Commentary Magazine


Topic: contraception

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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The Media’s Subtle Liberal Bias

Often, the bias of the media is evidenced not in the in-your-face liberalism of MSNBC, but in somewhat more subtle ways. Take as an example Politico’s coverage of a congressional hearing earlier today. (See also Jonathan Neumann’s post.) The headline of the story is, “Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing.” And the story begins this way: “Two female Democrats walked out of a House Oversight Committee hearing on the contraceptive coverage rule Thursday morning, accusing Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of manipulating committee rules to block female witnesses from testifying.”

For one thing, the rule in question isn’t simply about contraception; it also covers sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. But more important is this: This issue is significant not because it involves, in part, the matter of contraception (which I happen to support), but the more fundamental issue of religious liberty. It has to do with the federal government being the aggressor in the so-called culture wars and inserting itself into the internal life of the church and religious institutions. That’s why Protestants who aren’t troubled by contraception have expressed solidarity with Catholics who do.

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Often, the bias of the media is evidenced not in the in-your-face liberalism of MSNBC, but in somewhat more subtle ways. Take as an example Politico’s coverage of a congressional hearing earlier today. (See also Jonathan Neumann’s post.) The headline of the story is, “Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing.” And the story begins this way: “Two female Democrats walked out of a House Oversight Committee hearing on the contraceptive coverage rule Thursday morning, accusing Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of manipulating committee rules to block female witnesses from testifying.”

For one thing, the rule in question isn’t simply about contraception; it also covers sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. But more important is this: This issue is significant not because it involves, in part, the matter of contraception (which I happen to support), but the more fundamental issue of religious liberty. It has to do with the federal government being the aggressor in the so-called culture wars and inserting itself into the internal life of the church and religious institutions. That’s why Protestants who aren’t troubled by contraception have expressed solidarity with Catholics who do.

The Obama administration has an overwhelming political interest in framing this issue as one having to do with contraception rather than religious liberties. And not surprisingly, most of the press is in lockstep with Obama. We’re seeing dueling narratives play out, and most of the press corps has an obvious stake in promoting one at the expense of the other.

 

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Congress Debates the First Amendment

This morning, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Congressman Darrell Issa’s committee) hosted a panel of religious leaders, representing the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, Orthodox Judaism, and a Baptist seminary, to discuss the ongoing struggle over inclusion of contraceptive options in insurance provisions by religious institutions. (It was the first panel this morning.)

Predictably fiery, the discussion sincerely engaged with the realities of the First Amendment in an America governed by a bloated and increasingly overbearing federal government. One particular issue, which echoed the general concern from the Democratic bench (which was invariably supportive of the Department of Health and Human Services policy) and spoke to the fundamental disagreements, was raised by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY). Read More

This morning, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Congressman Darrell Issa’s committee) hosted a panel of religious leaders, representing the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, Orthodox Judaism, and a Baptist seminary, to discuss the ongoing struggle over inclusion of contraceptive options in insurance provisions by religious institutions. (It was the first panel this morning.)

Predictably fiery, the discussion sincerely engaged with the realities of the First Amendment in an America governed by a bloated and increasingly overbearing federal government. One particular issue, which echoed the general concern from the Democratic bench (which was invariably supportive of the Department of Health and Human Services policy) and spoke to the fundamental disagreements, was raised by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY).

Rep. Towns said he would have liked to see women on the panel, because, he claimed, it would have provided interesting dialogue. Presumably, the insinuation was that female clergy or religious women would have a different (more liberal) take on the matter — especially, one infers, on women’s rights and women’s health.

First, this is irrelevant. A doctrinal or ritual disagreement between two members of a faith does not diminish the First Amendment claims of either. Just because religions may internally disagree does not matter: these are individual rights of conscience, not institutional rights of operation.

