Obama vs. Religious Liberty: Important Neglected Thoughts and Mentions

I’ve been so caught up in covering the Obama/HHS mandate story (and updating this list with the latest bishops’ statements – now up to 140) that I haven’t had much time to reflect and present the picture I’m seeing unfold.

Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, ironic considering his decision to attack religious liberty last week. Politico makes clear it was his decision ultimately to force religious institutions to subsidize sterilization, contraception and abortifacient drugs. It tells us that Obama is intent on motivating his base beyond all else. Gone is the mask of compromise.

On a deeper level, I think it also tells us that Obama really believes religious freedom means only the freedom to worship, not the freedom to act on our public beliefs in the public square. He, however, reserves the right to justify Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation as inspired by his religious beliefs. In other words, his religiously “inspired” vision of government has the authority, he believes, to crowd out through the use of the state’s force other competing religious visions of the good (on this topic see Ross Douthat’s column), for instant, the Catholic vision.

On a more cynical note, I think it means he believes people will be more excited about scoring free birth control than angered by his forcing religious institutions and individuals to violate their conscience.

Nancy Pelosi said, when asked about the mandate, that she will “stand with her fellow Catholics in supporting the administration on this” and that she believed the President’s move was “courageous.” Speaker Boehner has said he believes the mandate is unconstitutional. Constitutional expert Ed Whelan says that it violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

It’s fascinating to watch liberal Catholics tie themselves in knots over this. But it’s not hard to imagine what confusion having dual allegiances causes. Michael Gerson writes that “Obama play[ed] his Catholic allies for fools” and he’s right.

Many have noted that even veteran liberal E. J. Dionne calls this “Obama’s breach of faith.” But that breach was made long ago. Dionne only was forced to notice it now. Some liberals are attempting to make this dispute be about contraception, but it is not — it’s about religious liberty. Even Sister Carol Keehan, who lobied for Obamacare, gets this:

The impact of being told we do not fit the new definition of a religious employer and therefore cannot operate our ministries following our consciences has jolted us.

No kidding. But who gave Obamacare the power to do this in the first place? Sister, you did.

On the far end of the religious spectrum you have unabashed liberals who are rejoicing over this move. The canard they tend to use (see: Kevin Drum at Mother Jones and Joan Vennochi at the Boston Globe) is that since some Catholic institutions receive federal dollars they should all be forced to do whatever the government tells them to do. This is also a red herring, because the mandate applies equally to religious organizations that receive and DO NOT receive federal funding. Props to Megan Mcardle at The Atlantic for making this salient point.

Perhaps saddest in the list of Obama’s excusers is Cecilia Munoz, a Catholic whom David Gibson admits was basically hired to appease “tense relations” with Catholics. You’ll notice that the Obama administration has Munoz front and center to supply spin.

The smartest liberal Catholics understand how big a deal this all is:

“In my estimation it’s a huge misstep politically,” said Stephen Schneck a political scientist from Catholic University who has consulted with the administration on Catholic issues.

“The way in which the narrative is being developed is that the administration is at odds with the Catholic Church fundamentally. What I’m seeing in the pews is something of a waking up, a Catholic solidarity. That I think could very well carry over into their political activities” Schneck said. “There’s nothing like having a sense of opposition to you to rally the troops and I suspect that’s going to happen here.”

Schneck pointed particularly to states with large Catholic populations where this new solidarity could have a far-reaching political impact.

“If you look at where those Catholics are, they’re in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Florida, which are of course critical states for anyone who wants to become president of the United States,” he said.

A final thought: Obama’s decision is a power move. It uses the power of government to force religious entities to either break the law and face the consequences or buckle. Obama only understands power politics. If Catholics want to teach him a lesson, the only lesson he’ll hear is a power lesson. So power on. Lobby hard. Stay focused and energized.

And let’s win this. That’s a thought that ought never be neglected.



