Commentary Magazine


Topic: religious freedom

A Victory For Religious Freedom

The decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court to deem ObamaCare constitutional was a blow to opponents of the president’s signature health care legislation, but it also added to the worries of those Americans who considered it a threat to their religious freedom. In particular, the decision by the Health and Human Services Department to demand that employers provide certain types of health services placed those religious believers who opposed the use of abortion-inducing drugs in a difficult position. They could go along with the HHS mandate and thus betray their consciences and beliefs, or resist the ruling and face complete financial ruin due to the draconian penalties imposed on businesses that do not comply with the government’s rulings.

But with the aid of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, sued to prevent the government from imposing the mandate on their business. Yesterday, the Greens won a key victory when the 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the district court and said Hobby Lobby should not have been denied an injunction that would have prevented the government from imposing millions in fines while the case was still pending. In doing so, the majority of the appellate court judges said the Greens had a good chance of prevailing on the merits of their case—Hobby Lobby v. Kathleen Sebelius—which claims that the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ought to prevent HHS from imposing practices on the business that effectively deny the religious freedom of its owners. While the Hobby Lobby case still has a long way to go, this is an important win that not only holds out the possibility of eventual triumph for the plaintiffs but also removes a key weapon from the government that might have made it impossible for the suit to go on.

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The decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court to deem ObamaCare constitutional was a blow to opponents of the president’s signature health care legislation, but it also added to the worries of those Americans who considered it a threat to their religious freedom. In particular, the decision by the Health and Human Services Department to demand that employers provide certain types of health services placed those religious believers who opposed the use of abortion-inducing drugs in a difficult position. They could go along with the HHS mandate and thus betray their consciences and beliefs, or resist the ruling and face complete financial ruin due to the draconian penalties imposed on businesses that do not comply with the government’s rulings.

But with the aid of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, sued to prevent the government from imposing the mandate on their business. Yesterday, the Greens won a key victory when the 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the district court and said Hobby Lobby should not have been denied an injunction that would have prevented the government from imposing millions in fines while the case was still pending. In doing so, the majority of the appellate court judges said the Greens had a good chance of prevailing on the merits of their case—Hobby Lobby v. Kathleen Sebelius—which claims that the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ought to prevent HHS from imposing practices on the business that effectively deny the religious freedom of its owners. While the Hobby Lobby case still has a long way to go, this is an important win that not only holds out the possibility of eventual triumph for the plaintiffs but also removes a key weapon from the government that might have made it impossible for the suit to go on.

When the HHS mandate was first handed down, the key battle was fought over the government’s desire to impose the contraceptive mandate on the institutions of the Catholic Church. While the administration was able to manipulate the discussion of this direct attack on religious freedom into one about a so-called “war on women,” eventually a campaign of public pressure led the government to back down on their desire to enforce the mandate on both churches and then church institutions. But that still left individual business owners who had strong religious convictions in the cross-hairs of the HHS mandate. The administration calculated that if it removed the church from the fight on the mandate, it would be able to easily defeat the efforts of people like the owners of Hobby Lobby to resist.

They may eventually prevail, but the decision of the 10th circuit gives hope to those who believe the willingness of the government to intrude on individual consciences in this manner is outrageous.

It should be specified that the owners of Hobby Lobby are not attempting to prevent their employees from having access to contraception. But making religious Catholics pay for abortion drugs crosses the line between reasonable insurance regulations and a concerted attack on religious liberty.

Liberal defenders of the HHS mandate have characterized resistance to the mandate as an attack on women’s health while claiming the regulation does not deny the store owners’ right to worship or to personally refrain from any practice that offends their religion. But if the government eventually prevails, it would impose a cribbed version of religious liberty that would significantly impair the First Amendment rights of believers.

The government and its defenders seem to believe that religious freedom means only the right to believe something and to practice it in private. If the HHS mandate were upheld, it would signal to the country that faith is fine at home or in houses of worship but not in the public square. Religious believers would be told that if they wish to practice their faith they must refrain from commerce or any public activity. Forcing the Greens to pay for abortion drugs is no different from telling them they must keep their stores open on Sunday (they are closed on that day due to the owners’ religious beliefs) or to require a Jew to keep his business running on the Sabbath or that they must serve non-kosher food at kosher restaurants.