For some reason, it was felt that raising the writings of Thomas Jefferson would somehow provide a defense of the administration’s actions. Yet not only does his widely misunderstood Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, which speaks of a ‘‘wall of separation between church and state,’’ hardly support a policy which imposes the state on the church, but the composition that made Jefferson prouder was his Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. That Statute says: ‘‘That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical…[and] and infringement of natural right,’’ a statement which speaks directly to the current controversy.

The specious arguments by Democrats – the video is available for viewing – truly betrayed a total misunderstanding of religious faith.

Secondly, this is instructive. The more the federal government expands, the more it will encounter these thorny scenarios, and inevitably the federal government will begin to define the very parameters of a faith, and therefore what grievances can fall under the First Amendment. And, as was noted by several congressmen and panelists, this issue extends beyond religious institutions — as it is, after all, about individual liberty — to private employers who harbor religious convictions. They have the same religious freedoms to act as their consciences see fit, including in the realm of health insurance provision.

The general lesson here is that the federal government should be kept as far from such scenarios as possible, because the larger it grows, the more it will inevitably impinge on the liberties — religious and otherwise — it is intended to protect.

Sitting on the panel, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, indeed observed that the federal government, on this path, will be forced to side with one side over another, whereas in fact religious organizations should be free to define what the tenets of their faith are, and that the federal government should listen rather than impose itself.

By the way, Chairman Issa noted that Towns had had the opportunity to recommend a panelist. Towns’ recommendation was a man.

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What Do You Want to Spend the Next Nine Months Defending?

One of the most persuasive cases against nominating Mitt Romney is that he would make it difficult for Republicans to attack Obama over health care during the general election. But conservatives need to go beyond just asking themselves what ground they want to challenge Obama on. They also need to ask themselves what ground they want to spend the general election defending.

If Mitt Romney is the nominee, Republicans will have to scale back the all-out assault on ObamaCare they hoped to pursue. But at the same time, they won’t have to spend the race mounting a vocal defense of RomneyCare, since Democratic attacks aren’t likely to focus on that issue. Instead, Democrats will target Romney on class warfare, business regulations, taxes, Wall Street, and so on.

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One of the most persuasive cases against nominating Mitt Romney is that he would make it difficult for Republicans to attack Obama over health care during the general election. But conservatives need to go beyond just asking themselves what ground they want to challenge Obama on. They also need to ask themselves what ground they want to spend the general election defending.

If Mitt Romney is the nominee, Republicans will have to scale back the all-out assault on ObamaCare they hoped to pursue. But at the same time, they won’t have to spend the race mounting a vocal defense of RomneyCare, since Democratic attacks aren’t likely to focus on that issue. Instead, Democrats will target Romney on class warfare, business regulations, taxes, Wall Street, and so on.

Rick Santorum’s nomination would cause Democrats to revamp this strategy. Class warfare will undoubtedly play a role. But Santorum’s key weaknesses with independent voters are in the social issues arena, and that’s what Democrats will zero in on. Republicans will spend most of the election defending Santorum’s positions on gay marriage, abortion, contraception, and the role of women in the military and workplace.

This isn’t to say that Republicans should only base their nominee decision on Democratic attacks. Focusing solely on defense is a losing strategy. But they should remember that while it’s important to nominate a candidate who can effectively attack Obama on his weaknesses, it’s just as crucial to nominate a candidate whose vulnerable areas are ones they want to spend the next nine months defending.

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Santorum and His Case Against Contraception

Now that he’s surging in the polls, Rick Santorum’s words are being scrutinized not just by his political opponents but also by members of the press. For example, Michael Scherer of Time magazine highlights this October 2011 quote from Santorum:

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. 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. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also unitive, but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

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.

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Now that he’s surging in the polls, Rick Santorum’s words are being scrutinized not just by his political opponents but also by members of the press. For example, Michael Scherer of Time magazine highlights this October 2011 quote from Santorum:

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. 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. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also unitive, but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

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.

The problem here isn’t so much Santorum’s religious views on contraception, which are consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is that Santorum said as president he would make the moral and utilitarian case against contraception because he believes it’s having a profoundly negative impact on the health of our society.

