney. The proof of this is in the composition of the Democratic ticket. While Biden is a supporter of abortion, his role in mobilizing working-class Catholics behind Obama was widely acknowledged in 2008. Democrats may believe their push behind a “social justice” agenda will help them hold onto Catholic voters, but the ObamaCare mandate against religious freedom is the flaw in that theory.

As much as many Catholics may disagree with their church’s teaching on contraception, the spectacle of the government compelling religious institutions as well as individuals to choose between their consciences and obeying the federal mandate is one that hurts Obama. Far from Ryan’s social conservatism being a problem for the GOP, the ability of the veep nominee to make a strong case for both economic freedom and the principles of his upbringing is an undervalued asset in the election.

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Catholics Reject Contraception Compromise

Via Ed Morrissey, this is a significant blow to the Obama administration’s so-called compromise on the birth control mandate. The Catholic Health Association was a key supporter of Obamacare, and provided the administration with Catholic cover by initially supporting the mandate compromise. But after a long review, the CHA has decided that the administration’s accommodations don’t go far enough. USA Today reports:

President Obama’s support for his signature health care act took a fresh hit Friday. The Catholic Health Association, the nation’s largest private health care provider, has rebuffed the latest White House moves to make its contraception coverage mandate more acceptable to Catholics and conservative evangelicals, according to Religion News Service.

The CHA was a critical voice in getting the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009. Sister Carol Keehan, head of CHA, drew standing ovations from progressive Catholics.

The CHA expressed lingering concerns about aspects of the mandate in a letter to HHS on Friday.

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Via Ed Morrissey, this is a significant blow to the Obama administration’s so-called compromise on the birth control mandate. The Catholic Health Association was a key supporter of Obamacare, and provided the administration with Catholic cover by initially supporting the mandate compromise. But after a long review, the CHA has decided that the administration’s accommodations don’t go far enough. USA Today reports:

President Obama’s support for his signature health care act took a fresh hit Friday. The Catholic Health Association, the nation’s largest private health care provider, has rebuffed the latest White House moves to make its contraception coverage mandate more acceptable to Catholics and conservative evangelicals, according to Religion News Service.

The CHA was a critical voice in getting the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009. Sister Carol Keehan, head of CHA, drew standing ovations from progressive Catholics.

The CHA expressed lingering concerns about aspects of the mandate in a letter to HHS on Friday.

The announcement comes at a terrible time for the Obama administration. Obama has already lost some ground with Catholic voters, and Thursday marks the beginning of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom protest, which will highlight the mandate as an example of government persecution. It will bring the issue into pulpits around the country through lectures, prayer vigils and public action campaigns for two weeks (that is, if Obamacare is still around for that long).

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ObamaCare and the War on the Church

It may be that the Supreme Court’s pending decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare will render moot the controversy about whether Catholic institutions can be compelled to pay for practices that they oppose on religious grounds. But no matter how the court rules, the impact of the increasingly nasty effort to discredit the church’s effort to defend itself will still be felt. A good example of how liberals are trying to brand the church’s defenders as “partisans” when the opposite is true, came in the editorial in Sunday’s New York Times that branded the lawsuit launched by church institutions as a “stunt.”

The Times argues that the government’s attempt to compel the church to violate its principles was not a violation of its rights and further claims the inadequate “compromise” proposed by the White House should have silenced their concerns. This is an absurd distortion of the facts, but far worse is the way the Times — following the Obama campaign’s playbook — tries to claim that Catholics seek to impose their beliefs on others. Quite the contrary, it is the government fiat that employees at Catholic institutions are provided with free contraception that is the imposition. The point here is not so much to advance the cause of women’s health — the justification advocates of the government’s position seek to use — but to demonize a faith group that has the temerity to stick up for its rights.

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It may be that the Supreme Court’s pending decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare will render moot the controversy about whether Catholic institutions can be compelled to pay for practices that they oppose on religious grounds. But no matter how the court rules, the impact of the increasingly nasty effort to discredit the church’s effort to defend itself will still be felt. A good example of how liberals are trying to brand the church’s defenders as “partisans” when the opposite is true, came in the editorial in Sunday’s New York Times that branded the lawsuit launched by church institutions as a “stunt.”

The Times argues that the government’s attempt to compel the church to violate its principles was not a violation of its rights and further claims the inadequate “compromise” proposed by the White House should have silenced their concerns. This is an absurd distortion of the facts, but far worse is the way the Times — following the Obama campaign’s playbook — tries to claim that Catholics seek to impose their beliefs on others. Quite the contrary, it is the government fiat that employees at Catholic institutions are provided with free contraception that is the imposition. The point here is not so much to advance the cause of women’s health — the justification advocates of the government’s position seek to use — but to demonize a faith group that has the temerity to stick up for its rights.

Religious freedom is not just the right to, as the Times puts it, “preach that contraception is sinful and rail against Mr. Obama for making it more readily available” (though in fact, the Church is not seeking to curtail the availability of contraception to the general public). It is also the right not to have its institutions forced to either pay for or facilitate the receipt of services that run contrary to its principles.

