More than 150 Catholic bishops have criticized President Barack Obama’s approval of a law that will require religious organizations to provide contraception coverage in employees’ insurance offerings.
But a new study by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that Catholics overwhelmingly support the new rules. The poll reveals that six out of ten Catholics believe employers should be required to provide their employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception, while 55 percent of Americans at large supported the new requirement.
White evangelicals opposed the new regulation more than any other religious group, with 56 percent saying it imposed on religious freedom.
Nearly 75 percent of Democrats approve of the new reform while only 36 percent of Republicans support it.
The new law is part of the president’s healthcare overhaul, and will make it mandatory for religious colleges, non-profits and hospitals to offer employees insurance packages that include contraception coverage. While some organizations will be granted an adjustment period, eventual failure to provide coverage to employees could result in penalties
A large proportion of Catholics polled did say, however, that the government should not require churches to provide their employees with insurance covering birth control.
Nearly three quarters of white evangelicals also agreed that churches should remain exempt from the new law.
By: Lauren Fox, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, February 7, 2012
For months, Republican presidential candidates have been eager, if not desperate, to accuse President Obama of waging a “war on religion.” Rick Perry got the ball rolling quite a while ago, but his more successful rivals have picked up on the same line.
The problem for the GOP candidates has been substantive: they knew they wanted to accuse Obama of being hostile towards faith communities, but they couldn’t explain why. Republicans saw value in the attack — the drive to paint the president as “The Other” has been a constant for four years — but they had absolutely no idea how to bolster the smear.
This week, Mitt Romney seems to have settled on a policy to match the attack: the Obama administration’s decision to require coverage of contraception as preventive care under the Affordable Care Act is, according to the former governor, an “attack on religious liberty.”
Romney told voters in Colorado yesterday that “churches and the institutions they run” will “have to provide for their employees, free of charge, contraceptives, morning-after pills — in other words abortive pills and the like — at no cost.”
As a substantive matter, Romney’s lying. The administration’s policy already exempts churches and other houses of worship and “doesn’t require any individual or employer to violate a religious belief — it simply ensures that their employees with different beliefs have the same access to birth control as all other women.”
But as a matter of consistency, Romney has another problem: he’s not only lying; he’s also denouncing Obama for adopting a policy similar to one Romney used to support.
Mitt Romney accused President Obama this week of ordering “religious organizations to violate their conscience,” referring to a White House decision that requires all health plans – even those covering employees at Catholic hospitals, charities, and colleges – to provide free birth control. But a review of Romney’s tenure as Massachusetts governor shows that he once took a similar step.
While Romney was on the attack yesterday, condemning the idea of requiring religious institutions to provide emergency contraception, as governor, a previous iteration of Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
Some Catholic leaders now point to inconsistency in Romney’s criticism of the president and characterize his new stance as politically expedient, even as they welcome it.
“The initial injury to Catholic religious freedom came not from the Obama administration but from the Romney administration,” said C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. “President Obama’s plan certainly constitutes an assault on the constitutional rights of Catholics, but I’m not sure Governor Romney is in a position to assert that, given his own very mixed record on this.” [...]
“Governor Romney afterwards lamented that and campaigned around the country as someone in favor of religious freedom and traditional morality,” Doyle said. “He is very consistent at working both sides of the street on the same issue at the same time. His record on this issue has been one of very cynical and tactical manipulation.”
It’s the latest in a series of examples of Romney 2.0 interfering with the ambitions of Romney 5.0.
Okay, now it’s settled, right? I mean, it must be settled by now. Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. Eat your peas, Republicans, and then fall in line, because Romney’s the guy. Right?
Even at this point, after Romney trounced Newt Gingrich in the Florida primary and the Nevada caucuses, there are some fairly compelling reasons for Republicans to pause before bowing to the party establishment’s decision that Mitt must be It.
First is the fact that so many GOP voters still can’t summon much enthusiasm for their likely standard-bearer. In a poll released last week, the Pew Research Center found that an incredible 52 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents consider the field of candidates only fair or poor. Just 46 percent assessed the field as good or excellent — compared to 68 percent who were satisfied with the contenders at the same point in the battle for the nomination four years ago.
In Florida, exit polls confirmed Pew’s findings: Nearly four in 10 GOP voters said they were unhappy with their choices. It is reasonable to assume that many Republicans who didn’t bother to vote — and thus were not sampled in exit polls — are probably even less enthusiastic.
Last May, as the roster of candidates was shaping up, just 43 percent of Republicans thought the field was fair or poor, according to Pew. In other words, the better Republican voters come to know these candidates, including Romney, the less they like them.
