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.