It bears repeating that one needn’t share the Vatican’s views on contraception to understand that a government dictat that would coerce churches to dispense it is a violation of their religious liberty. Nor would a so-called “compromise” that would maintain the imposition but shift its cost reduce the threat to freedom. But the fact, as the Times points out, that even most Catholics support contraception does not mean the church and those who agree with it should be stripped of their rights. Allowing their institutions to abstain from providing contraception coverage does not make the church a law unto itself or impose its views on others; it merely leaves them alone. Nor does the government’s obligation to advance a “compelling interest” grant it the latitude to violate those rights. Those who wish to receive free contraception don’t have to work for the church. The idea that a fanciful constitutional right to such services should trump religious freedom is the product of a mindset in which all freedoms can be annulled for the sake of some mythical and unproven greater good.

Far from the church behaving in a partisan manner by imposing the president’s fiat, it is simply standing up for itself against a government that is determined to squelch dissent on the administration’s unpopular signature legislative achievement. The Supreme Court will determine ObamaCare’s fate. But the determined campaign to silence the church and to delegitimize its attempt to defend its rights will resonate for some time.

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Attack on Catholics Could Turn the Election

On Monday, 12 suits were filed in federal court by 43 Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University, and the archdioceses of New York and Washington. The suits are an effort to overturn the Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs under the Affordable Care Act — a regulation that forces Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to act in ways that violate their conscience and the teachings of their church.

“The government … cannot justify its decision to force Notre Dame to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to these services in violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs,” Notre Dame’s lawsuit  argues. “If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power… The First Amendment also prohibits the Government from becoming excessively entangled in religious affairs and from interfering with a religious institution’s internal decisions concerning the organization’s religious structure, ministers, or doctrine. The U.S. Government Mandate tramples all of these rights.”

The University of Notre Dame, is should be said, is not an institution that is naturally hostile to President Obama. After all, it awarded Obama an honorary degree in 2009. Read More

On Monday, 12 suits were filed in federal court by 43 Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University, and the archdioceses of New York and Washington. The suits are an effort to overturn the Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs under the Affordable Care Act — a regulation that forces Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to act in ways that violate their conscience and the teachings of their church.

“The government … cannot justify its decision to force Notre Dame to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to these services in violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs,” Notre Dame’s lawsuit  argues. “If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power… The First Amendment also prohibits the Government from becoming excessively entangled in religious affairs and from interfering with a religious institution’s internal decisions concerning the organization’s religious structure, ministers, or doctrine. The U.S. Government Mandate tramples all of these rights.”

The University of Notre Dame, is should be said, is not an institution that is naturally hostile to President Obama. After all, it awarded Obama an honorary degree in 2009.

The reason for the Obama administration’s aggressive action against Catholic institutions can be explained by two things. First, the president genuinely believes in what he’s doing. He is a man of the left, through and through, so forcing religious institutions to comply with a progressive law that forces religious institutions to act in ways that conflicts with their religious teaching makes perfect sense. It turns out this is part and parcel of the “transformational” presidency Obama referred to during the 2008 campaign. In this instance, he is interested in transforming civil society by employing against it the raw power of the federal government.

Second, Team Obama must have believed that this would help them in an effort to convince voters the GOP is engaged in a “war on women.”

I suspect what the Obama administration didn’t anticipate, however, was that Catholic institutions not only wouldn’t back down from this offensive; they would actually fight back. And fighting back — intelligently, effectively, and in a unified fashion — they are. This could have significant political implications in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, where the Catholic vote is crucial. And although it’s not garnering much attention, my guess is that when the history of this election is written, the president’s decision to target Catholics/Catholic institutions will be seen as an important moment and one Obama will come to rue.

Mark May 21 on your political calendars.

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From Healer to Divider-in-Chief

It has become a familiar refrain: conservatives reach for “wedge” (read: social) issues in presidential campaigns in order to distract and divide voters. That narrative has always been suspect. But I wonder when it will dawn on political reporters and commentators that it is Barack Obama who is compulsively reaching for “wedge” issues in the hopes of dividing Americans against one another.

In just the last few weeks, for example, the president has weighed in on the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, the membership policies of Augusta National Golf Club, the Trayvon Martin shooting, as well as altering the status quo when it comes to requiring Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed.

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It has become a familiar refrain: conservatives reach for “wedge” (read: social) issues in presidential campaigns in order to distract and divide voters. That narrative has always been suspect. But I wonder when it will dawn on political reporters and commentators that it is Barack Obama who is compulsively reaching for “wedge” issues in the hopes of dividing Americans against one another.

In just the last few weeks, for example, the president has weighed in on the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, the membership policies of Augusta National Golf Club, the Trayvon Martin shooting, as well as altering the status quo when it comes to requiring Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed.

On the first three issues, Obama is acting more like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell than president. And if you take the four issues together, it’s clear what’s occurring. Obama cannot defend his record and has no compelling second term agenda; his goal is to toss dust in the wind, to draw attention away from the economy and the increasing disorder in the world so that his allies can portray the GOP as engaged in a “war on women.”

This tactic is an important concession of sorts. Barack Obama has shown he can’t govern and won’t even try. But he does know how to campaign. It’s the one thing he seems to relish and has (along with community organizing) shown some skill at. The fact that Obama is campaigning in 2012 in precisely the opposite manner he portrayed himself in 2008 isn’t lost on anyone – including the RNC (see this effective new ad).