I disagree with Santorum’s theology, and it’s certainly not clear to me how contraception among married couples is undermining American society. But Senator Santorum obviously believes deeply in this issue, and he’s made it clear it’s something he wants to talk about and thinks we should talk about. In October 2011, Santorum was making the discussion about contraception evidence of political courage, which means it won’t be easy for him in February 2012 to avoid the subject or brush it off as a distraction or a liberal “gotcha” question. After all, it’s important that you are who you are.

Rick Santorum now has his chance to make his case for contraception in Michigan, Arizona, and elsewhere. We’ll see how he does.

 

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The President’s “Accommodation”

Why is it that economic laws are the Rodney Dangerfield of natural laws? Like the late comedian, they get no respect.

No one wanting to live would jump off a ten-story building. Why? Because everyone knows gravity will–like it or not–accelerate them towards the ground at 32 feet per second per second and the resulting impact will kill them.

And everyone knows the economic law encapsulated in Milton Friedman’s famous dictum, “There is no free lunch.”

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Why is it that economic laws are the Rodney Dangerfield of natural laws? Like the late comedian, they get no respect.

No one wanting to live would jump off a ten-story building. Why? Because everyone knows gravity will–like it or not–accelerate them towards the ground at 32 feet per second per second and the resulting impact will kill them.

And everyone knows the economic law encapsulated in Milton Friedman’s famous dictum, “There is no free lunch.”

And yet on Friday afternoon, the president of the United States (B.A., Columbia, J.D., Harvard) declared Friedman’s dictum null and void. He ordered insurance companies covering institutions run by organizations morally opposed to contraception to provide it for free to the employees of those institutions who want it.

But birth control pills cost money to develop, manufacture, package and distribute. Doctors must prescribe what are, after all, powerful drugs. Doctors, drug companies and pharmacists expect to be paid. So if the insurance companies are going to pay them, where does the money come from?

Thin air, says the president of the United States. Higher premiums, say everyone who lives beyond the Beltway. And who would pay the higher premiums? Well, partly the institutions who object to birth control and partly other institutional customers of the same insurance company who don’t. If the institution self-insures, however, as most large organizations do, then it will still indeed be paying for a product to which it morally objects.

In other words, the birth control won’t be free, it will cost just as much as it ever did. It’s just that paying for it will, sometimes, be partly shifted away from those who are making a political ruckus and partly toward innocent bystanders.

I’m delighted to see the Catholic bishops weren’t fooled by the White House sleight-of-hand, unlike almost all of the Washington press corps. I suspect this story still has a lot of legs, and not only because the bishops aren’t buying. It also lays bare the dark heart of Obamacare, with its massive shift of power–economic, medical, and, now, moral–to Washington. And his “accommodation” to the moral scruples of the Catholic Church raises troubling constitutional issues as well.

From where, exactly, does the president derive the power to order a company to provide something of value for “free”? If he has that power, perhaps he might be so kind as to tell Subaru to provide me with a new Outback. The one I have, much as I love it, is getting a little old.

 

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Presidential Semantics

Let’s take a look at the president’s semantics of late. In no accidental turn of phrase, he called his change regarding contraception “an accommodation” for those who have moral objections. Why didn’t he call it “a compromise,” which is what it supposedly is?

I suspect the reason has to do with the president’s great-pyramid-of-Giza-sized ego.

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Let’s take a look at the president’s semantics of late. In no accidental turn of phrase, he called his change regarding contraception “an accommodation” for those who have moral objections. Why didn’t he call it “a compromise,” which is what it supposedly is?

I suspect the reason has to do with the president’s great-pyramid-of-Giza-sized ego.

An accommodation is something handed out beneficently to those who have a problem. We accommodate people in wheelchairs on public transportation, we accommodate people with food allergies or religious needs by providing alternative meals. A compromise is something agreed to jointly by equals (it comes from the Latin for a mutual promise). Obama, in his own mind, has no equals. Hence, he is “accommodating” these people with their annoying moral scruples so at variance with liberal orthodoxy.

