By: Paul Kane and Rosalind S. Helderman, The Washington Post, March 10, 2012: Contribution by Ed O’Keefe
The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops will make an important decision this week: Do they want to defend the church’s legitimate interest in religious autonomy, or do they want to wage an election-year war against President Obama?
And do the most conservative bishops want to junk the Roman Catholic Church as we have known it, with its deep commitment to both life and social justice, and turn it into the Tea Party at prayer?
These are the issues confronting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ administrative committee when it begins a two-day meeting on Tuesday. The bishops should ponder how they transformed a moment of exceptional Catholic unity into an occasion for recrimination and anger.
When the Department of Health and Human Services initially issued rules requiring contraceptive services to be covered under the new health-care law, it effectively exempted churches and other houses of worship but declined to do so for religiously affiliated entities such as hospitals, universities and social welfare organizations.
Catholics across the political spectrum — including liberals like me — demanded a broader exemption, on the theory that government should honor the religious character of the educational and social service institutions closely connected to faith traditions.
Under pressure, Obama announced a compromise on Feb. 10. It still mandated contraception coverage, but religiously affiliated groups would neither have to pay for it nor refer its employees to alternatives. These burdens would be on insurance companies.
The compromise was quickly endorsed by the Catholic Health Association. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the bishops’ conference, reserved judgment but called Obama’s move “a first step in the right direction.”
Then, right-wing bishops and allied staff at the bishops’ conference took control. For weeks, Catholics at Sunday Mass were confronted with attacks that, at the most extreme, cast administration officials as communist-style apparatchiks intent on destroying Roman Catholicism.
You think I exaggerate? In his diocesan newspaper, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, wrote: “The provision of health care should not demand ‘giving up’ religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship — no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society.”
My goodness, does Obama want to bring the Commies back?
Cardinal Dolan is more moderate than Cardinal George, but he offered an unfortunate metaphor in a March 3 speech on Long Island. “I suppose we could say there might be some doctor who would say to a man who is suffering some sort of sexual dysfunction, ‘You ought to start visiting a prostitute to help you, and I will write you a prescription, and I hope the government will pay for it.’ ”
Did Cardinal Dolan really want to suggest to faithfully married Catholic women and men who decide to limit the size of their families that there is any moral equivalence between wanting contraception coverage and visiting a prostitute? Presumably not. But then why even reach for such an outlandish comparison?
Opposition in the church to extreme rhetoric is growing. Moderate and progressive bishops are alarmed that Catholicism’s deep commitment to social justice is being shunted aside in this single-minded and exceptionally narrow focus on the health-care exemption. A wise priest of my acquaintance offered the bishops some excellent questions about the church.
“Is it abandoning its historical style of being a leaven in society to become a strident critic of government?” he asked. “Have the bishops given up on their conviction that there can be disagreement among Catholics on the application of principle to policy? Do they now believe that there must be unanimity even on political strategy?”
The bishops have legitimate concerns about the Obama compromise, including how to deal with self-insured entities and whether the wording of the HHS rule still fails to recognize the religious character of the church’s charitable work. But before the bishops accuse Obama of being an enemy of the faith, they might look for a settlement that’s within reach — one that would give the church the accommodations it needs while offering women the health coverage they need. I don’t see any communist plots in this.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 11, 2012
While the flap over Rush Limbaugh’s latest in a long line of offensive and hateful commentary continues on, other figures with (arguably) more longevity and influence continue their assault on Barack Obama and what they see as the decline of Christian America. To wit: the Texas intellectual entrepreneur David Barton, who provides the footnotes for the “war on religion” thesis that currently has captivated the right.
Most recently, Barton’s post, “America’s Most Biblically-Hostile President,” details a theme that has become known to the public largely through the Gingrich/Santorum bloc: that Barack Obama has led the most actively anti-Christian administration in American history. This is a talking point with a lot of traction across the airwaves and blogosphere of the right.
Given Obama’s frequent Christian testimony—explicit enough to make most founding fathers uncomfortable with its public expression of private matters—how can this view be so widely held?
Is it because, like Thomas Jefferson, Obama has been sitting in his office, snipping away with his scissors and cutting out the relatively few passages of the Bible that he has deemed worthy of inclusion in his own expurgated text of trustworthy Gospel sayings? Is it because, like Andrew Jackson, he has opened the White House doors to the huddled masses, yearning to sip some “cider” with the POTUS and his crew? Is it because, like Abraham Lincoln, he avoids any explicit mention of Jesus, and confesses that the ways of the Almighty are unknowable to humans?