The president has gone from being a healer of the breach to the divider-in-chief. Hope and change has given way to slash-and-burn. On the campaign trail he’s now referring to Republicans as members of the “flat earth society” and the House GOP budget as an example of “Social Darwinism.” (If Obama is going to attack Republicans, at least he could be creatively vicious instead of banal and mean-spirited.) To have a president engage in these tactics with such relish, and to do so this early in the campaign cycle, will do significant damage to our political culture. But it’s clear to any detached observer that it doesn’t matter to Obama. After all, he has an election to win, power to keep, and an opponent to destroy.

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Despite Gaffe, Limbaugh Won’t Be Silenced

As James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web column in today’s Wall Street Journal, the left is crowing today about putting Rush Limbaugh on the run. As Taranto writes, “The kerfuffle was no fluke but a left-liberal set piece” in which a concerted effort was made by liberal members of Congress to spin the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church as a defense of women’s rights. But liberals aren’t satisfied with just their success in changing the conversation from one about religious freedom to one centered on the mythical attack on the right to contraception by the church and conservative opponents of ObamaCare. The real prize in this controversy is not the way the left has enabled the president to avoid taking responsibility for the way his signature health care bill will subvert liberty but the chance to take down the most popular conservative talk show host for the last 20 years.

The flight of Limbaugh’s advertisers under the storm of pressure orchestrated against the radio personality is significant. Since Limbaugh’s tasteless comments about Sandra Fluke’s testimony in which the Georgetown University Law student complained about the cost of birth control, nine of his sponsors have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh’s belated apology to Fluke was not enough to stop the bleeding because some of those who dumped him did so after his attempt to walk back his foolish and vulgar jibes. But by pushing so hard to knock off the king of talk radio, the liberal chorus of outrage may have gone a bit too far.

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As James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web column in today’s Wall Street Journal, the left is crowing today about putting Rush Limbaugh on the run. As Taranto writes, “The kerfuffle was no fluke but a left-liberal set piece” in which a concerted effort was made by liberal members of Congress to spin the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church as a defense of women’s rights. But liberals aren’t satisfied with just their success in changing the conversation from one about religious freedom to one centered on the mythical attack on the right to contraception by the church and conservative opponents of ObamaCare. The real prize in this controversy is not the way the left has enabled the president to avoid taking responsibility for the way his signature health care bill will subvert liberty but the chance to take down the most popular conservative talk show host for the last 20 years.

The flight of Limbaugh’s advertisers under the storm of pressure orchestrated against the radio personality is significant. Since Limbaugh’s tasteless comments about Sandra Fluke’s testimony in which the Georgetown University Law student complained about the cost of birth control, nine of his sponsors have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh’s belated apology to Fluke was not enough to stop the bleeding because some of those who dumped him did so after his attempt to walk back his foolish and vulgar jibes. But by pushing so hard to knock off the king of talk radio, the liberal chorus of outrage may have gone a bit too far.

Most Americans, even those who agreed with Limbaugh about the issue, thought his over-the-top remarks about Fluke being a “slut” because she thought her Jesuit-run law school ought to pay for her birth control costs were way out of line. He’s been publicly spanked for this and rightly so. But the moment the effort to punish him becomes a campaign to destroy him, the nature of the narrative of this issue can change just as quickly as it did last week.

The fact that the outrage over Limbaugh was hypocritical didn’t buy him much slack as he was forced to face the music about his comments. But as soon as this outrage morphed into a crusade to force him off the air, that hypocrisy becomes relevant again. Those who think Limbaugh’s insensitivity to women is such that he ought not to be allowed to broadcast need to be asked why they haven’t signed on to similar efforts to force someone like HBO’s Bill Maher off his well-paid cable perch? He has said far worse about conservative women than Limbaugh’s faux pas.

Of course, the difference here is not that what Limbaugh said was worse, because it wasn’t. It is that he is a conservative who trashes liberals rather than a liberal who trashes conservatives.

In the New York Times Media Decoder feature about Limbaugh’s woes, columnist Brian Stelter points out one of those advertisers who have left his show, Tax Resolution Services, was “put on the map” by their sponsorship of “The Howard Stern Show.” The company’s chief executive Michael Rozbruch says the reason why he bowed to pressure to leave Limbaugh after loyally sticking with a vulgar creature like Stern is due to the increased pressure from “social media.”

It’s true that Facebook and Twitter have given such campaigns a boost, but anyone who thinks political hypocrisy is not at work here is not paying attention. The effort to destroy Limbaugh will fail because the shift from righteous indignation at him to an effort to suppress his voice only serves to remind his huge fan base the reason why Limbaugh and the whole genre of conservative radio had to be created was the liberal monopoly on traditional broadcast outlets. Shutting him down has been a liberal dream for two decades, but his Fluke gaffe won’t serve as an excuse for silencing the movement he has come to exemplify. As Limbaugh promised his listeners today, any advertiser who bolts from his show will be replaced.

Liberals are overplaying their hand on Limbaugh and, as Taranto rightly points out, sooner or later the debate will switch back to the ObamaCare mandate and the way it threatens to dangerously expand government power.

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Obama, Limbaugh and the Law Student

The White House has escalated the controversy about Rush Limbaugh’s supposedly grave insult of a Georgetown University law student who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of mandatory insurance coverage for birth control. President Obama called Sandra Fluke today to tell her her parents should be proud of her. The call and the effort to inflate Limbaugh’s satirical remarks about Fluke’s complaints about the high cost of birth control during her congressional testimony are clearly part of a Democratic effort to change the discussion from defending religious liberty against ObamaCare to one about the subjugation of women. Unfortunately, for those who care about defending the Catholic Church’s freedom to defend their faith, Limbaugh’s typically over-the-top humorous jibe at Fluke’s expense is being exploited to obfuscate the real issue at stake here.

