One didn’t have to be a Catholic to be impressed by the demeanor and grace shown by Pope Francis after his election yesterday at the Vatican. The media is full of pundits and so-called experts giving the pope advice as to how to deal with his church’s problems or even on how best to adjust its doctrines to suit their beliefs. That seems to me to be not only absurd but also a waste of time. As the first South American and the first Jesuit pope, Francis is a symbol of change. But if there is anything that observers should take away from the drama that has unfolded in Rome this last week it is that the Catholic Church remains firmly in the hands of those who love its teachings and are determined to both preserve them and to help ensure that they continue to serve the needs of the faithful and the world in general.
That is good news indeed, since in the last century the church has reasserted itself as a force for good. Especially under the leadership of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, the church has become a beacon of conviction against anti-Semitism. As a disciple of John Paul II and someone who had warm relations with Argentine Jewry, Pope Francis appears to be very much part of that movement. While that might appear to be a parochial concern for Jews, it is actually very significant.
The point about the transformation of the church over the last century from an institution that fomented prejudice against Jews to one that is in the forefront of those fighting against anti-Semitism cannot be emphasized enough. The church has not only cleaned its own house with respect to a legacy of hate; it has become a stalwart partner in the struggle to eradicate it everywhere.
If President Obama thought he could separate the Catholic Church from other critics of the ObamaCare mandate compelling believers to pay for services that violate their faith, he was wrong. The administration thought the compromise it announced February 1 would accomplish just that objective since it broadened the narrow exemptions from the Health and Human Services Department mandate to include religious non-profits. But while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed this movement, it rightly noted that it fell far short of guaranteeing that persons of faith would have their religious freedom protected from the dictates of the federal government. As the organization’s statement made clear, the head of the conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, listed three major problems with the proposal:
He [Cardinal Dolan] listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.
In refusing to be co-opted into the mandate to pay for abortion and contraceptive services, the bishops have made it clear that the fight against the strong-arming of faith by the government will not go unchallenged. In doing so, they deserve the support of all faith groups as well as all persons of conscience who value the protections guaranteed Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Last year’s Supreme Court decision declaring ObamaCare constitutional ensured that the massive expansion of government power would go forward, but it did not remove all legal challenges to the legislation. Religious organizations rightly objected to the bill’s mandate that even those who objected on religious grounds had to pay for services that violated their beliefs. Opponents of the mandate were falsely portrayed last year as taking part in a Republican “war on women” that helped whip up support for President Obama and the Democrats. Yet Church groups and others who opposed being compelled to pay for abortion drugs and contraception services rejected those slurs and challenged the mandate in court with lawsuits that were proceeding with mixed success.
But after today, some of those suits will be dropped after the White House announced a limited retreat on the issue. According to reports, the administration will no longer insist that religious non-profits observe the mandate or be in any way made to pay for services that offend their consciences. This is very good news for church institutions that were not previously exempted. But it is by no means the end of the story. Under the revised rules, individual business owners—such as those who run the Hobby Lobby store chain—who similarly object on religious grounds, are still liable to ruinous penalties amounting to millions of dollars. This amounts to a cribbed definition of religious freedom that limits its expressions only to non-profits and houses of worship, but forces all others to bend to the dictates of the federal government even at the cost of their right to practice their faith.
Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of ObamaCare ended the discussion about the president’s signature health care legislation as far as most of the media was concerned. But for Americans whose rights have been infringed by the bill’s mandate requiring business owners to pay for services that violate their religious beliefs, the issue remains a matter of vital concern. On January 1 the penalties associated with that mandate went into effect and the battle in the courts to head off this grievous infringement of religious liberty is meeting with mixed success.
One federal judge blocked the enforcement of the mandate in a lawsuit brought by the founder of Domino’s Pizza, saying the legislation “substantially burdens the exercise of religion.” In doing so, the court prevented the government from levying massive fines on Thomas Monaghan’s property management firm while his challenge to the constitutionality of the provision proceeds through the courts. That ruling comes in the wake of decisions from federal appeals courts in St. Louis and Chicago that stopped the Department of Health and Human Services from punishing those who are fighting the mandate to pay for contraception and abortion drugs. But in a signal defeat for the cause of freedom, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor turned down a similar request from the owners of Hobby Lobby stores and a Christian book store firm. That means these companies will be subjected to millions of dollars in fines for violating the law even though they claim it is a matter of conscience.
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.
Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.
In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:
With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.