  • Gene Firn

    Even if Obama rescinds the demand, he has revealed forever what he has been trying to hide. One good out of this is that it will force Catholics to take a stand and make no mistake about it, it is either for the Lord or against Him-just as it is re abortion. And while we’re at it, why is Pelosi and Biden and their ilk, still allowed-after all these years of “in your eye”- to receive Holy, and I say it again, Holy Communion? I doubt it is because of a “pastoral” reason, but rather fear of the fall out. I don’t recall Jesus giving the Pharisees 40 years of cajoling before he called them out.

    • Laura

      “Nancy Pelosi said, when asked about the mandate, that she will “stand with her fellow Catholics in supporting the administration on this”” huh? what? what catholics? you mean call themselves catholics but do w/e they want? See? this is what happens when you don’t excommunicate people who are CLEARLY commiting sacrilege when receiving the Lord.

  • JohnE

    Since heterodox Catholics who are already using birth control would now get it for free, I have a bad feeling that this will blow over for most of them. Frankly, I’m a little puzzled why some of them all of a sudden care now. If things like abortion, gay “marriage”, embryonic stem cell research and the like were either disagreed with or trumped by global warming, entitlement programs, Wall Street greed, hatred for any name followed by “(R)”, and other more “important” issues, why should we expect it to be any different in November? I think these “important” issues will once again occupy center stage when we get closer to the election. That’s the gamble Obama is counting on. It’s only getting light coverage in the mainstream media now. By November it’ll be a faded memory or minor annoyance. Maybe a little less enthusiastically than last time, maybe even begrudgingly, they’ll be back on the Hope’n’Change ™ bandwagon again nevertheless.

    Hoping I’m wrong of course. Imagine the near and long-term destruction of another round of President Obama.

  • Andy Kirchoff

    Excellent points all around. Regarding Cecilia Munoz in particular, however: she’s also been tasked with giving the Latino voting base excuses for Obama’s massive amount of deportations caused by his big government “Secure Communities” Program. She even got a cameo in Frontline’s “Lost in Detenion” documentary because of it.

    Thomas, if you get the chance, I’d appreciate it if you gave my article a quick read, as well.


  • Cath

    I think Obama is all about smoke and mirrors and that we should be careful NOT to assume we know his motives. Or that we fully understand all the implications of the HHS guideline.

    It’s possible that Obama is testing the waters to see what he can get away with pre-election. If things get too heated, he may pull some kind of “benevolent” stunt in attempt to woo back the Catholic vote. The proaborts would then be incensed and direct their full venom toward the Church, just as they are presently doing to Komen. What a nice way to whip up his base just before the election by making the evil Catholic Church take away the goodies he’d promised.

    I also believe there are more consequences to the HHS ruling than forcing us to subsidize contraception/sterilization. For example, the HHS statement says that during the extension Catholic facilities will be required to make referrals for those services they don’t provide. I don’t think we know yet what kind of mechanism they’ll employ to implement that. But we can get a hint of what may be coming if we look at the places those services are expected to be available according to the statement.

    Which brings me to my last point. Turning hospitals into sites for elective service delivery that is more cost-effective when delivered in other settings sounds like a plan to force Catholic hospitals to provide these services, not merely subsidize them.
    Once something is defined as preventive, sooner or later we’ll be forced to provide it in addition to paying for it. And I fear this is what the administration is counting on us to overlook by focusing our attention on the financial aspect and not the full range of consequences now that something immoral has been defined as preventive.

    • MattK

      ^THIS. While I am disturbed at this attack on the 1st amendment, and defend my Church, I believe that this is all a testing of political waters. I have no doubt that Obama fancies himself riding in on a white horse to save the day this October (until he is re-elected, of course).

  • E. Stauner

    Thank you for this post! I have come across many articles and comments that want the issue to be about contraceptives when in fact it is about relious freedom.
    And you are correct, to Obama, religous freedom only means the freedom to worship…

  • Andy

    Sister, give back that pen!



Receive our updates via email.