Republicans are running for cover as the Democrats and left-wing women’s groups attempt to make Fluke a feminist martyr. Speaker of the House John Boehner called Limbaugh’s comments “inappropriate.” He’s right about that, but the problem is that while Democrats seem to regard Rush as some kind of Republican pope, much of what is said on the show needs to be understood to be no different than the rhetorical excesses of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” Limbaugh’s use of the words “prostitute” and “slut” in connection to Fluke were not intended to be a literal accusation but a hyperbolic takedown of the notion that women at Georgetown are oppressed because they must spend as much as $1,000 of their own money for contraception the Jesuit-run school refuses to pay for.

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The White House has escalated the controversy about Rush Limbaugh’s supposedly grave insult of a Georgetown University law student who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of mandatory insurance coverage for birth control. President Obama called Sandra Fluke today to tell her her parents should be proud of her. The call and the effort to inflate Limbaugh’s satirical remarks about Fluke’s complaints about the high cost of birth control during her congressional testimony are clearly part of a Democratic effort to change the discussion from defending religious liberty against ObamaCare to one about the subjugation of women. Unfortunately, for those who care about defending the Catholic Church’s freedom to defend their faith, Limbaugh’s typically over-the-top humorous jibe at Fluke’s expense is being exploited to obfuscate the real issue at stake here.

Republicans are running for cover as the Democrats and left-wing women’s groups attempt to make Fluke a feminist martyr. Speaker of the House John Boehner called Limbaugh’s comments “inappropriate.” He’s right about that, but the problem is that while Democrats seem to regard Rush as some kind of Republican pope, much of what is said on the show needs to be understood to be no different than the rhetorical excesses of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” Limbaugh’s use of the words “prostitute” and “slut” in connection to Fluke were not intended to be a literal accusation but a hyperbolic takedown of the notion that women at Georgetown are oppressed because they must spend as much as $1,000 of their own money for contraception the Jesuit-run school refuses to pay for.

Let’s specify that what Limbaugh said did nothing to advance the cause of civil debate on the issue. But those who decry the lack of civility in politics generally tend to limit their complaints to hyperbole uttered by people whose views they do not share. The same people who are voicing outrage at the hurt feelings of Ms. Fluke do not scruple at mocking or name calling when it comes to Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum or others whose beliefs on this or any other subject they believe to be antediluvian. The church and its adherents have been subjected to withering ridicule.

Moreover, though it has been lost amid the outcry against Limbaugh, he’s right to point out that, those who believe institutions ought to be compelled to fund free birth control are, in effect, demanding a subsidy for having sex. Of course, that is not the same thing as being a prostitute. Nor does it make anyone who wishes to take advantage of such a subsidy a “slut.” Such terms are abusive. But that is exactly why an entertainer like Limbaugh uses them much as Stewart and liberal comics employ similarly nasty terms to people they wish to deride. Need we really point out that comments made in the context of this sort of show is not the same thing as remarks recorded in the Congressional Record and should thus be judged by a slightly different standard?

Rush Limbaugh will survive this latest attempt to destroy him and may, in fact, benefit from being the subject of a White House barb. But conservatives and those who care about religious liberty should be dismayed by the way the left has been allowed to shield an ominous attempt to expand government power and subvert religious freedom behind a faux defense of women’s rights.

No one is trying to prevent Sandra Fluke or any other woman — or man — from doing whatever they want in the privacy of their own bedrooms. But what Fluke and President Obama are trying to do is to force religious institutions to pay for conduct their faith opposes. That, and not Rush Limbaugh’s scorn for Fluke’s birth control bill, remains the real issue at stake in this debate.

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Dems Kill Bill to Stop ObamaCare Birth Control Mandate

The final tally was 51 to 48, on a motion to table an amendment that would allow employers to opt out of an ObamaCare rule mandating them to cover birth control under their health insurance plans. As expected, the vote broke down mainly on party lines:

Leading pro-life organizations called on the Senate to vote for the amendment to the mandate the Obama administration issued, but Democrats banded together against [R]epublicans to defeat it on a 51 to 48 margin by adopting a motion to table, or kill, it. …

The text of the Blunt Amendment consists of the language taken from the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467, H.R. 1179).  It would amend the Obama health care law (“ObamaCare”) to prevent the imposition of regulatory mandates that violate the religious or moral convictions of those who purchase or provide health insurance.

Needless to say, this isn’t a fight Catholic organizations are going to give up on so easily. If anything, this will probably help Republicans during the presidential election by increasing the opposition to ObamaCare. Obviously many Catholic organizations that initially supported the health care reform now have an incentive to support its repeal.

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The final tally was 51 to 48, on a motion to table an amendment that would allow employers to opt out of an ObamaCare rule mandating them to cover birth control under their health insurance plans. As expected, the vote broke down mainly on party lines:

Leading pro-life organizations called on the Senate to vote for the amendment to the mandate the Obama administration issued, but Democrats banded together against [R]epublicans to defeat it on a 51 to 48 margin by adopting a motion to table, or kill, it. …

The text of the Blunt Amendment consists of the language taken from the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467, H.R. 1179).  It would amend the Obama health care law (“ObamaCare”) to prevent the imposition of regulatory mandates that violate the religious or moral convictions of those who purchase or provide health insurance.