It may be that the Greens’ views on these drugs are not universally held and may, in fact, be unpopular. But one needn’t agree with them on contraception in order to realize that an attack on their religious freedom is a blow to the liberty of every American no matter what their faith, or even if they believe in no religion. This preliminary win for Hobby Lobby and the Becket Fund is a hopeful sign for the future of American liberty.

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The Legacy of Faith

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.

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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.

The church’s turn against anti-Semitism and the Vatican’s recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel cannot be isolated from the role it played in standing for freedom against Communist tyranny during the Cold War. As that struggle recedes into memory, the church remains a bulwark for the cause of religious freedom throughout the globe. That’s why it is so disappointing that so many who are quite vocal about advocacy for religious freedom elsewhere were silent when it came to standing with the church as it sought to defend its own liberty of conscience against the federal government’s health care mandates.

Ironically, for much of the last century as the church did evolve to its current position on these issues, it has suffered from the abuse heaped upon it and other organized religions from intellectuals and the world of popular culture. Some writers have told us that ours is an age in which atheism has gone mainstream and a time when traditional faiths must abandon their beliefs in order to become more “relevant” to the young. But the outpouring of good will for the new pope shows that those who have predicted the decline of religion are almost certainly wrong.

Though it is beset with many problems as well as scandals that still hang over some of its leaders, the church’s legacy of faith is one that continues to nurture and inspire its believers as well as sympathetic observers from other faiths. All persons of faith should join with Catholics to pray for Francis’s success and to hope that the church will remain steadfast in its mission as a force for good.

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Church Shouldn’t Stand Alone on Mandate

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.

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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.

The point of this exchange as far as the administration was concerned was an effort to isolate those who are still pursuing legal challenges against the mandate by offering the church a plausible path to retreat from the confrontation. Doing so would have been taking the easy way out for the church since most of their institutions have now been rendered exempt. But Cardinal Dolan and his colleagues have rightly pointed out that the underlying compulsion of the Mandate would still compromise their faith as well as leave private business owners vulnerable to such coercion.

It needs to be reiterated that you don’t have to agree with the Church’s views about abortion or contraception to support their stand on this issue. Contrary to the false narrative on this issue alleging that a faux “war on women” was being waged by opponents of the mandate that was used by the president during his re-election campaign, what is at stake here is an attempt by the administration to narrowly redefine the concept of religious liberty. If the president prevails on this point, the right to dissent on religious grounds from prevailing views about these matters will be swept out of the public square and confined to the right to preach about it in houses of worship.

By entangling the Church in the ObamaCare system in this manner and allowing neither agencies nor their employees or private businesses to opt out, the government is enacting a rule that tramples on their freedom.

Cardinal Dolan eloquently summed up this dilemma:

In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.

There is no reasonable argument to be made on behalf of the idea that there is a constitutional right to free contraception or abortion, but if the government decides, as it has with ObamaCare, to enact a new entitlement to provide such services it may do so. Yet the desire to implement this entitlement cannot be allowed to override or negate the constitutional right to freedom of religion. This is an issue that cannot be dismissed on the ground that the majority of Americans don’t oppose contraception or do not otherwise share the faith of those groups and individuals who are challenging the mandate in court. If the rest of the country watches passively as the mandate is fought in the name of religious liberty, we will all be the losers. The Church is right to stand its ground. It should not be allowed to stand it alone.

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An Inadequate Contraception Compromise

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.

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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.

It needs to be restated that one needn’t share the views of the Catholic Church about contraception or abortion to understand that what is at stake here is a principle of religious freedom that ought not to be sacrificed. The notion of universal and free contraception insurance coverage may be popular and even desirable for those who have no qualms about the government’s intrusion into this sphere of the economy or the consequent ruinous costs to both the taxpayers and the healthcare system. But however much the idea of free contraception appeals to some people, it is not a constitutional right. Nor is it a value that ought to trump the primary guarantees of the First Amendment that protect liberty of faith.

