Daniel in the Lions’ Den: Progressives Come After Catholic Religious Liberty

Step out of your skin for a moment and imagine yourself to be a radical pro-abortion advocate. A pro-contraception zealot. A pro-embryonic stem cell research, pro-sterilization, pro-in vitro fertilization, pro-sexual liberationist activist.

… what’s standing in your way?

The GOP? Yes, but they’re awfully hard to take out. There’s lots of them holding elected offices across the country. And lots of Americans support them for other reasons besides the issues you care about.

Keep thinking … yep, it’s the Catholic Church. An unflinching, massive organization that not only dedicates time and resources to thwart your agenda, but also constitutes an effective education and messaging shop that presents a coherent alternative to the world vision you espouse.

So what do you do? You’ve tried lobbying for them to change their views, but they’re stubborn. You’ve tried dismissing them but they don’t go away. Fine, you have to make them go away. You have to marginalize, stigmatize and demonize them.

And most importantly, you have to cut them off from their leaders — those pesky bishops.

That, in exceedingly simplistic terms, is what’s happening in this fight over the contraceptive mandate embedded by the Health and Human Services Department in Obamacare.

With the Obama administration days away from making a final public decision, the pro-abortion/progressive/secularist forces have been beating the drum to pressure them into choosing their ideology over the religious liberty of Catholics (and other people of faith).

[Just pause for a moment: in their twisted world view, the right to have contraception and abortion paid for by the government is more fundamental than the right to religious liberty. What a strange place we find ourselves in today. ]

Planned Parenthood has been lobbying the Administration for months. Various and sundry Huffington Post and Daily Kos bloggers state their case against Catholic values, often with a keen sense that the real goal of this debate is to discredit the moral and actual authority of the bishops.

In this quest of progressive, pro-abortion forces to discredit the bishops, Jon O’Brien (president of the shameful Catholics for Choice) and Nancy Keenan (president of pro-abortion NARAL) are co-authors. Toss in Frances Kissling publishing at Reproductive Healthcare Reality Check and you have a full-court press of pro-abortion voices up in arms. Even the editors of the New York Times chime in:

It was distressing but came as no surprise that the new rules prompted protests from Roman Catholic bishops and other church leaders. What is surprising, and even more distressing, is that the White House is considering caving to their call for an expansive exemption that would cover employees of hospitals, universities, charitable organizations and other entities that are associated with religious organizations but serve the general public and benefit from public money.

President Obama should stand firm against the church’s overreaching.

Of course, all of this is nothing new, nor should it be surprising. Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner does a good job summarizing the “Secular Left’s Intolerance of Religious Freedom.”

One of the most fascinating responses, however, from a supposedly Catholic source is the one formulated by E. J. Dionne at The Washington Post. I think it’s incredibly revealing, because he, in essence, pleads to progressives not to make him and other progressive Catholics embarrassed by their efforts to destroy any sort of meaningful religions exemption:

If the administration is pressured into refusing any accommodation on the contraception rules, the people who will be undercut most are progressive Catholics who went out on a limb to support the health-care law and those bishops holding the line against the Catholic right by standing up for the church’s commitment to social justice. This will only strengthen the most conservative forces inside the Catholic Church. That can’t be what advocates of reproductive rights really want.

Just sit and digest this argument for a moment. Dionne pleads with progressives not to confirm what orthodox Catholics have said all along: that progressives don’t want to live and let live with Catholic values, they won’t to undermine and ultimately destroy them. Dionne’s lament is exactly what I was talking about in my post from earlier this month (“Why We Must Stop Liberal Catholics From Handing The Church Over To the State“) where I formulated a simple axiom:

The litmus test for what defines a liberal Catholic who has switched their primary allegiance to the State is their willingness to see the State coercively constrict the Church’s institutional footprint and deny the faith-formed conscience of individual Catholics.