When Mitt Romney mentioned the issue of religious freedom during last week’s presidential debate, the lines on the graph indicating the interest of members of CNN’s focus group spiked. But, contrary to the liberal spinners who dismissed the point as mere rhetoric, efforts to constrict religious liberty are very much an issue in 2012. The main focus is the effort to push back against the Obama administration’s efforts to enforce the Department of Health and Human Services mandate to force institutions and individuals to pay for services that offend their consciences and faith. This dangerous by-product of ObamaCare has raised the stakes on the health care debate because unless it is repealed, it will result in a redefinition of religious freedom that will ensure that free exercise of faith will be banned from the public square.
Just as significant is a referendum battle in Florida that will not only help determine the future of religious liberty in this country, but whether we are capable of facing up to our troubled past. Florida’s Amendment 8 is an effort to formally allow the state to legalize aid to religious institutions providing social services as well as education. It was made necessary by a lawsuit launched by left-wingers determined to prevent religious groups from providing aid to prisoners in the state’s jails who say the Florida Constitution bans the flow of state money to any religious institution, group or individual. They are right, since Florida was one of many states to pass a so-called Blaine amendment in the late 19th century as part of a campaign of discrimination against Catholics. Though the left looks to such Blaine amendments to enforce their ideas about an impenetrable wall of separation between church and state, it is nothing more than a holdover from an era of religious hate. Repealing it via the passage of Amendment 8 will not just make things easier for religious social service and education providers in Florida. But it could also be a turning point for the battle to defend religious liberty in America.
With only a little more than six weeks to go before the election, most consumers of political journalism have long since given up hoping major media outlets will write about anything but the horse race element of the story. The strategies, the gaffes, the attacks and, most of all the polls, are the main elements of coverage, as well as the topics for those of us who provide analysis. But every once in a while, we get a piece that reminds us of what all the shouting is actually about. Politico’s story published yesterday titled “Obamacare foes fear GOP losses,” is one such article. The headline may be fairly accused of stating the obvious but the story reminds the reader that the election this year is about something more than the egos of the politicians or their campaign gurus: if the Republicans don’t sweep Congress and the White House, the country will be irrevocably changed by the survival of the president’s signature health care legislation.
Obamacare isn’t the only important issue for voters to consider in November. Spending, taxes, the national debt and the related issue of entitlement reform are all crucial. So, too, are the foreign policy challenges that face the next president, a list that includes the deadly nuclear threat from Iran. But on no other issue is the choice so stark. It is, for example, theoretically possible that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will do what must be done to halt the debt crisis or to stop Iran. It is also possible that neither will do so. But there is no doubt that unless the GOP secures the presidency and majorities in both the upper and lower chambers of Congress, Obamacare will not be repealed. By the next midterm election, it will be too late to prevent the full implementation of the health care bill. Once that happens, dismantling the infrastructure of the new federal bureaucracy and entitlement will be beyond the capacity of even future conservative majorities. 2012 is simply the last chance to prevent the transformation of the nation’s health care and the massive expansion of government power. If that doesn’t concentrate the minds of an American people that polls tell us overwhelming favor repeal, nothing will.
While much of the political discussion in the last couple of weeks centered on marginal or made up issues such as Mitt Romney’s tax returns or whether or not he committed gaffes abroad, the implementation of ObamaCare this month is placing the real stakes of the fall election in focus. On August 1, the preventive mandate ordered by the Department of Health and Human Services went into effect, forcing nearly all employers in the country, including those whose religious and moral scruples forbid it, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization. The implementation of the HHS mandate, only staved off in some instances by challenges from religious institutions and individuals, will compel businesses around the nation to choose between violating their religious beliefs or give up providing insurance and face heavy government fines.
At the same time, as the New York Times reported yesterday, the federal government is moving quickly to set up health exchanges in states that are refusing to take part in ObamaCare. This means Washington will be operating health markets in perhaps half of the states in the union. With the refusal of Republican governors and legislatures to take part in this massive expansion of federal power, the result of their principled decision will be to give the Obama administration the opportunity to set up an even more massive and unwieldy bureaucracy than even its opponents envisioned. Combined with the merciless advance of the HHS Mandate, it’s clear that while the two parties and their presidential candidates will be trading blows on a wide array of issues, the one thing we know for sure that will hang on the outcome will be whether the government will be proceeding after January to continue the implementation of ObamaCare.