Likewise, the other day he told NBC’s Matt Lauer the reason he had been unable to be as transformational a president as he would have liked was that he had been unable to “force” Congress to pass his programs. What an interesting choice of words.

Oliver Cromwell “forced” the Rump Parliament to dissolve when he arrived with soldiers and told everyone to leave, saying famously, “You have sat long enough.” He dismissed the Mace (the symbol of Parliamentary authority–it lies before the speaker to this day) as a mere “fool’s bauble.”

One would think the word here should have been “convince.” But to admit he had been unable to convince Congress to pass his program would be to admit a failure on his part. Could the world’s most eloquent man be unable to convince a bunch of congressmen? To say he couldn’t “force” Congress, however, is to shift the blame to the Constitution (or perhaps even the Army, with its annoying scruples about being used for domestic political purposes). One can hardly help wondering if President Obama would, indeed, “force” Congress to do his bidding if he could.

I suspect there are many, many examples of how Obama’s self-regard affects his choice of words, and thus are windows into his essential psyche.

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The Damage From Obama’s Attack on the Church Can’t Be Walked Back

As expected, the news has filtered out that the Obama administration’s attempt to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception for their employees despite the teachings of the church is about to be rescinded in a “compromise” which the White House hopes will allow it to save face. After a political firestorm that threatened to engulf his re-election efforts, President Obama seems to have bowed to the inevitable and retreated. The growing consensus across the country that his policy was both an attack on religious freedom and an indication of the messy complications that will ensue from the implementation of Obamacare dictated no other course but retreat.

This will disappoint a liberal base that was delighted at the Democrats’ decision to try to force the church to its knees on a principle where the Vatican’s stand runs counter to the opinions of most people, not to mention the practices of most Catholics. But though it is the height of wisdom to give up on a course that was as foolhardy as this, the president shouldn’t think he will not suffer the consequences of having put forward this ill-considered plan. Even after the initiative is withdrawn or watered down, the damage from this episode cannot be undone. He has not only offended Catholics but in attempting to ram this measure down the throat of the church, he has also reminded the country that his signature health care legislation involves a tyrannical expansion of government power.

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As expected, the news has filtered out that the Obama administration’s attempt to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception for their employees despite the teachings of the church is about to be rescinded in a “compromise” which the White House hopes will allow it to save face. After a political firestorm that threatened to engulf his re-election efforts, President Obama seems to have bowed to the inevitable and retreated. The growing consensus across the country that his policy was both an attack on religious freedom and an indication of the messy complications that will ensue from the implementation of Obamacare dictated no other course but retreat.

This will disappoint a liberal base that was delighted at the Democrats’ decision to try to force the church to its knees on a principle where the Vatican’s stand runs counter to the opinions of most people, not to mention the practices of most Catholics. But though it is the height of wisdom to give up on a course that was as foolhardy as this, the president shouldn’t think he will not suffer the consequences of having put forward this ill-considered plan. Even after the initiative is withdrawn or watered down, the damage from this episode cannot be undone. He has not only offended Catholics but in attempting to ram this measure down the throat of the church, he has also reminded the country that his signature health care legislation involves a tyrannical expansion of government power.

The president may have thought this was just a matter of pleasing the left on an issue where few agreed with the church. Indeed, the ban on contraception is one on which the Vatican has few supporters even among the Catholic faithful. But most Americans instinctively understood that no matter what they thought of the merits of contraception bans, government ought not to demand that religious institutions subsidize practices they oppose as a matter of conscience. Government interference in internal church matters in this way is unacceptable, and Obama soon learned his attack on Catholics isolated him just as much as the Pope’s stand on birth control.

But far worse than that is the fact that the whole business is a function of government health care mandates. In a single stroke Obama managed to highlight the least popular measure of his administration and did so in a manner that reinforced all the criticisms that had been made of it. And by giving up so quickly, the president has also confirmed his base’s worst fears about his weak leadership style.