Still, somebody is going to get nominated. At this point, Romney has shown he can beat Gingrich almost everywhere. But that “almost” is important.
Gingrich won big in South Carolina. And while Romney rolled up huge margins in the southern and central parts of Florida, Gingrich beat him in the panhandle counties that border Alabama and Georgia — a part of the state, demographically and culturally, that isn’t South Beach but, rather, just plain South.
This is significant because the South is the Republican Party’s heartland. Romney has shown in other contests that he can put a check mark in every ideological box — that despite Gingrich’s taunt of “Massachusetts moderate,” he can still win the support of voters who call themselves “very conservative” or who say they are Tea Party members. But maybe the relevant pejorative is the “Massachusetts” part.
So far, Romney has not shown that he can connect with and excite voters in the South the way Gingrich does. If the bruised, battered, underfunded Gingrich campaign can survive long enough — and if Gingrich can rediscover the in-your-face mojo that gave him such a lift in the South Carolina debates — he could potentially beat Romney in Georgia and Tennessee on Super Tuesday, March 6, and in Alabama and Mississippi a week later.
At that point, if I were a GOP pooh-bah, I’d have to worry about going into the November elections with a candidate at the top of the ticket who had received so little love from the party’s most loyal supporters.
Maybe the Gingrich insurgency will prove to be nothing more than a sad, divisive ego trip. Maybe Romney will show that he can win — or at least compete — in the South. Realistically, chances are that his superior resources, organization and discipline will prevail in the end.
Then what? Well, if you believe the polls, Romney probably loses to President Obama in the fall.
A new Washington Post poll, released Monday, shows that Obama leads Romney, 51 percent to 45 percent, among registered voters. The poll also showed that Obama’s approval rating is at 50 percent, the first time it has reached that benchmark since May, right after Osama bin Laden was killed. On protecting the middle class and dealing with taxes, international affairs and terrorism, voters believe Obama would do a better job than Romney.
But perhaps the most important figure — found not in the poll but in Labor Department statistics released Friday — is 8.3 percent. That’s the unemployment rate for January, and it is the lowest since February 2009, right after Obama took office.
Romney’s central argument for the presidency is that he will do a better job of managing the economy. Despite their overall preference for Obama, many voters buy that premise. But if the unemployment rate continues to fall, it won’t matter whether Republicans go with the safe bet or the mercurial firebrand. Economic recovery almost surely equals four more years.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 6, 2012
The phrase “unilateral disarmament” has been used, in a negative sense, to justify a lot of unjustifiable behavior. But President Obama’s argument against unilateral disarmament in the super PAC war seems totally persuasive. The Republican party gained a large advantage in the 2010 elections, and appears poised to seize an even more dramatic edge during this campaign, by channeling vast sums of their campaign donations into third-party organizations, which can raise unlimited sums from undisclosed donors.
The problem with Obama’s decision, as I have been reading from numerous reporters, is that it’s “hypocritical.” MSNBC’s First Read insists that blessing super PACs “looks hypocritical no matter how you try and rationalize it.” Making the charge as a matter of appearance rather than substance – it looks hypocritical — allows you to throw out an accusation without justifying it. But how is it hypocritical? I haven’t seen anybody attempt to actually explain it.
To me, the ethics are pretty simple. Obama opposes the current campaign-finance system. His position is that the Citizens United ruling is wrong on the legal merits, it’s bad policy to allow unregulated independent election spending, Congress should pass legislation (previously blocked by Republicans) requiring greater disclosure from such groups, and that he favors a constitutional amendment to allow greater campaign-finance restrictions.
I fail to see what about these positions implies that Obama should also hold the following position: Given that the campaign-finance system is going to allow unlimited election spending by individual donors to technically independent groups, it is better to have a system where Republican donors exert these high levels of political influence but Democratic donors do not. Isn’t it perfectly reasonable to believe that the best outcome is a system where millionaires can’t spend unlimited sums on electioneering, and a system in which both parties have millionaires counterbalancing each other is better than a system in which only one party has millionaires spending unlimited sums?
Obama, after all, isn’t arguing that a millionaire cutting a $10 million check to buy a slew of political ads is an inherently immoral act, like driving a car through a crowd of pedestrians. He’s arguing that it’s a bad system, like allowing Warren Buffett to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. He wants to change the system. But that wouldn’t make it hypocritical for Buffett to operate within the system that exists, as opposed to the alternate system he advocates.