The White House retreat on the issue to the extent of exempting church institutions including schools is a sign of progress. It’s also intended to separate the church from individual believers whose rights will not be protected by this compromise. The church has been wrongly portrayed as trying to thwart the availability of contraception even though it is doing no such thing. The point of the administration’s campaign on this issue was not, as they claimed, to protect the health of women but to demonize those who stood up for their rights. But however much this retreat will be welcomed, it should not cause those who have fought this mandate to back down from their efforts to ensure that all believers and not just those registered as non-profits are allowed to opt out of a system that tramples on their faith.

At the core of this struggle is the question of whether a government that has given itself more power has the right to run roughshod over the First Amendment in order to satisfy the liberal ambition to move toward a national health care system. Religious freedom does not consist merely of the right to preach in churches or synagogues, but in allowing those who believe to fully participate in society. If the mandate tramples faith by individuals in this manner, it means that faith is no longer welcome in the public square but instead must be segregated and confined to houses of worship. Though the church is happily no longer in peril of such compulsion, others remain in the government’s cross hairs. Their challenge should continue and be rewarded with success in the courts.

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Sotomayor’s Blow to Religious Liberty

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.

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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.

At stake in this battle is whether the Religous Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress will prevent the government from compelling Catholics and others to violate the dictates of their faith. On the face of it, they have a strong case for striking this provision down, but the full power of the Justice Department and its army of lawyers who have the enthusiastic support of pro-abortion grops and much of the liberal mainstream media are arrayed against them. That’s why persons of faith who seek to overturn the law have always faced an uphill battle.

Sotomayor’s decision illustrates just how difficult that task may turn out to be. Even if the owners of Hobby Lobby eventually prevail in court and their rights are upheld, a vengeful Obama administration determined to make an example of anyone who crosses them could have already destroyed their business. By sinking them under the weight of fines, the government could drive them out of business before any final decision is handed down.

One needn’t agree with the religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby owners, or those other individuals who have brought dozens of lawsuits in various federal courts to stop the mandate, in order to see the value of the principle they are attempting to uphold. Nor need one agree with them about abortion or share their qualms about the morality of contraception. The point here is that if ObamaCare is allowed to give the government the power to render Catholic doctrine beyond the pale in this manner, then no one’s faith is safe.

Sotomayor could have ruled in the same manner as some of the appellate panels have already done and simply held off any punishment of the petitioners until the courts decided the case. But in claiming that the rationale for their request was insubstantial, the Obama appointee signaled that she and other liberals view the question of religious freedom as irrelevant to their quest to impose their diktat of universal coverage for contraception and abortion. While Justice Roberts strove to have the courts rise above partisan politics by refusing to let the court stop ObamaCare despite the fact that it violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Sotomayor did not scruple from acting in a manner that seeks to ensure that the president will get his way on this issue one way or the other.

Should Hobby Lobby, Monaghan and other religious believers lose, the result will be a new, more cribbed definition of religious liberty that will bear little resemblance to the sweeping freedom promised in the First Amendment. Though some business owners may falter along the way toward the final resolution of these cases, it is to be hoped that in the end, the Supreme Court will not let this outrageous attack on the Constitution prevail.

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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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Biden’s Lie About Religious Freedom

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.

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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.

In truth, the attempt to force both church institutions and individuals to bow to the dictates of the president’s signature health care legislation is the subject of legal challenges that are still making their way through the courts. As the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted today, there are currently 33 such cases representing over 100 hospitals, universities, businesses and schools that are seeking to defend their constitutional rights against the administration’s attempt to compel them to do exactly what Biden says they are not being asked to do. These plaintiffs face potential government fines of millions of dollars, but they are determined to stand up for their faith and their beliefs in spite of the government’s efforts to intimidate them.

There is a lively debate going on about the future of health care, but there may be no more insidious aspect to the ObamaCare issue than this threat to religious liberty. Both Biden and his party support the HHS Mandate, something that was made abundantly clear at the Democratic Convention at which Ms. Fluke was unveiled as a prime time liberal star. But the vice president’s willingness to lie about that support tells us that he understands just how unpopular this stand is outside of the precincts of the left. He should have had the guts and the honesty to say so.

Democrats repeating their “liar, liar” mantra about Romney and Ryan (and claiming that this justified Biden’s boorishness) need to own up to the barefaced lies Biden told at the debate.

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Religious Freedom at the Ballot Box

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.

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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.