Needless to say, this isn’t a fight Catholic organizations are going to give up on so easily. If anything, this will probably help Republicans during the presidential election by increasing the opposition to ObamaCare. Obviously many Catholic organizations that initially supported the health care reform now have an incentive to support its repeal.

President Obama has backed himself into a corner on this issue. Now that the amendment was blocked in Congress, the pressure to take action will be shifted back to the White House. But the Obama campaign already came out unequivocally against the protections for religious employers, calling it an “anti-contraception agenda” in a fundraising email last night. If Obama backs down now, he risks backlash from the pro-choice groups he riled up over the issue. But that may pale in comparison to the anger he’ll get from religious organizations between now and November.

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Santorum’s Conservative Media Problem

There’s been a trend this week of prominent conservative women writers warning about Rick Santorum’s out-of-mainstream social views. They’ve all touched on a similar concern: Santorum’s past comments on social issues are so extreme that they likely render him unelectable.

This is alarming enough on its own. But the increasingly vocal criticism from right-leaning female pundits also indicates another problem on the horizon for Santorum: can he rely on the conservative media, particularly the women, to have his back on social issues in a general election?

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There’s been a trend this week of prominent conservative women writers warning about Rick Santorum’s out-of-mainstream social views. They’ve all touched on a similar concern: Santorum’s past comments on social issues are so extreme that they likely render him unelectable.

This is alarming enough on its own. But the increasingly vocal criticism from right-leaning female pundits also indicates another problem on the horizon for Santorum: can he rely on the conservative media, particularly the women, to have his back on social issues in a general election?

If Santorum secures the nomination, the mainstream media and Democrats will do their best to turn the election into a referendum on birth control and traditional gender roles. At that point it would be up to conservative journalists and commentators to stand up and defend Santorum on these issues. And as of right now, it doesn’t sound like there’d be many women in his corner.

But it’s not just female writers. The conservative media as a whole seems to have little desire to rehash the culture wars. There are plenty of pundits who will vigorously defend Santorum’s pro-life stance. But how many of them want to get into a brawl with the left over why birth control is harmful to society, or why gay marriage is akin to bestiality?

Then there’s the newer generation of conservative journalists and bloggers, which tends to lean more libertarian on social issues. They don’t have the same influence as TV pundits and columnists, but they’re still an integral part of the election coverage. Will they come out and defend Santorum’s comments about how the separation of church and state makes him “want to vomit”? How about his declaration that Satan is responsible for corrupting U.S. society?

It’s hard to imagine many who would. And that’s a serious problem Santorum needs to be prepared to deal with if he ends up securing the nomination.

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Contraception vs. Infanticide

Last night’s debate was not among the best we’ve seen, but there was one particularly memorable moment. It came to us courtesy of Newt Gingrich.

When the candidates were asked (from a pre-selected e-mail) about their views on contraception, Gingrich responded by saying, “I want to make two quick points, John [King]. The first is: There is a legitimate question about the power of the government to impose on religion activities which any religion opposes. That’s legitimate. But I just want to point out — not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.”

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Last night’s debate was not among the best we’ve seen, but there was one particularly memorable moment. It came to us courtesy of Newt Gingrich.

When the candidates were asked (from a pre-selected e-mail) about their views on contraception, Gingrich responded by saying, “I want to make two quick points, John [King]. The first is: There is a legitimate question about the power of the government to impose on religion activities which any religion opposes. That’s legitimate. But I just want to point out — not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.”

What Gingrich is referring to is that Barack Obama, as an Illinois state senator, opposed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. (For more, see this October 16, 2008 article, “Obama and Infanticide,” by Robert P. George and Yuval Levin.) The evidence clearly points to the fact that Obama, in the name of abortion rights, would not support laws against infanticide. It is a stand that remains even today both sickening and almost impossible to comprehend. And yet the entire universe of political reporters showed an amazing lack of curiosity (and certainly not an ounce of consternation or outrage) on this topic.

It’s so hard to imagine why.

The simple-minded among us might assume that many journalists, leaning very much to the left on social issues, are more offended when candidates express personal objections to contraception than when candidates oppose laws against infanticide. Those of us who are unsophisticated on these matters might even come to the conclusion that for reasons of ideology, many members of the press hyper-focus on contraception and completely ignore infanticide, an act one might think qualifies as morally problematic.

 

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Rick Santorum and the Social Issues

One of the arguments Senator Rick Santorum made on behalf of his campaign was that if he were the nominee, he’d succeed in making Barack Obama the subject of the election, not himself.

That was before Santorum shot to the top of the GOP field. What candidates can never fully anticipate, until they’re considered a frontrunner, is the sheer intensity of the focus on their past record and words. That’s now happening to Santorum, and suddenly he’s on the defensive, despite his best efforts to avoid that from happening.

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One of the arguments Senator Rick Santorum made on behalf of his campaign was that if he were the nominee, he’d succeed in making Barack Obama the subject of the election, not himself.

That was before Santorum shot to the top of the GOP field. What candidates can never fully anticipate, until they’re considered a frontrunner, is the sheer intensity of the focus on their past record and words. That’s now happening to Santorum, and suddenly he’s on the defensive, despite his best efforts to avoid that from happening.