Progressives wish to constrict the institutional footprint of the Catholic Church in whatever way they can. Progressive Catholics aid and abet this effort when they abandon the teachings of the Church in service of their own progressive political ideology. Progressive Catholics who undermine the Church’s integrity by dissenting from her teachings should not be surprised when their progressive compatriots finish the project by dismantling the Church’s rights to put her teachings into practice. And yet so often they do appear to be legitimately surprised, so I have sympathy for Dionne’s lament, even as I am bound to point out that what he fears now is what I and others have feared for a long time.

And, if the point wasn’t already proven, with devastating predictability, Nancy Keenan of NARAL promptly published a reply to Dionne’s article completely ignoring his plea for accommodation. Because Keenan doesn’t care about internal debates between progressive and orthodox Catholics, she only cares about getting her way.

Here’s a piece of advice to Dionne and other progressive Catholics: when it comes to defending the Church’s religious liberty, don’t disarm yourself before entering the lions’ den. Lions aren’t big on giving accommodation to their victims when they’ve placed themselves between their paws.

And, just to end this on a not-so-gloomy note, I commend to your attention Rick Garnett’s proposal to scrap the contraception mandate and George Wiegel’s column on Catholics and Freedom — this part in particular responds to Dionne’s column:

…it would be instructive if Dionne and the allies he describes as “progressive Catholics” and “social-justice Catholics” would let us know just what they find progressive, and what they find just, in regulatory schemes that coerce consciences across the complex health-care system; in efforts by the state to dictate the meaning of “reproductive health” in Orwellian terms; in the fierce resistance of the administration to helping poor children attend inner-city Catholic schools through modest tuition vouchers; and in the State Department’s redefinition of “religious freedom” as “freedom of worship,” period.

Weigel continues:

“Progressive Catholics” and “social-justice Catholics” do both the Church and American democracy a disservice by suggesting that the bishops’ recent alarms about threats to religious freedom are self-serving, as if the bishops were simply playing institutional defense and battling for the right to indulge the Catholic Church’s idiosyncrasies. That is false. The bishops are raising issues of first principles — precisely the kind of issues that Murray hoped the Catholic Church would help keep alive in American democracy. Those Catholics who don’t understand that, and who misrepresent the public service the bishops are doing on behalf of all Americans, invite the impression that they are partisans in a profound state of denial, in which “progressive” politics trumps the Church’s faith, and the moral truths to which faith bears witness, at every turn.

Let’s continue to pray that the Obama administration makes the right choice here, and that this serves as a wake-up call to self-described “progressive” and “social justice” Catholics to realize the real harm they are inflicting on the Church, as well as the real harm they are inflicting on the Church’s ability to serve people (see, for instance, this article by the former director of the HHS anti-trafficking program on the decision by HHS to push the Catholic Church away from helping these victims).

And if you haven’t already, take action to oppose this anti-Catholic contraception mandate.



  • cowalker

    Yes, requiring an institution that benefits from public money to provide the full range of legal medical services to its employees in its insurance benefits is exactly like throwing people to the lions because they won’t deny their religious beliefs. There’s no difference at all. It’s not as though the institution could stop taking public money and limit insurance coverage according to its beliefs. Not an option. That institution is ENTITLED to receive that public money and to ignore the legal constraints that go with it. That’s what freedom of religion means.

    What an unedifying spectacle it is to see the Catholic bishops posturing as martyrs over this issue. Especially when it’s not even an issue for 98% of Catholics in the U.S.

  • Joannie

    I just hate to keep bringing this up but this Administration would not be in power now 3 years since he was largely elected by 54% of American Catholics who insisted that they were not “single issue voters” HELLO OUT THERE! Why did we not listen and take seriously the things he said back during the Campaign “people who cling to their guns and religion” or “spreading the wealth around” I knew the day he was elected that he would be bad for our Country but how many times were we told “we must respect him because he is our leader now” Like the Germans respected Hitler or the Russians with Joseph Stalin?



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