The Amendment 8 battle has to some extent been overshadowed by the controversy over Amendment 6 that would ban state money from being used for abortion. But the church-state controversy is one that is just as, if not far more, significant.

As with the Obamacare mandate, what the radical separationists opposing Amendment 8 really want is a definition of religious freedom that confines it to the right to go to the church or synagogue of your choice and to pray at home but forbids citizens from acting on their religious convictions. In particular, the Blaine amendments, named for James G. Blaine, a Maine senator, secretary of state and Republican presidential candidate in 1884, sought to discriminate against Catholic schools. Until the late 19th century, Americans understood that public education meant not just state-run schools but those run by faith groups as well as private non-denominational institutions. But inspired by their fear and loathing of Catholic immigrants, the Protestant majority passed these laws advocated by Blaine.

Amendment 8 would reverse this historic wrong and would bring Florida’s laws in line with those of the federal government. That liberals would defend such a despicable legacy tells us all we need to know about both their hypocrisy and their hostility to liberty. Were, as the left would like, the existing Blaine amendment in Florida to be fully enforced, that would devastate the efforts of the most effective social service providers. It could also lead to the banning of state aid for busing and school text books in religious schools. That’s why Amendment 8 is needed.

But what Amendment 8 opponents fear most is that Florida will move toward school choice that puts all religious schools on an equal footing with government-run institutions. That isn’t the direct purpose of the amendment, but it is fair to say that it would make it possible. However, that is an issue on which liberals are on shakier ground than they think.

School choice opponents say vouchers would mean draining government money from public schools. But what it would really mean is that education funds would follow the student rather than be arbitrarily earmarked for government schools that are often failing students, especially the poor who have no other viable options. School choice would force public schools to compete. The result would help make all schools better and make it possible for all parents, not just the wealthy, to choose the schools their children attend.

The fight to protect religious freedom is more than a one-front battle with ObamaCare at the forefront. Victory in Florida for Amendment 8 might be a turning point in the long-running battle to roll back hateful Blaine Amendments.

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The Last Chance to Stop Obamacare

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.

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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.

Opponents say they will never stop fighting the bill. But after the unprincipled and cowardly reversal of Chief Justice John Roberts that enabled the administration to fend off a challenge to Obamacare’s constitutionality, the only plausible option is repeal. Attempts to nip at the edges of the problem via funding cuts would make implementation more cumbersome but it would not stop it. It is simply a fact that once the federal insurance exchanges are put in place and all the other elements of the new infrastructure of American health care have been established, including the personal mandate that will require individuals to purchase insurance, dismantling all of that will be impossible. The quality and the nature of health care in this country will be fundamentally altered for the worse.

Once freedom is lost to governments, recovering those rights is always an uphill climb. The erosion of personal liberty under the Obamacare regime will be great. Along with the intrusion of the government into health care policy that is the inevitable result of the legislation, the mandate to impose payment for services like abortion and contraception will change the definition of religious freedom in the United States for the worse. Liberty of conscience to refuse to pay for things that violate the religious precepts of believers will be severely restricted. Once lost, these rights may never be recovered.

Cynics are fond of saying that while the political class has much to gain and lose on Election Day, the public has little stake in the outcome. There is often a kernel of truth in this observation, but not in 2012. Obamacare means this time the life and the rights of every American will be changed by the results.

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Real Election Stakes: ObamaCare Advances

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.

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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.

The August 1 date is just the start of an era which, if not derailed by a change at the White House, will mean a raft of intrusive federal health care regulations that will allow an increasingly powerful federal government to severely restrict religious freedom.

As the Heritage Foundation wrote on its blog last week, the attempts to delay the religious exemptions being offered by the administration are so limited as to create a narrow definition of religious liberty. Yet this unprecedented attack on individual rights is proceeding without much coverage in the media except those few stories devoted to scattered protests or the lawsuits launched to stave off the law’s implementation.

The same can be said about the federal health exchanges that are in the works. Though Republicans who have opted their states out of the mess are in the right, the administration is leaping into this opening. While we can be sure that the scope of this task and the details are so daunting so as to ensure a healthy dose of corruption and incompetence, the bottom line is that by next spring, the government will be knee-deep in running health markets around the country with negative consequences that we are only just beginning to envision.