The main (though not exclusive) problem for Santorum is his rhetorical approach to social issues. He’s said he would be the one president who would talk about the damage contraception does to American society. He’s spoken quite openly about criminalizing doctors who perform abortions. He’s made a passionate case against prenatal testing. He’s been quite forthright in his views against homosexual acts, about women in combat, and about women in the workforce. He’s given a speech in which he’s said Satan has systematically targeted the key institutions in American life. The danger for Santorum is that, fairly or not, these statements and stands, separately and (especially) combined, create a portrait of a person who is censorious and sits in critical judgment of the lifestyle of most Americans.

The prospect of an American president using the “bully pulpit” to speak out about the dangers and damaging effects of contraception on American society (including among married couples) is not a reassuring one.

It’s almost impossible to overstate how important tone and countenance are when it comes to social issues. There is a great deal to be said for those who care about the cultural condition of American society. But the arguments on behalf of moral truth need to be made in ways that are winsome, in a manner that is meant to persuade. What this means, in part, is the person making the arguments needs to radiate some measure of grace and tolerance rather than condemnation and zeal. What we’re talking about is using a light touch rather than a heavy hand. To understand the difference, think about how the language (and spirit) of the pro-life movement shifted from accusing people of being “baby killers” to asking Americans to join a movement in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. Social conservatism, if it ever hopes to succeed, needs to be articulated in a way that is seen as promoting the human good and advancing human dignity, rather than declaring a series of forbidden acts that are leading us to Gomorrah.

A wise observer told me years ago that for a politician to be seen as the aggressor in the culture wars is the quickest way to lose them. That is something Rick Santorum should bear in mind as this race moves forward.

 

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Santorum’s Contraception Contradiction

Rick Santorum was interviewed Friday morning by CBS’s Charlie Rose on the former Pennsylvania senator’s views on contraception. It’s clear that Senator Santorum is tired of talking about contraception. One can understand why.

Senator Santorum’s core defense is that he’s supported federal funding for contraception in his role as a public official, even though he’s personally opposed (as a faithful Catholic) to it. But in this October 2011 interview Santorum – presumably in an effort to contrast himself with the other GOP candidates — insisted that he would talk about contraception if he were president. He argued that contraception, even within the context of marriage, was damaging to the institution. In talking about contraception, Santorum said this: “Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These have profound impact on the health of our society.” [emphasis added]

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Rick Santorum was interviewed Friday morning by CBS’s Charlie Rose on the former Pennsylvania senator’s views on contraception. It’s clear that Senator Santorum is tired of talking about contraception. One can understand why.

Senator Santorum’s core defense is that he’s supported federal funding for contraception in his role as a public official, even though he’s personally opposed (as a faithful Catholic) to it. But in this October 2011 interview Santorum – presumably in an effort to contrast himself with the other GOP candidates — insisted that he would talk about contraception if he were president. He argued that contraception, even within the context of marriage, was damaging to the institution. In talking about contraception, Santorum said this: “Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These have profound impact on the health of our society.” [emphasis added]

When asked by Hugh Hewitt earlier last week if he was going to talk a lot about contraception, Senator Santorum changed his stance. He told Hewitt, “Well, obviously not.” He said “this is just the left trying to play their games that they always try to play.”

That’s not quite fair, though. After all, it was Santorum, in an interview with a sympathetic interlocutor, who went out of his way to say that he would talk about contraception. (“One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea,” Santorum said. “Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.’ It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”) So this is a debate Santorum has invited, not others. And the question for Santorum is why he believes contraception should “continue to be available” and that the “realm of laws” should have nothing to say about contraception. Remember, the argument Santorum made is that contraception is having a profoundly negative impact on the health of society. If so, why wouldn’t he advocate laws to discourage the use of something that he believes is undermining America’s social and moral fabric? At a minimum, why wouldn’t he insist that the state stay neutral on the issue of contraception rather than trumpet the fact that he voted for federal funding of contraception (which he did in his interview with Mr. Rose)?

Now Santorum can argue, as he has, that the liberty interest of individuals supersedes the interest of the state – and that unlike the case of abortion, no other individual is involved in this matter. True enough. But how, then, does Santorum argue against same-sex marriage? You have the liberty interests of the individual pitted against (in Santorum’s view) the interest of the state. So why oppose same-sex marriage while supporting contraception?

This debate touches on fairly fundamental issues of statecraft as soulcraft (to use the title of a 1983 book by George Will). In this case, if contraception is as damaging as Mr. Santorum argues, both outside and within the context of marriage, why does he continue to support federal funding for contraception? Why wouldn’t he feel an obligation to at least talk about something that he thinks is injurious to America?

Rick Santorum is rightly seen by many as a “conviction politician.” He insists, with some justification, that one of the qualities that makes him a leader is his willingness to stick to his deeply held principles even in the face of strong political headwinds. Those headwinds are now gusting on the matter of contraception. The question is whether Senator Santorum, who is now ahead in national and state polls, will back away from an issue he was eager to talk about when he was merely an asterisk in the polls in Iowa.

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Will the Jews Defend Catholics?

Initially, after the HHS mandate for employers to provide birth control for its employees was announced, the religious right flank of the Jewish community, the Orthodox Union (OU), came out strongly against the decision.  In the New York Times, the executive director of public policy for the OU Nathan Diament explained:

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary [says] religious entities that “serve the general public and employ people of different faiths” should not receive the same religious liberty protections as, for example, a church or a synagogue. Such reasoning is wrongheaded.