No, of course not. Rather, it boils down to this: because Chuck Norris, Franklin Graham, and the American Family Association (whose biblically-based policy toward employees has been detailed by Sarah Posner) say so. And because David Barton has 47 footnotes that say so. Yes, it’s true: Bibles being burned by the military; the president allowing for the funding of stem-cell research; the denigration of Christianity and the “preferentialism” towards Islam; the Air Force Academy (in my home city of Colorado Springs) forced to pay to “add a Stonehenge-like worship center for pagans, druids, witches, and Wiccans”; the celebration of Iftar and conscious shunning of National Prayer Day at the White House; and on and on.
If you think this issue hasn’t caught fire with the base, just check out the screens of hatefully acidic commentary when Messiah College History Professor John Fea’s piece on Obama as the “most explicitly Christian President in U.S. History” found its way onto The Blaze. John Fea’s auto-da-fé came not only in the comments section, but in nasty emails, phone calls, and demands for his firing from Messiah College. As he discovered, the culture wars are real, and practiced even on those (like Fea) who largely have been critical of Obama’s actual implementation of his promises about faith-based policies.
More important than these blogosphere wars, however, is understanding something deeper about these screeds about Obama as the anti-Christian force behind the homosexual/Islamic/secularist/socialist/radical agenda.
The “deep history” behind the latest round of Christian right polemics can be followed back through a long tradition of worries about the decline of a Christian America. Ultimately, these can be traced back to the founding of the Republic. More directly, they emerge from the rise of Christian apocalyptic conservatism from the early twentieth century forward. Matthew Sutton details a similar assault on the FDR administration, one with numerous parallels to the contemporary campaign against Obama, in “Was FDR the AntiChrist,” a Journal of American History article whose findings are distilled in this New York Times piece. These themes carried forward into the “suburban warriors” who empowered the rise of the Goldwater right in Cold-War California, and then to what came to be called the “New Christian Right” of the 1970s and 1980s. Communism disappeared from the enemies list after 1989 (except for older Christian right stalwart David Noebel, who keeps even that faith while leading the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade even into his retirement), but Islam, an economic “New World Order,” the “gay agenda,” the always-present secular humanists and feminists, and numerous other threats arose to take its place.
A Religion of Fear
Perhaps this is because we always need a “Party of Fear,” whether it comes in the form of Federalists dubious of democracy in the New Republic, or nativists fearing the influence of “new immigrants” in the 1850s (or the 2000s), or contemporary commentators suspicious of Obama’s foreign, Islamic, or radical roots. Even from his grave, hack journalist Andrew Breitbart continues to taste that fear, and spread the hate. And a “religion of fear” serves a multitude of purposes for its followers, both titillating and politically energizing. Fear is fun—and fear is mobilizing.
Unlike Barton, Breitbart claimed no particular Christian credential, instead reveling in the joys of political mudslinging. Barton, by contrast, has recently appeared in works with respected Christian historians, and exercises a quiet and long-lasting influence through his congressional connections, his intellectual one-stop-shop for all things Christian Nation, and his role as unofficial (and official) vetter of history textbooks. Like a one-man think tank, he steamrollers opponents with position papers, textbooks, blog posts, talking head appearances, and footnotes. In his work on the Christian origins of the United States, at least he has a modicum of evidence to produce, given the Christian proclivities of certain of the founders. In the war against Obama, however, Chuck Norris and Franklin Graham have to stand in the stead of Patrick Henry or Parson Weems.
Thus, for the anti-Obama agonists, the president’s overtly Christian testifying, praying with Billy Graham, championing of C. S. Lewis, and quoting of the Old Testament in major public speeches simply shield the fact that the enemy always comes clothed in righteousness—and that the Great Deceiver is among us.
David Barton summarizes it most succinctly: “Many of these actions are literally unprecedented—this is the first time they have happened in four centuries of American history. The hostility of President Obama toward Biblical faith and values is without equal from any previous American president.” Roll over, Thomas Jefferson.
By: Paul Harvey, Opinion, Religious Dispatches, March 9, 2012
Is there a constitutional right to privacy underpinning the right to contraception? Suddenly, in this political climate, you can’t be sure, no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1965.
The high court ruled 7-2 in Griswold vs. Connecticut the state law forbidding the use of contraceptives was unconstitutional, in part because of due process, but mainly because it violated “the right of marital privacy.”
But the court of nearly 40 years ago that produced Griswold, the Warren Court, was one of the country’s most liberal, far more liberal than the current court and its consistent 5-4 conservative majority.
And Griswold’s finding of a right of privacy hiding in the “penumbra” of the Bill of Rights has been mocked over the years by conservatives. There is no absolute certainty that if the issue were brought before the Supreme Court today that Griswold would survive — though there is no certainty that it wouldn’t.
As recently as 2010, Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative paladin speaking to an audience at UC Hastings College of the Law, dismissed the Griswold ruling as a “total absurdity.”
What exactly did the Griswold ruling say?