All of this means the sooner the Republicans stop playing defense about Romney’s record and return to hammering the president on his unpopular health care boondoggle and speaking up in defense of religious freedom, the better their chances will be in November.

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A Small Victory for Religious Freedom

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.

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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.

Though supporters of the administration have tried to represent the attempt to halt the administration’s push for these mandates as a “war on women,” what is really going on is an effort to redefine religious freedom as merely the right to public worship rather than the ability to live and conduct business while respecting one’s religious precepts. If successful, the Obama drive to force individuals as well as institutions to break with their faith in order to do business would mean that such freedom would only exist in the privacy of one’s home, church and synagogue and not in the public square. Such an interpretation would effectively drive believers not just out of public life but out of the marketplace as well. This constricted view of religion bespeaks an attitude that regards the commitment of believers to act on their principles in every aspect of their lives, including business, as outside the protection of the Constitution. That is not a position that can be sustained if faith is to be protected and allowed to thrive in this nation.

This case merely illustrates the intrusive nature of ObamaCare and the way it gives the federal government unprecedented power to impose its will on almost every aspect of American life. Allowing the Newlands and any other business owner who thinks they have a right to abide by their own consciences does no injury to women or to anyone. The right to contraception or even abortion is not being abridged if they are allowed to choose an insurance plan that does not include them. But if they are compelled by government fiat to trample on their beliefs, their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion will be trampled.

This Newland injunction is a minor victory in what will be a long, hard fight against the administration’s drive to squelch religious freedom as groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom (which represented the Newlands) and the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom take the issue to the courts. Nevertheless, it gives believers and all those who wish to resist the tyrannical impulse to aggrandize federal power hope that liberty will ultimately prevail.

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The Ideals of the Glorious Fourth

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.

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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.

Just as American freedom was won in 1776 through the valor of our Founders, so, too can it only be preserved through the activity of those to whom this gift has been handed down through the generations. We are not guaranteed to win every such battle, but Americans must understand that while our challenges are many, our faith in the ultimate triumph of freedom on these shores should not be doubted.

American exceptionalism is no myth. It is the fruit of 236 years of sacrifice, courage and perseverance. On this date we celebrate not just America but the ideals this great country stands for.

To all of our readers from all of us at COMMENTARY, a Happy, Glorious Fourth!

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Bris Ban Raises Specter of German Hate

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.

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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.

The ruling baldly claimed circumcision inflicted “damage” on children and could not be protected by freedom of religion, though there is no rational reason for anyone to believe this is the case. Mistakes in circumcisions are rare and probably less likely to occur than errors in routine medical procedures. But the court went even further in asserting the assumption that parents don’t have the right to choose a faith for their child. That might be interpreted as an attack on all religions. But it must be considered particularly threatening to members of minority faiths, particularly Jews who remember well that in past centuries the majority sometimes tried to take Jewish children away from their parents by claiming it was in their interests not to be inculcated in Judaism.

While some on the left, including one German professor quoted in Ha’aretz, may think this is a blow struck for the freedom of children, it is really an attempt to further marginalize both Judaism and Islam.

An attempt was made last year to place a referendum banning circumcision on the ballot in San Francisco. But the sponsors’ use of an openly anti-Semitic Web comic book drew so much attention that critics were able to quash the effort. Though support for such measures may exist on the margins in the United States, the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe may have allowed this cause to drift into the mainstream. Along with other attempts to ban kosher slaughter elsewhere in Europe, the German bris ban calls into question the safety of Jews in a Western Europe where Jew-hatred often mixed with anti-Zionism has emerged from the shadows.

Though it is to be hoped this ruling will soon be overturned by joint legal efforts by Jews and Muslims, no matter what the outcome of the litigation, it must send a chill through a growing German Jewish community that has come to think of itself as immune to the dangers presented by the country’s past. They may be learning that in spite of the country’s advances, anti-Semitism never goes completely out of fashion in Germany.

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Israel’s an Election Issue … For Christians

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.

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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.

Romney cut straight to the heart of the most important current issue for the U.S.-Israel alliance: Iran.

You look at his policies with regards to Iran. He’s almost sounded like he’s more frightened that Israel might take military action than he’s concerned that Iran might become nuclear.