For many people of diverse faiths, religious observance is not to be confined to the sanctuary. For many, faith compels engagement with the broader world and service to our fellow man, especially those in need. To say the government will afford religious liberty only to the most insular of religious institutions but not to those that serve, or employ, people of other faiths is a troubling view of faith and what role it should play in America.

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Initially, after the HHS mandate for employers to provide birth control for its employees was announced, the religious right flank of the Jewish community, the Orthodox Union (OU), came out strongly against the decision.  In the New York Times, the executive director of public policy for the OU Nathan Diament explained:

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary [says] religious entities that “serve the general public and employ people of different faiths” should not receive the same religious liberty protections as, for example, a church or a synagogue. Such reasoning is wrongheaded.

For many people of diverse faiths, religious observance is not to be confined to the sanctuary. For many, faith compels engagement with the broader world and service to our fellow man, especially those in need. To say the government will afford religious liberty only to the most insular of religious institutions but not to those that serve, or employ, people of other faiths is a troubling view of faith and what role it should play in America.

If you read the statement closely, however, the OU appears to have more problem with Catholic groups’ non-classification as religious organizations verses the government’s mandate that they provide a service explicitly against their religion. After the president’s “compromise” (which Rep. Paul Ryan called merely an accounting trick) the OU changed its tune after meetings with the White House to craft the revisions, issuing a new press release stating it,

welcomed President Obama’s announcement that he is revising the regulation announced on January 20 by the Dept. of Health and Human Services in re: employers’ health insurance plans and religiously affiliated institutions.

The Orthodox Union criticized the previous regulation as being harmful to religious liberty and disturbingly defining religious entities that serve or employ people of other faith as undeserving of religious liberty protection.

Under the revised rule, no nonprofit, religious institutional employer that objects to providing contraceptives and sterilization services will have to pay for or provide coverage for it.

The left flank of the Jewish community, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC),  also released a statement supporting the president’s “compromise,” and never released a statement on its position when the controversy first erupted. The director of the RAC, Rabbi David Saperstein, has a strong relationship with the Obama White House and personally consulted on the mandate throughout the process.

The Catholic Church is not fooled by the president’s “compromise” which requires insurance companies to provide the birth control verses the employers themselves. Under the “compromise,” the Catholic Church and its affiliates will still be paying the insurance company premiums and from those premiums Catholic employees will receive birth control from their employer-provided insurance. Today, LifeNews reported that every Catholic bishop in the United States opposes the mandate and yesterday, as Jonathan mentioned, Bishop William E. Lori spoke on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against the mandate at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

At the hearing, Bishop Lori compared the Church’s requirement to provide birth control to a kosher deli’s requirement to serve pork. Jonathan quoted the statement in full, and his post is a must-read. Many have scoffed at the comparison, and a more apt one may have been, “What if the government decides to outlaw the ‘barbaric’ practice of circumcision?” Unfortunately, it’s a comparison that may hit too close to home for many Jews (and Muslims), especially residents of San Francisco. Last year, the city came frighteningly close to outlawing a basic ritual central to both Abrahamic faiths. When that occurred the (notoriously left-wing) Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco released a statement opposing the circumcision ban, calling it “an unconscionable violation of the sanctuaries of faith and family.” The Catholic Church understood this attack on Jewish and Muslim religious liberty could be followed by an attack on theirs, and unfortunately, they were proven right.

While this fight about birth control may not be a Jewish issue, it is an issue of religious liberty. The Jewish community in San Francisco almost saw an infringement of its First Amendment rights passed into law last year, and its co-religionists spoke out for the sake of every religion’s right to practice freely. Now that this mandate is about to be enacted against every practicing Catholic in the United States, why won’t their Jewish co-religionists take the same stand?

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Ham Sandwiches and Religious Freedom

Yesterday, many on the left had a hearty laugh about the statement by Bishop William E. Lori on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the administration’s effort to force the church to violate its principles by paying for insurance coverage for practices it opposes. The left-wing site Talking Points Memo in particular thought it was ludicrous for Bishop Lori to claim a government mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraception is akin to one that would force Jewish delis to serve pork. To the left, the analogy is ludicrous, because getting free birth control from your employer is, they believe, a constitutional right, and a ham sandwich is merely a whim.

But Lori was absolutely right. The attempt by the president to force all employers, even those whose religious convictions forbid them from doing so, to provide insurance coverage for contraception is no different than a hypothetical law that would require all places that serve food to include non-kosher items on the menu.

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Yesterday, many on the left had a hearty laugh about the statement by Bishop William E. Lori on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the administration’s effort to force the church to violate its principles by paying for insurance coverage for practices it opposes. The left-wing site Talking Points Memo in particular thought it was ludicrous for Bishop Lori to claim a government mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraception is akin to one that would force Jewish delis to serve pork. To the left, the analogy is ludicrous, because getting free birth control from your employer is, they believe, a constitutional right, and a ham sandwich is merely a whim.

But Lori was absolutely right. The attempt by the president to force all employers, even those whose religious convictions forbid them from doing so, to provide insurance coverage for contraception is no different than a hypothetical law that would require all places that serve food to include non-kosher items on the menu.