The late Justice William O. Douglas wrote the prevailing opinion. Three other justices joined him, and three more joined the judgment for different reasons.
“The Connecticut statute forbidding use of contraceptives violates the right of marital privacy which is within the penumbra of specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights,” Douglas wrote.
“We do not sit as a super-legislature to determine the wisdom, need, and propriety of laws that touch economic problems, business affairs or social conditions,” he said. “This law, however, operates directly on an intimate relation of husband and wife and their physician’s role in one aspect of that relation.
“The association of people is not mentioned in the Constitution nor in the Bill of Rights. The right to educate a child in a school of the parents’ choice — whether public or private or parochial — is also not mentioned. Nor is the right to study any particular subject or any foreign language. Yet the First Amendment has been construed to include certain of those rights.”
The Connecticut case “concerns a relationship lying within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees. And it concerns a law which, in forbidding the use of contraceptives rather than regulating their manufacture or sale, seeks to achieve its goals by means having a maximum destructive impact upon that relationship. Such a law cannot stand in light of the familiar principle, so often applied by this [Supreme] Court, that a ‘governmental purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to state regulation may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms.’ … Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The … very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.
“We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights — older than our political parties, older than our school system,” Douglas said. “Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.”
The late Justice Potter Stewart, joined by Justice Hugo Black, dissented. Stewart said the Connecticut law might be “asinine,” but he could not find anything in the Constitution to forbid it.
“Since 1879 Connecticut has had on its books a law which forbids the use of contraceptives by anyone,” Stewart wrote. “I think this is an uncommonly silly law. As a practical matter, the law is obviously unenforceable, except in the oblique context of the present case. As a philosophical matter, I believe the use of contraceptives in the relationship of marriage should be left to personal and private choice, based upon each individual’s moral, ethical and religious beliefs. As a matter of social policy, I think professional counsel about methods of birth control should be available to all, so that each individual’s choice can be meaningfully made. But we are not asked in this case to say whether we think this law is unwise, or even asinine. We are asked to hold that it violates the United States Constitution. And that I cannot do.”
Griswold applied to married couples, but has since been expanded by the courts to all adults.
Nearly four decades later, contraception is once again under fire. Essentially, the Obama administration ignored the old adage, “Never poke a bear with a stick.” For bear read the U.S. Catholic bishops, who don’t think contraception is proper practice for the 21st century.
In February, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius issued an interim rule, mandating health insurance plans for all employers, including religiously affiliated institutions, include coverage for birth control, sterilization and other preventive services. The rule caused outrage among Catholic leaders and top officials of the Republican Party.
Feeling the heat, Obama then announced a rule modification: Women may have access to free preventive care, including contraceptive services. But if a woman’s employer objects to birth control on religious grounds, then the insurance company will be required to offer the woman contraceptive care directly, without a co-pay.
The policy was slammed repeatedly on the campaign trail by Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic who said even the amended rule was an attack on religious freedom.
The issue ensnared Santorum’s purportedly more sophisticated rival Mitt Romney.
When Republican senators unsuccessfully tried to enact a measure that would allow employers to opt out of any healthcare coverage to which they objected on religious or moral grounds, Romney at first told an interviewer he was “not for the bill.” When the reaction set in from conservatives, Romney said what he meant was that he “strongly supported” the Senate measure, but misunderstood the original question.
Conservative radio hammer Rush Limbaugh turned up the heat under the dispute after a young law school student testified before a congressional panel that contraception was a necessary part of women’s preventive healthcare, Limbaugh said she wanted taxpayers to pay for her having sex. He also called her a “slut” and a “prostitute.”
Last month, a group of U.S. states went further. Seven filed suit in Lincoln, Neb., contending the amended administration rule violates the First Amendment’s freedom of religion guarantee. The suit was joined by several Catholic organizations.
John Witte, Jonas Robitscher professor of law, Alonzo L. McDonald distinguished professor and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion Center at Emory University in Atlanta, told The Christian Post the courts probably will rule against the administration.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was enacted by Congress, and signed by President Bill Clinton, in 1993. The act prohibited government from putting a substantial burden on individual or group freedom of religion unless there is a compelling government interest. If there is such a compelling interest, the act said, government must show it is acting in the least restrictive way.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision in 1997, struck down most of the law. But the majority, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, left in place the restriction on the federal government even though it excluded state actions.
That interpretation was confirmed in a unanimous 2006 Supreme Court decision involving the importation of natural drugs from South America for religious purposes. Though the natural substance was banned by federal law, Chief Justice John Roberts said in the opinion the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts — the federal government had failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in banning the sacramental use of the drug.
That violated RFRA, Roberts said.