Though President Obama has also stated that he will not accept or be content to “contain” a nuclear Iran, Romney is right when he notes that America’s priority has been to try to deter Israel so that a dead-end diplomatic process will not be disrupted.

He also complained that Obama’s public spats with Israel’s government have undermined the alliance and vowed that any disagreements between the two countries would be conducted in private on his watch.

But perhaps overarching is this: I would not want to show a dime’s worth of distance between ourselves and our allies like Israel. If we have disagreements, you know, we can talk about them behind closed doors. But to the world, you show that we’re locked arm-in-arm.”

Though this is exactly what many Jews want to hear from the Republican, it may have far more traction with evangelicals who see the administration’s lukewarm attitude toward Israel as part of a raft of religious issues on which they feel the president is wanting. That’s why Romney used the same speech to denounce the administration’s attempt to force the Catholic Church to pay for services their faith opposes as part of what he rightly decried as the administration’s war “our first freedom, religious freedom.”

Romney needs a huge turnout of evangelicals — a group that often fails to maximize its numbers at the polls — this fall if he is to beat President Obama. As conservatives work to register and mobilize conservative Christians, expect to hear more about Israel from Romney. It may be that most Jews don’t care if Romney is more sympathetic to the Jewish state, but support for Israel is an issue that a great many Christians believe is a deal breaker.

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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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Are Catholics Standing Alone?

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.

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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.

This week, as Alana noted yesterday, Roman Catholic dioceses, schools, social service agencies and other institutions filed lawsuits in 12 federal courts, challenging the Obama administration’s dictate that they provide coverage for contraception in their health insurance policies. If they were to protect their rights, they had no choice but to go to court. The challenge will be affected by the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of ObamaCare, but if all or parts of that legislation are upheld, the plaintiffs will be asking the courts to uphold their rights under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forces the government to provide a compelling reason to force believers to violate their faith.

The administration has sought to marginalize the church’s position by launching a political campaign aimed at portraying the Republicans as waging a war on women because of conservative support for the church’s position. That has enabled some to claim that backing for the church is a partisan stand against the president. But this is looking at the issue through the wrong end of the telescope. It is not the administration that sought by means of ObamaCare to compel church institutions to pay for contraception that started this unnecessary fight, nor the bishops who would be quite happy to stay out of the political line of fire.

Having framed the issue as one in which backing for the church is tantamount to voicing opposition to the president or as being opposed to contraception — something the vast majority of Americans, including most Catholics, support–the administration may think it can defend its stance with impunity. But it is important for groups that would under other circumstances not hesitate to defend religious institutions from government compulsion not to leave the church to face the might of the government alone.

One needn’t oppose the president’s re-election or endorse the Vatican’s stance on contraception in order to understand that a ruling against the church would grant the government nearly unlimited power to restrict religious freedom. In the weeks and months ahead as this issue continues to be debated, it is vital that more faith groups rally around the church and make it clear to the administration and the courts that when it comes to protecting First Amendment rights, the church does not stand alone.

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Solid Case Against Birth Control Mandate?

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:

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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:

“I think the odds are pretty good for the plaintiffs here,” Marc DeGirolami, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University, told The Hill.

Because of the law, courts now have to apply certain standards to federal actions that might inadvertently infringe on religious liberty. In one sense, laws under scrutiny must aim to achieve a “compelling” government interest. In another sense, they must be designed in a way that burdens religion as little as possible.

It’s much smarter for Catholic groups to fight this in the courts than through Congress. The legal challenge will refocus the issue on religious freedom, and make it much more difficult for Democrats to argue that opposition to the birth control mandate is all about waging a “war on women.” And the administration will be forced to argue against a religious freedom law backed by the late Ted Kennedy and Democratic attack dog Chuck Schumer, who helped push the war on women narrative.

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Will Gay Marriage Oust Military Chaplains?

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.

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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.

At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher quotes American Jewish Congress chief counsel Marc Stern as saying that, “no one seriously believes that clergy will be forced, or even asked, to perform marriages that are anathema to them.” Yet the “sea change” that same-sex marriage will create in American law will bring with it consequences that advocates for this measure aren’t acknowledging. As Dreher writes:

The strategy of the pro-SSM side seems to be to deny that anything like this could possibly happen, and that people who say it could are being irresponsible scaremongers. Then when it actually happens, they’ll say oh, who cares; those bigots deserve what they get.