Indeed, if you want to change the system, unilateral disarmament seems like a pretty bad way to go about it. Republicans are already pretty strongly opposed to campaign-finance reform. If keeping the current system means preserving a system in which their side gets unlimited outside spending and Democrats abstain, then the GOP is never going to agree to change it. Not that matching their money will force them to agree to reform, but eliminating the GOP’s partisan self-interest in the status quo seems like, at minimum, a necessary step toward reform.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, February 7, 2012
In a perfect world, advocates for women’s health who believe human life begins at the instant of fertilization, and advocates of women’s health who believe in a women’s right to choose, ought to be able to find common ground in their shared mission of finding a cure for cancer.
Liberals were at least willing to give it try. Out of respect for the ethical misgivings of religious conservatives, liberals agreed all funds raised for cancer research and screenings ought to be carefully segregated from the financial support given for abortion services so that no one morally opposed to abortion would feel compelled to lend support to the procedure, however indirectly.
But conservatives were having none of it. In their mind abortion is a sin and a crime and that was that. Any organization connected with the procedure was irredeemably unclean. This was true even if the organization in question performed many other life-saving works and if abortion constituted just 3% of the overall health services the organization provided.
And so, the life-giving alliance between two of the nation’s most prominent organizations in the fight against breast cancer – Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation — may forever be ruined after Komen leaders temporarily pulled funding for Planned Parenthood in deference to the demands of anti-abortion contributors who have long targeted Planned Parenthood for extinction.
The estrangement of these two long-time allies could very well set back the cause of finding a cure for breast cancer, a disease that killed an estimated 39,500 women in 2011 with more than 230,000 new cases reported. But fighting breast cancer seems less important in the minds of anti-abortion militants than destroying an organization they detest as evil.
Even within the Komen organization itself the decision by Komen’s brass to sever all ties with Planned Parenthood seemed to come out of nowhere. That may help explain the angry letters written by those at Komen’s local affiliates who announced they would defy their bosses and continue doing business with Planned Parenthood no matter what the organization’s new policy may have been.
Nonetheless, conservatives were quick to blame liberals for the rift, saying liberals should have been more sensitive to the concerns of abortion opponents in the first place by recognizing that associating in any way with any organization that provides abortions was, for the religiously devout, utterly impossible.
In a column harshly critical of the media’s portrayal of Komen’s leadership as betraying the health needs of women, New York Times conservative Ross Douthat said the decision by Komen to disassociate itself “from the nation’s largest abortion provider” was no more “political” than was the decision by liberals to enlist Planned Parenthood in the fight against cancer in the first place.
For every American who greeted Komen’s decision with outrage and derision, says Douthat, “there was probably an American who was relieved and gratified” by the funding cut for Planned Parenthood, since there are “millions of Americans, including millions of American women” who loath the organization for the 300,000-plus abortions it performs every year and for its “tireless opposition to even modest limits on abortion.”
Maybe. But after conceding that the fight against breast cancer should be “unifying and completely uncontroversial,” Douthat then attacked the media for suggesting the fight against breast cancer should take priority over the objections of abortion opponents, as well as for what he called the “wave of frankly brutal coverage” against anyone seen as sabotaging the fight against cancer with their ideologically-motivated objections.
That the fight to save lives could actually be undermined by those who advertise themselves as “pro-life” is further proof that the most important contribution the Founding Fathers made to democratic thought was to separate religious commitments from governing ones.
The whole point of politics, writes professor Theodore Lowi, is in fact to “trivialize all manner of beliefs drawn from private life” – including religious belief — so as to put them into a form where they can dealt with politically, meaning where compromise is possible.
That is because when private beliefs are pursued without full appreciation of their public consequences, “Act I of the tragedy of the true believer has begun,” he says.
The price we pay for living in a diverse and modern world is that there can be few, if any, non-negotiable demands. The price we pay for securing “domestic tranquility,” in other words, is that we must be governed by politics and not by rote application of rigid religious dogmas or political ideologies where life’s complexities are resolved by reference to 10 easily memorized talking points – or commandments.
Predictably, those who oppose Planned Parenthood and the good-faith compromises that have been made to keep the focus on breast cancer prevention have framed their dispute as an extension of their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of “worship.”
It’s a trump “People of Faith” have been playing a lot.
Just this Sunday, the letter from our own Cardinal that was distributed at Mass began peacefully enough with a greeting to all his “dear brothers and sisters in Christ.” But then, sparing no words, the Cardinal took out after President Obama like Thomas Jefferson against George III as our Cardinal inveighed against a decision by the President on birth control the Cardinal said “strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty of all citizens of any faith.”