As Lori said, the fact that many Jews eat pork does not undermine the right of kosher restaurants to exclude it from the menu. Nor should it obligate them to provide ham or shrimp or cheeseburgers to their non-Jewish employees for lunch. Rather than their refusal to do so being a case of observant Jews “imposing their beliefs” on others, a law that sought to force such restaurants to alter their fare to conform with a government dictat would allow the state to use its power of coercion to run roughshod over the religious beliefs of its citizens.

Lori went even further and analogized the president’s “compromise” on contraception by saying it was no different than if the state allowed the kosher delis to not put pork on its menu and to have its employees serve ham sandwiches but forced them to allow pork distributors to set up kiosks on the premises where free ham sanchwiches would be served, the cost for which would be born by the kosher deli owners.

If the analogy sounds ludicrous it is only because there is no national meal plan to feed Americans in the way that Obamacare has nationalized health insurance. But, as Lori points out, there isn’t any more need for anyone who works at a Catholic institution to get birth control from the church than there is for a pork-craving customer to get ham from a kosher deli. In both cases, there is nothing preventing either person from working someplace else or just going down the block to get the item they want from somewhere else. The attack on the church demonstrates not only the contempt of this administration for religious freedom but the threat that its signature health care bill poses to constitutional liberty.

The impulse to impose these regulations on the church has no more to do with the correctness of the Vatican’s ruling on contraception than the validity of kashrut. Both are religious beliefs that must be respected if we are serious about protecting religious freedom in this republic. Such freedom either exists for all or for none.

Bishop Lori’s statement deserves to be read in full:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, for the opportunity to testify today. For my testimony today, I would like to tell a story. Let’s call it, “The Parable of the Kosher Deli.”

Once upon a time, a new law is proposed, so that any business that serves food must serve pork. There is a narrow exception for kosher catering halls attached to synagogues, since they serve mostly members of that synagogue, but kosher delicatessens are still subject to the mandate.

The Orthodox Jewish community—whose members run kosher delis and many other restaurants and grocers besides—expresses its outrage at the new government mandate. And they are joined by others who have no problem eating pork—not just the many Jews who eat pork, but people of all faiths—because these others recognize the threat to the principle of religious liberty. They recognize as well the practical impact of the damage to that principle. They know that, if the mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their unpopular beliefs.

Meanwhile, those who support the mandate respond, “But pork is good for you. It is, after all, the other white meat.” Other supporters add, “So many Jews eat pork, and those who don’t should just get with the times.” Still others say, “Those Orthodox are just trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else.”

But in our hypothetical, those arguments fail in the public debate, because people widely recognize the following.

First, although people may reasonably debate whether pork is good for you, that’s not the question posed by the nationwide pork mandate. Instead, the mandate generates the question whether people, who believe—even if they believe in error—that pork is not good for you, should be forced by government to serve pork within their very own institutions. In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

Second, the fact that some (or even most) Jews eat pork is simply irrelevant. The fact remains that some Jews do not—and they do not out of their most deeply held religious convictions. Does the fact that large majorities in society—even large majorities within the protesting religious community—reject a particular religious belief make it permissible for the government to weigh in on one side of that dispute? Does it allow government to punish that minority belief with its coercive power? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

Third, the charge that the Orthodox Jews are imposing their beliefs on others has it exactly backwards. Again, the question generated by a government mandate is whether the government will impose its belief that eating pork is good on objecting Orthodox Jews. Meanwhile, there is no imposition at all on the freedom of those who want to eat pork. That is, they are subject to no government interference at all in their choice to eat pork, and pork is ubiquitous and cheap, available at the overwhelming majority of restaurants and grocers. Indeed, some pork producers and retailers, and even the government itself, are so eager to promote the eating of pork, that they sometimes give pork away for free.

In this context, the question is this: can a customer come to a kosher deli, demand to be served a ham sandwich, and if refused, bring down severe government sanction on the deli? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

So in our hypothetical story, because the hypothetical nation is indeed committed to religious liberty and diversity, these arguments carry the day.

In response, those proposing the new law claim to hear and understand the concerns of kosher deli owners, and offer them a new “accommodation.” You are free to call yourself a kosher deli; you are free not to place ham sandwiches on your menu; you are free not to be the person to prepare the sandwich and hand it over the counter to the customer. But we will force your meat supplier to set up a kiosk on your premises, and to offer, prepare, and serve ham sandwiches to all of your customers, free of charge to them. And when you get your monthly bill from your meat supplier, it will include the cost of any of the “free” ham sandwiches that your customers may accept. And you will, of course, be required to pay that bill.

Some who supported the deli owners initially began to celebrate the fact that ham sandwiches didn’t need to be on the menu, and didn’t need to be prepared or served by the deli itself. But on closer examination, they noticed three troubling things.

First, all kosher delis will still be forced to pay for the ham sandwiches. Second, many of the kosher delis’ meat suppliers, themselves, are forbidden in conscience from offering, preparing, or serving pork to anyone. Third, there are many kosher delis that are their own meat supplier, so the mandate to offer, prepare, and serve the ham sandwich still falls on them.

This story has a happy ending. The government recognized that it is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; that it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the state; that it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down.

The question before the United States government—right now—is whether the story of our own Church institutions that serve the public, and that are threatened by the HHS mandate, will end happily too. Will our nation continue to be one committed to religious liberty and diversity? We urge, in the strongest possible terms, that the answer must be yes. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to answer the same way.

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