Though he may retract the contraception dictat today, by opening up this can of worms, he has done his administration and his hopes for re-election great harm. His assault on religious freedom has energized social conservatives and Republicans. But it has also given wavering Democrats and independents one more reason to be wary about handing Obama a second term.

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Obama’s Attack on Religious Liberty

The Obama administration’s decision to require Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients — in violation of their conscience and creed — is among the most offensive and troubling of the Obama era. And that is not an easy designation to achieve.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan said, “The federal government should do what it’s traditionally done since July 4, 1776, namely back out of intruding into the internal life of a church.” Bishops are writing letters to their congregants saying, “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” Presidents of Catholic universities insist they will reject “this religious intolerance and will not bow down before government regulations that are manifestly unjust.” The National Association of Evangelicals put out a statement saying, “Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state. No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience. The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.””

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The Obama administration’s decision to require Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients — in violation of their conscience and creed — is among the most offensive and troubling of the Obama era. And that is not an easy designation to achieve.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan said, “The federal government should do what it’s traditionally done since July 4, 1776, namely back out of intruding into the internal life of a church.” Bishops are writing letters to their congregants saying, “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” Presidents of Catholic universities insist they will reject “this religious intolerance and will not bow down before government regulations that are manifestly unjust.” The National Association of Evangelicals put out a statement saying, “Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state. No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience. The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.””

This issue is about to go super-nova. According to Politico, “A handful of high-profile Catholic Democrats are bailing on the president and joining the GOP chorus of critics… They include two swing-state pols on the November ballot… Obama’s former DNC chairman, Tim Kaine, who’s running for Senate in Virginia, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey — as well as House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson.” Freshman Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who’s up for reelection this year, called the Obama edict “un-American” and a “direct affront to the religious freedoms protected under the First Amendment.””

For the White House to engage in what Michael Gerson of the Washington Post calls “the most aggressive attack on the liberty of religious institutions since the 19th century” is a staggeringly stupid political act. Some people offer a fairly benign interpretation of the Obama administration’s motives, calling them technocrats. Perhaps. But I think a stronger case can be made that this act — which is so aggressive, so indefensible, and so at odds with the American creed — is a window into the mind and soul of America’s 44th president.

Not that many years ago, then-Senator Obama gave a speech in which he said, “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square.” President Obama has done the secularists one better. He’s asking believers to leave their religion at the door before entering religious hospitals, charities, and universities. Believers across the land are rising up to say to Obama, in the most respectful way possible, “Get lost.”

 

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Weak Obama May Back Off Church Attack

President Obama may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he issued his edict that would force Catholic religious institutions to purchase contraception insurance for their employees in spite of the fact that the church is opposed on principle to their use. The issue has become a rallying cry for Catholics of all political affiliations as they have denounced Obama’s effort to abridge their religious freedom. It has also given the Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare new impetus, as the regulations are a function of the national health plan imposed by the president.

So it was probably only to be expected that Obama’s chief campaign adviser David Axelrod signaled this morning in an interview that Democrats are trying to find a way to come back in off the ledge onto which the president has crawled with this ill-advised ruling. Axelrod went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today and said the White House is attempting to find a compromise that would walk back the attack on the church while still enforcing a right to contraception coverage. Given the way the issue had become a major talking point for Republican presidential candidates, especially for a strong social conservative like the surging Rick Santorum, Obama would do well to dispense with the attempt at compromise and simply retract the regulation before it does him any more harm.

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President Obama may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he issued his edict that would force Catholic religious institutions to purchase contraception insurance for their employees in spite of the fact that the church is opposed on principle to their use. The issue has become a rallying cry for Catholics of all political affiliations as they have denounced Obama’s effort to abridge their religious freedom. It has also given the Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare new impetus, as the regulations are a function of the national health plan imposed by the president.