In recent months, I’ve written in support of the Catholic Church’s effort to fight back against the Obama administration’s attempt to force it to pay for services that contradict the teaching of its religion via the Health and Human Services insurance mandate. But this issue is not just about church institutions, it is also about the ability of individuals to conduct business without violating their faith. The Newland family, owners of an HVAC distribution company named Hercules Industries and devout Catholics, believe the HHS mandate created by the ObamaCare legislation that would force them to pay for free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drug coverage to their employees is a violation of their religious freedom. In response, they sued, and fortunately, days before an August 1 deadline that would have forced the company to begin making changes in its insurance plan to comply with the dictates of the administration, a federal district court judge appointed by Jimmy Carter granted a temporary injunction against the government. This victory in the case of Newland v. Sibelius will allow them to bring their case to court before crushing fines (the penalties could amount to as much as $10 million per year) are levied against them.
While the Obama administration has issued a narrow religious exemption to houses of worship, it has not extended that to other religious institutions, let alone individual business owners. As Judge John L. Kane ruled, any delay in enforcing the government’s demand “pales in comparison to the possible infringement upon [the Newlands’] constitutional and statutory rights.” While the injunction is limited to the Newlands rather than to all private businesses, the family’s fight is one on which hinges the future of religious liberty in this nation.
The past week was not a good one for those who care about personal liberty and restraining the expanding power of the federal government. Chief Justice John Roberts’ perplexing and contradictory opinion upholding ObamaCare was a discouraging blow to those who had assumed the Court would uphold its responsibility to defend the Constitution. However, as Americans prepare to celebrate the birthday of our republic, it is an appropriate moment to remember that while the battle to preserve our freedoms requires constant vigilance, it is not a fight that is anywhere close to being conclusively lost. The genius of our framers was that they designed a political system which was set up to frustrate the efforts of those who would attempt radical political departures from the values that are dear to Americans. Though ObamaCare will be a critical step in the wrong direction, the final answer belongs not to the Court, but to the people.
In the past two years, there has been a remarkable revival of a constituency dedicated to defending the cause of individual freedom. Though the Tea Party has been subjected to unprecedented abuse, it helped change the nature of the national conversation about the entire spectrum of topics dealing with the power of government. In a separate though not unrelated battle, the Catholic Church and its friends have, when confronted with intolerable intrusions into its liberty of conscience, spoken up and actively resisted the imposition of the HHS Mandate that would force it to fund activities that contradict the teachings of their faith. Rather than acquiesce to restrictions on religious freedom, people of faith are refusing to knuckle under the dictates of the federal government.
All of this reminds us that while democracy may be a difficult and often frustrating system of government, it is not a spectator sport.
In a ruling that will affect Muslims as much as Jews, a district court in Cologne, Germany, has ruled that circumcision is illegal. The case, which stemmed from a botched circumcision of a Muslim child, is just the latest instance in which the religious practice has been attacked. But though the legal implications of the ruling are not yet entirely clear as it may violate the European Union’s Convention on Human Rights, it raises the possibility that a ritual integral to Jewish identity as well as required by Muslim religious law will be banned.
For the growing Jewish community, the court may have created a serious logistical problem, as this may deter doctors or other persons from performing circumcisions because of a fear of prosecution or lawsuits. But just as important is the symbolism of the ban coming from a country where open expressions of anti-Semitism were driven underground by the reaction to the Nazi era. If a judge can attack Judaism as well as Islam head on in this manner without fear of the consequences, then perhaps a tipping point may have been reached in German society that may have serious consequences for the long-term viability of Jewish life in the country and Western Europe.
Jewish Democrats have been trying to sound two themes simultaneously this year. On the one hand they have been saying what they have repeated for the past few election cycles: that Israel is not a major issue for most Jewish voters and that their party — and its presidential candidate — has nothing to worry about in the fall. Yet out of the other side of their mouths come equally fervent assertions claiming Barack Obama is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House and that those who observed the endless fights he picked with the Jewish state during his first three years in office should not pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. While the claim about Obama’s status as Israel’s buddy is risible, it’s true that the majority of Jews will vote for the Democrats no matter what the Obama administration has done — or might do in a second term.
But though the discussion about the implications of the administration’s attitude toward Israel on the Jewish vote is not without substance, the issue may have far greater implications for an entirely different demographic: evangelical Christians. Support for Israel is a key issue for many religious conservatives and with Mitt Romney needing to be assured that this generally reliable Republican voting group will turn out in force for him in November, the GOP candidate is making it clear that the next administration will look and sound very different on the Middle East. That was the message Romney was sending yesterday when he told the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an evangelical Christian group, that he would do the “opposite” of Obama on Israel. The loud applause he garnered for his statements showed that there is an eager audience for a strong Republican stand on Israel even if those interested in hearing it aren’t Jewish.
