Mitt Romney has long appreciated the growing threats against religous liberty in our midst. He faced them as governor of Massachusetts, as the conscience rights of Catholic Charities’ adoption work was challenged. He talked about them in a major speech in his last campaign for the GOP nomination. Today in an oped, he takes on these threats directly. This, it seems to me, is the money graph:
It is a prerequisite to the preservation of our liberty that our government not dictate to religious institutions the principles by which they are to carry out their charitable and divine mission. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience flow from the common conviction that it is freedom not coercion that exalts the individual, just as it raises up the nation.
Many conservatives, it is no secret, worry that there will not be enough contrast between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, if Romney is the Republican nominee. This oped points to dramatic and crucial contrast.
But, now, more than two centuries after the drafting of the Bill of Rights, religious liberty is facing the most serious assault in generations. And the assault is coming from liberalism itself. In the process of implementing Obamacare, the Obama administration is pressing forward with a rule that tramples on religious freedom, taking particular aim at Roman Catholics. The Obama administration is forcing religious institutions to choose between violating their conscience or dropping health care coverage for their employees, effectively destroying their ability to carry on their work.
Those of us who object have an irrefutable case. American courts have long held as a foundational principle the right of religious institutions to control their own affairs. It was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court as recently as January 11 in a case involving ministerial hiring. It is notable that in that case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC, the Obama administration was also challenging the basic time-honored principle of ecclesiastical autonomy. But a unanimous Court rejected the Obama administration’s position, declaring it to be “extreme” and explaining that the suit was “hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations.”
Seemingly in line with this “special solicitude,” the Obama administration has put forward a “religious employer” exemption regarding contraception and sterilization insurance coverage. Unfortunately, the Obama administration lawyers narrowed its actual force almost to the vanishing point. It only applies to religious organizations engaged primarily in serving people of the same religion. But that is not what many religious institutions do; serving the broad public is the essence of their divine mission. Accordingly, they will be compelled to provide health coverage to which they object as a matter of conscience.
In an effort to mollify the Bishops, Health and Human Services has now given religious institutions an additional twelve months to comply. That twelve-month extension is a clumsy attempt to push this matter past this year’s presidential election. As long as the rule hovers in front of us, we must keep up the battle. In a polity that provides all manners of exemption on the basis of religious freedom, it is an appalling trespass on the First Amendment.
It’s a strong educational piece. Even if you’re cheering on Santorum, it’s worth reading and sending around. It is a clear explanation of what is going on. Not for the first time, I am grateful to Mitt Romney.