So it was probably only to be expected that Obama’s chief campaign adviser David Axelrod signaled this morning in an interview that Democrats are trying to find a way to come back in off the ledge onto which the president has crawled with this ill-advised ruling. Axelrod went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today and said the White House is attempting to find a compromise that would walk back the attack on the church while still enforcing a right to contraception coverage. Given the way the issue had become a major talking point for Republican presidential candidates, especially for a strong social conservative like the surging Rick Santorum, Obama would do well to dispense with the attempt at compromise and simply retract the regulation before it does him any more harm.

Given how strongly Obama’s base feels about the issue, that won’t be easy. One of the prime motivations for liberal support for the contraception mandate is that it enables the government to put the Catholic Church in its place. Making the church bend to the will of its secular critics is part of the attraction of the issue for liberals. A presidential retreat on the point is inevitalbe, now that Obama realizes there will be a heavy political cost to be paid. The White House may also realize the longer this issue stays on the front-burner the more it will endanger the president’s signature health care legislation from which it emanates. Whatever his instincts about the issue, the president simply hasn’t the stomach for a knock-down, drag-out battle to diminish religious freedom.

This episode is the Obama administration in capsule form. The problem arose from a knee-jerk ideological mandate that was imposed regardless of principle or the political cost. But once the president was called to account, his instinct was to back down. This pattern has been repeated many times in the last few years and has served to infuriate conservatives and disillusion liberals. While an administration walk back of this blunder is to be encouraged, Obama’s lack of leadership and weakness must be recognized for what it is: a formula for a one-term presidency.

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Liberals and Obama’s War on the Church

For many liberals these days, defining religious liberty is more a matter of circumstance and fashion than principle. Thus, when a plan was put forward to build a Muslim community center and mosque in the shadow of New York’s Ground Zero, the mere expression of concern such a decision was insensitive to the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks was taken as a sign that opponents of the project sought to repeal the First Amendment. The right of prisoners to practice their faiths is often allowed to trump other concerns. The Supreme Court has made it imperative the government must have a compelling reason to impinge in any way on the right of believers to observe religious rights and customs. But this belief in the value of diversity only goes so far. Thus, when President Obama chooses to force Catholic institutions to pay for services for their employees that the principles of the Church forbid, the government’s abrogation of their religious freedom was seen by many of the same liberal commentators who applauded the ground zero mosque as being of no consequence.

That’s the conundrum the president’s anti-Catholic fiat exposed, and the reaction to it from much of our chattering classes is hardly encouraging for those who worry about the government’s willingness to trample on the rights of believers. One needn’t agree with the Vatican’s stand on contraception to understand that if the law regards the government health care agenda as being more sacred than the rights of Catholics not to be forced to subsidize practices they abhor, then the principle of religious liberty in our country truly is in danger.

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For many liberals these days, defining religious liberty is more a matter of circumstance and fashion than principle. Thus, when a plan was put forward to build a Muslim community center and mosque in the shadow of New York’s Ground Zero, the mere expression of concern such a decision was insensitive to the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks was taken as a sign that opponents of the project sought to repeal the First Amendment. The right of prisoners to practice their faiths is often allowed to trump other concerns. The Supreme Court has made it imperative the government must have a compelling reason to impinge in any way on the right of believers to observe religious rights and customs. But this belief in the value of diversity only goes so far. Thus, when President Obama chooses to force Catholic institutions to pay for services for their employees that the principles of the Church forbid, the government’s abrogation of their religious freedom was seen by many of the same liberal commentators who applauded the ground zero mosque as being of no consequence.

That’s the conundrum the president’s anti-Catholic fiat exposed, and the reaction to it from much of our chattering classes is hardly encouraging for those who worry about the government’s willingness to trample on the rights of believers. One needn’t agree with the Vatican’s stand on contraception to understand that if the law regards the government health care agenda as being more sacred than the rights of Catholics not to be forced to subsidize practices they abhor, then the principle of religious liberty in our country truly is in danger.