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.
Last month, after the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops announced plans to promote a “Fortnight for Freedom” this summer that would focus on the defense of religious liberty, it was an open question as to whether they would wind up standing alone after the Obama administration sought to force their institutions to pay for insurance coverage for practices forbidden by their faith. Other faith groups may well decide it is dangerous for them to stand up for religious liberty because of the unpopularity of the church’s stand on contraception. In particular, Jewish organizations, normally so zealous in defense of individual rights and religious freedom, will be seen as bellwethers.
So far, the answer is at best mixed, with only those religious groups identified with a more conservative viewpoint such as the Rabbinical Council of America, the religious body associated with the Orthodox Union, backing the church’s stand while the far more influential Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country, backed Obama’s unsatisfactory compromise proposal rather than the church’s defense of its rights.
More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:
RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.
Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.
The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:
The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.
As CNSNews.com reports:
The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.
While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.
The rationale behind President Obama’s decision to flip-flop on gay marriage and come out in favor of the idea isn’t any mystery. Democratic strategists rightly believe that any issue – no matter how divisive — that diverts attention from a failing economy is good for the president’s re-election campaign. That is why most Republicans have reacted to the matter with an impatient desire to get people talking about discouraging employment and growth figures. But that doesn’t mean the GOP didn’t reap an important dividend from last week’s big story.
The mainstream media has lionized the president for his stand, and most Americans may be either pleased or at least unopposed to gay marriage. But by choosing to embark on this initiative, President Obama has done his opponent in the November election a big favor. One of Mitt Romney’s biggest problems was the clear lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy on the part of his party’s base. But the endorsement of gay marriage is exactly what the Republican standard bearer needed to mobilize an army of evangelicals who were looking for a reason to get excited about an election in which they weren’t very happy about their choices. As the warm reception that Romney got at Liberty University this past weekend shows, he needn’t worry about his centrist image depressing the turnout figures among this key sector of Republican voters.
All it took was an ill-advised quip from Rush Limbaugh to turn the national debate about ObamaCare from concerns about religious freedom to one about an imaginary Republican war on women. But the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are trying to refocus Americans on the threats to their religious liberty with a “Fortnight for Freedom” program planned for July in which they hope to get people discussing the ways in which the government is seeking to infringe on their rights to worship. Though predictably liberals are branding this as an effort to help Republicans, this is exactly the sort of project in which all faiths ought to participate.
The manifesto issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an important document that is neither partisan nor an attempt to inflame sentiments on divisive issues. Rather, it is a sensible alarm issued to arouse Catholics to the insidious manner various government orders and legislation has sought to abridge religious rights. Examples include draconian immigration laws that conservatives have promulgated in Alabama. But is inevitable that the lion’s share of attention will be given to their citation of the way President Obama’s signature health care bill will force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as well as the way various municipalities have driven Catholic agencies out of adoption and foster care services because of its stand on same-sex couples. Though non-Catholics, as well as many Catholics, may not agree with the church’s beliefs, it is vital they stand in solidarity with its call for freedom.
There is a war on women taking place. The Democratic machine is working at high-speed disseminating the phrase, and in the meantime, distorting the truth on the real nature of the war. What the left has portrayed as a “War on Women” is viewed by many, including this blog, as a “War for Religious Freedom.” Being a free-thinking feminist myself, these are some timely battles in the “War on Women” that I’d love to see these self-proclaimed feminists on the American left express at least a modicum of concern over:
- Widespread rapes taking place in camps occupied by women who lost their homes in the Haitian earthquake.
- A teenage Moroccan girl was recently forced to marry her rapist by a judge, leading to the girl’s suicide.
- Disfiguring and sometimes fatal acid attacks on women around the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Bangladesh and Cambodia
- Sex-selective abortion (also known as gendercide) that has erased the possibility of life for over 163 million women worldwide
- A wide gender disparity in primary and secondary education worldwide
Instead of tackling any one of these important issues that set back the clock on women’s rights centuries, the feminist left has decided that the possible denial of free contraception is what constitutes a war on the fairer sex. By focusing on this to the exclusion of all else, by being the cheering section for an administration that does nothing for human rights, these “feminists” are helping to set back women’s rights back to the Stone Age.