I’ll make a deal with the Cardinal: He can have his waiver from the government’s new requirement to provide birth control if the Church puts its objections up for a vote with its employees. Since we’re talking religious liberty here, let’s see if Catholic workers think their religious freedoms are being imperiled by having access to health insurance that pays for birth control.
If workers vote to deny themselves coverage for contraception because their religious convictions forbid it, then I for one agree we should honor that. I’d also be willing to grant the Church a waiver if it agrees to first divest itself of all those benefits it gets from the government and from We the People. But otherwise, the Church must pay to play.
Let’s keep things in perspective here. The Catholic Church maintains schools, hospitals and charitable organizations to fulfill its mission of service to the community. But it also supports these institutions in order to enhance its political power and its ability to use those institutions to shape American culture generally.
It’s in disputes just like these that the Church’s true political nature is revealed to us as the Church flexes its political muscle and shows just how elastic its definitions of “religious worship” really are.
We’re not talking about penitents singing psalms in their pews. In the present dispute, to “worship” means to advance the Church’s anti-contraception agenda by denying contraception coverage to even those non-Catholics who work for the Church, using the premiums it pays as leverage to re-frame the nature of its disagreement with President Obama as one over “religious freedom.”
In the debate over “Obamacare,” “worship” meant pressing for further restrictions on abortion by using as leverage the fact that taxpayer dollars were being used to subsidize the coverage of 50 million uninsured Americans.
But the Church hardly needs provocation or pretexts like these to advance a political agenda or to hide that agenda behind the First Amendment and glittering generalities about religious liberty.
For the Catholic hierarchy, freedom of worship means the right to prevail politically and on any matter Church leaders decide is important.
I remember very well working for Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci when then Boston Cardinal Bernard Law made a special trip to the State House to fight us on the Governor’s nomination of Margaret Marshall to be the first woman chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Cardinal opposed Justice Marshall because she had ruled in favor of abortion rights in the past. And despite the Cardinal’s objection, she was confirmed anyway.
Law, who was later forced to step down in disgrace over his shocking mishandling of the Church’s child abuse scandal in Boston, continued a long tradition of politically promiscuous Bay State Catholic leaders dating back to Cardinal William O’Connell, who towered over Boston politics from 1908 to 1944.
“Authoritarian in temper, medieval in outlook, Cardinal O’Connell sought to remake Boston’s Catholics as soldiers of a modern day Counter Reformation,” wrote Jack Beatty, senior editor of the Boston-based Atlantic Monthly.
Among O’Connell’s political dark horrors, Massachusetts killed a proposed amendment banning child labor that the Cardinal called “socialistic” because it put “the State above the Parents” – presumably preventing those parents from hiring out their children as indentured servants if they so wished.
Along with the rest of the Catholic hierarchy, O’Connell also fought liberalization efforts to legalize the sale and distribution of contraceptives – even for non-Catholics – fueling a controversy that wasn’t resolved until the Supreme Court finally ruled anti-contraceptive laws unconstitutional in 1965.
And, until the 1960′s when these laws were finally repealed, women who taught in the Massachusetts public schools were compelled to resign once they became pregnant because of the Church’s objections to women with small children who worked.
Across the board in American politics today — and not only in matters of religion – right wing interests have been undermining America’s democratic institutions and conventions by insisting we bow down to their demands that they get to re-shape America entirely to their liking.
Politically, we’ve seen this manifested in the institutionalization in the US Senate of minority rule by mostly Southern reactionaries.
Culturally, we’ve seen it in the resurgence of talk about state’s rights for sub-groups, like white conservative Christians, who are dominant at the local level and hope to resist national standards on such things as gender, racial and religious equality.
Even in economics, demands by Republicans that public policy be geared almost exclusively toward assuaging investor “uncertainty” can be seen as a massive redistribution of political sovereignty away from the public and toward the rich who ultimately gain whenever the public interest is subordinated to the arbitrary and subjective whims of the “job creating” investor class.
The larger danger we are talking about here goes by an old-fashioned name that the Founding Fathers used a lot: “Faction.”
The friend of democratic government never finds himself so alarmed for their character and fate “as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice,” writes James Madison in his famous Federalist 10.
And it’s the “instability, injustice and confusion” of factions like a Catholic Church that equates politics with Constitutionally-protected “worship,” or the financial backers who pressured the Komen foundation to compromise its own life-saving mission to advance an extreme pro-life agenda, that Madison said has always been “the mortal disease under which popular governments have everywhere perished.”
Like the leaders of most faction, the Catholic bishops say they are not running a democracy here. And they are right. But the bigger question is whether they will let us have one at all.
By: Ted Frier, OpenSalon, February 7, 2012