That’s a conclusion many in our chattering classes refuse to accept. In noting the comments of Republican presidential candidates on the issue in an editorial today, the New York Times put the words “religious liberty” in quotes as if the mere notion that the church’s rights were imperiled was something of a joke.

The reason for this is no secret. For liberal secularists, church teachings about contraception are antiquated and contrary to the progressive spirit of the age. If the church thinks condoms and morning-after pills are wrong, then so much the worse for it. Their beliefs are to be suppressed largely because they are seen as wrong and therefore not worthy of protection let alone tolerance. The triumphal tone of many Church critics betrays a sense that a faith hierarchy that is seen as conservative and/or patriarchal is being put in its place.

Supporters of the president have tried to portray his decision as being made in defense of workers who are being deprived of essential health coverage. But this is a subterfuge. Health care plans vary. Anyone who views birth control benefits as necessary to their terms of employment need not work for a church institution. But the point of this measure is about a political agenda in which free contraception becomes a universal right, not the particular needs of individuals.

While liberals scoff at the idea Obama is waging a war on Catholics, there is little doubt the government’s refusal to accommodate the Church represents a clear choice about the legitimacy of its beliefs. As Politico notes in its analysis today, this may come back to haunt Obama in November as white working-class Catholics who voted for him in 2008 abandon his cause in 2012. But the more important point to be made here is if Catholic rights can be trampled in this fashion, so can those of other faiths even if their liberal adherents think they are untouched by this controversy. Religious liberty either exists for all or for none.

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Hillary Clinton’s Meddling

The ideological extremism of the Obama administration keeps popping up on an almost daily basis, like a game of whack-a-mole. The latest example comes to us courtesy of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Canada, where she was lecturing Canadians on how they should be more pro-abortion.

Secretary Clinton’s comments were made in the context of the Canadian government’s G8 maternal and child health initiative. According to Clinton: “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.”

So here’s a question: can you imagine Henry Kissinger or Dean Acheson ever saying such a thing? Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State; she’s not the president of Planned Parenthood. And for an administration that insists it shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of other nations — unless it means making life considerably more difficult for our allies like Honduras and Israel — this is quite remarkable.

Or perhaps not. It fits in quite well with those who argue that no administration in history has been quite as radical on quite as many fronts as this one. There have been exceptions, of course, most especially on Obama’s policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. But for the most part, the Obama administration cannot help itself from pushing the most extreme side of a host of issues, whether it comes to spending; or deficits and the debt; or expanding the reach and power of the federal government; or nationalizing health care; or decimating the morale of the CIA; or providing terrorists with unprecedented rights; or bashing our allies; or criticizing America abroad; or promoting abortion in other lands.

All of this is coming together in the minds of the members of the public, which is why November looks like it will be so bad for Democrats, in so many ways.

The ideological extremism of the Obama administration keeps popping up on an almost daily basis, like a game of whack-a-mole. The latest example comes to us courtesy of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Canada, where she was lecturing Canadians on how they should be more pro-abortion.

Secretary Clinton’s comments were made in the context of the Canadian government’s G8 maternal and child health initiative. According to Clinton: “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.”

So here’s a question: can you imagine Henry Kissinger or Dean Acheson ever saying such a thing? Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State; she’s not the president of Planned Parenthood. And for an administration that insists it shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of other nations — unless it means making life considerably more difficult for our allies like Honduras and Israel — this is quite remarkable.

Or perhaps not. It fits in quite well with those who argue that no administration in history has been quite as radical on quite as many fronts as this one. There have been exceptions, of course, most especially on Obama’s policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. But for the most part, the Obama administration cannot help itself from pushing the most extreme side of a host of issues, whether it comes to spending; or deficits and the debt; or expanding the reach and power of the federal government; or nationalizing health care; or decimating the morale of the CIA; or providing terrorists with unprecedented rights; or bashing our allies; or criticizing America abroad; or promoting abortion in other lands.

All of this is coming together in the minds of the members of the public, which is why November looks like it will be so bad for Democrats, in so many ways.

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