This is shaping up to be a bad week for life-related commentary in the Washington Post. Yesterday I blogged about Sarah Kliff’s fluff interview with a late-term abortionist, and today we’ve got an Obama administration water-carrier to deal with.
On May 21, WaPo blogger EJ Dionne wrote that he just can’t understand why those fussy Catholics are being so unreasonable about contraception. Obama compromised once already; what more do they want?
The Bishops’ Conference and many — though not all — Catholic organizations are acting as if the Obama Administration had never backed down from its original, broad mandate and had never offered to negotiate.
But the administration, responding to a broadly united Catholic community, did offer a compromise and has since shown a willingness to try to accommodate many of the concerns of Catholic and other religious institutions. Now the Catholic community is split because many of us who initially backed the bishops cannot understand why they did not respond to the administration’s olive branch. Many bishops seem to want this fight.
Maybe they’re not satisfied because Obama’s “olive branch” wasn’t really a compromise at all – he just shifted the obligation from religious employers to the employers’ insurance companies, while still forcing the employers to pay the increased premiums from birth control coverage. The critics don’t want a fight for the sake of conflict; they want the freedom not to pay for services that contradict their beliefs. What’s so hard to understand, EJ?
There is certainly a case to pushing the administration to rewrite the definition of religious organizations under the health care regulations, but no reason to treat President Obama as an enemy of religious freedom.
Here we see another premise of mandate apologists that has so far gone relatively unnoticed, but which is no less outrageous than the mandate itself: the idea that the First Amendment’s religious liberty protection applies only to organizations defined by the government as “religious.” Obviously, religious people can be found at secular companies, too. What gives government the right to tell religious employers at non-religious institutions that they must violate their own faith and force their employees to violate theirs?
The First Amendment simply states, “Congress shall make no law […] prohibiting the free exercise of religion,” for obvious reasons – if the government can circumvent it simply by defining whom it doesn’t apply to, then it means absolutely nothing.
Oh, and aside from Obama’s astonishing religious insensitivity on contraception, Dionne should also note that this isn’t the only issue where the president is hostile to religious liberty – remember the Supreme Court’s unanimous rebuke of the feds in EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School?
As my friends at Commonweal, the progressive Catholic magazine, noted in an important editorial: “This initiative is being launched during an election year in which one party has assumed the mantle of faith and charges the other with attacking religion. The bishops need to do much more to prevent their national campaign from becoming a not-very-covert rallying point for the Republican Party and its candidates. If that happens, it is the church and the cause of religious freedom that will suffer.”
The USCCB is becoming a tool of the GOP? Would that be the same USCCB that’s also attacking the fiscal policies of prominent Republican Rep. Paul Ryan? The bishops are responding forcefully to the administration because the contraception mandate isn’t just a policy they disagree with theologically; it’s a direct constraint on their freedoms under the Constitution.
Dionne’s and Commonweal’s conclusion seems to be that religious freedom is really endangered not when the government infringes on it, but when believers resist that infringement, and that anything less than grateful acceptance of whatever lemon Obama sees fit to offer makes one a lowly partisan. Their criticism of the bishops is driven not by the spirit of compromise, but by the impulse of subjugation.