Dreher is right. The legal problem here is not so much the direct issue of redefining marriage from the traditional understanding of it being one man and one woman. Rather, it is the implications that stem from government sanction that will redefine some religious believers as being outside of not only mainstream opinion but literally outlaws and vulnerable to prosecution and/or defunding on the grounds of discrimination against gays.

The only way for advocates of same-sex marriage to avoid the stigmatizing of some faiths in this manner is to agree to legal stipulations that remove any possibility that religious institutions could be compelled to sanction behavior their religion regards as immoral. But if they refuse to do so, as the White House is indicating with its opposition to House protections for military chaplains, then gay marriage ceases to be a civil rights issue and becomes the focal point of a kulturkampf in which religious freedom is on the line. If that is the way things are heading, then military chaplains won’t be the last victims in the purge of believers.

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Obama Solidifies the GOP Base for Romney

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.

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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.

Throughout the campaign, the conventional wisdom has been that like 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, Romney would have trouble getting conservatives to care enough about his candidacy to work hard for his election. Moreover, even after he wrapped up the nomination, the fear has been that he would be caught between the twin perils of having to either continue to pander to evangelicals in the general election or losing them by shifting back to the center for the general election.

But Obama solved that problem for Romney with a single stroke that reminded Christian conservatives why they have no alternative but to turn out in November. When weighed against this blow to their values, factors such as Romney’s history of changed positions on abortion, his lack of fluency with the idiom of social conservative rhetoric and the unfortunate hesitancy on the part of some evangelicals to back a Mormon count for nothing.

After the administration’s assault on the Catholic Church in which the president’s signature health care program was used to force it to pay for practices it preaches against, there is a heightened awareness that religious freedom is going to be an issue in the election. And though, as the New York Times reports, the president has sought in the days after his decision to allay the fears of many pastors that his gay marriage stand will lead to government punishment of those faiths that don’t go along with his view, there is little doubt this is an unstated threat that scares many religious Americans. The example of Catholic and Orthodox Jewish institutions being run out of the adoption field in some states because of their views on gays is instructive.

President Obama needn’t fear African-American disaffection because of this issue even though many share the social conservative views of their white evangelical counterparts. In spite of their differences with this president on this point, black churches will continue to be rallying points for the president’s re-election.

But by pinning hopes on a belief that pushing liberal stands on social issues is the key to re-election, Obama has relieved Romney of the burden of having to spend any of the next six months worrying about whether evangelicals will turn out for him.

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Catholics Shouldn’t Stand Alone in Religious Freedom Fight

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.

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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.

The blather about a fictional war on women has distracted the nation from the fact that while no one is actually preventing anyone from obtaining birth control, having an abortion or infringing on the rights of gays these days, the rights of Catholics not to support activities that contradict their faith is under siege. The issue, as the bishops rightly put it, is not so much whether Catholics are allowed to gather in their churches or pray as they like at home but whether they and their institutions are to go on being permitted to participate in our national life.

The principle at stake here is one in which it is clear that if the government gives itself the right to impose practices that contradict religious principles in this manner, it will fundamentally alter what the bishops rightly call our “first, most precious liberty” of freedom of religion.

As unfortunate as this movement to infringe upon religious liberty is, what is most distressing is the way the church has been largely allowed to face these attacks on its own. It is no small irony that many Jews who are zealous in their reaction to anything that might be construed as a violation of the separation of church and state or to impose majority beliefs on adherents of minority faiths or no faith at all are standing aside in this fight or opposing the church.

Laws that seek to force Catholics to subsidize actions that contradict their beliefs are, as the manifesto says, “unjust” and ought to be opposed by all people of good faith. In this context, the greatest tragedy would be if the church were left isolated in this battle because Democrats and liberals fear that advocacy on this issue undermines President Obama’s re-election. Far from the church playing the partisan here, it is those on the other side of this debate who are defending the indefensible simply because not to do so involves the defeat of ObamaCare.

The bishops write, “To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.” The same sentence applies to Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and any other group including atheists who should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Catholics in defense of religious freedom.

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