One bright spot for contraception defenders: Kennedy wrote the 6-3 majority opinion that struck down the Texas sodomy law in 2003, and told the government to get out of the bedroom. He often completes the 5-4 conservative majority now holding sway at the high court, but in 2003 he joined and led the court’s liberals, saying, “Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the state is not omnipresent in the home.”
By: Michael Kirkland, UPI, March 11, 2012
Ahead of two suddenly pivotal primaries in Alabama and Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, speaks in Cape Giradeau, Mo., on Saturday. (Eric Gay – Associated Press) Mississippi on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Sunday stepped up his criticism of Mitt Romney, arguing that his primary rival has not told the truth when it comes to his record on health care.
“Governor Romney in the state of Massachusetts mandated every person in Massachusetts have to buy health care,” Santorum said. “He doesn’t tell the truth about that either. He said, ‘Oh, it’s only the 8 percent that didn’t have insurance.’ That is simply not true.”
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, said it was Santorum who was misrepresenting Romney’s position on health care.
“Rick Santorum has a habit of making distortions, exaggerations and falsehoods about Mitt Romney’s record,” Saul said. “Governor Romney has never advocated for a federal individual mandate. He believes in the Tenth Amendment and, as a result, has always said that states should be free to come up with their own health care reforms.”
Santorum charged that on both health care and on climate change, Romney “continues to go out there and tries to misrepresent what he did in Massachusetts because it’s not popular.”
“He was for climate change,”Santorum said. “Man-made global warming. He put caps on CO2. And now that it’s not popular, now that the climate changed, guess who changed along with it? Governor Romney.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gestures while speaking to workers and supporters at Thompson Tractor in Birmingham, Ala., on Friday. (Marvin Gentry – Reuters) A Romney spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the interview. Romney has repeatedly defended his health care record by arguing that he supported reform in Massachusetts but does not back it at the federal level.
The ramped-up offensive by Santorum against Romney comes as some supporters of the former senator are urging former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to drop out and allow Santorum to run a one-on-one race against Romney.
And as the four-way GOP primary slog continues, Santorum himself on Sunday again declined to call on Gingrich to step aside.
“Well, you know, that’s not my job,” Santorum told Gregory when asked whether he’d urge Gingrich to get out of the race. “I’m not going to tell people to get in and out of this race. I didn’t ask Speaker Gingrich to get in. I’m not going to ask him to get out.”
He noted that he hopes a two-man race will take place “sooner rather than later, but we’ll wait and see what the speaker decides.”
By: Felicia Sonmez, The Washington Post, March 11, 2012
Watching with growing unease as the GOP presidential nomination fight promises to stretch into the spring, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are making moves to protect their own reelection prospects in the fall.
The aim is to fashion a political and legislative agenda to sharpen the party’s case against President Obama and Democrats, and make a coherent argument for why the Democratic-controlled Senate, and not the GOP-led House, is to blame for the congressional gridlock that has disheartened the public. A side benefit is that the legislative strategy might shift public attention away from some of the social issues that have recently dominated their party’s presidential contest.
While most congressional leaders continue to believe that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will be the nominee, they worry about how long it will take to secure the nomination and the political costs of a drawn-out battle.
“Every day that goes by [without a nominee] is a day that plays to President Obama’s advantage,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has endorsed Romney and was the party’s 2008 standard-bearer.
While GOP leaders are eager for a nominee to emerge so they can begin a coordinated campaign against the Democrats, they are increasingly convinced that they must move ahead with an agenda of their own.
Last week, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that regardless of who the nominee is and when he assumes the role, the core of the GOP argument against the president will be the same.
“Listen, one thing is clear here,” Boehner said Thursday. “ . . . This year’s election is going to be a referendum on the president’s economic policies. . . . The American people are concerned about our economy and concerned about jobs, and that’s going to continue to be my focus.”
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sketched out what a joint agenda should look like. “ ‘Obamacare’ should be the number one issue in the campaign,” McConnell told the Weekly Standard. “I think it’s the gift that keeps on giving.” The other top issues, as McConnell sees them, should be the deficit and national debt.
One main concern going forward, key Hill Republicans say, is to avoid falling into more social-issue debates, which have hurt the broader party image and could affect down-ballot races for the House and Senate.
“To the extent that the focus in this cycle is on the economy, it’s better for Republicans. I think that’s probably where the stronger case for Republican change can be made,” said Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), who managed presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s 1994 campaign for the Senate but remains neutral in the presidential race. “I think we’re stronger when we’re talking about economics.”
The result is a congressional party determined to show action on bread-and-butter issues that can serve as the core of a unified economic agenda.
“We’ve got plenty of things to worry about here in the House. We’ve got a transportation bill, we’ve got Iran, we’ve got debt and deficit,” said Rep. Allen B. West (R-Fla.). “ Whatever happens with the presidential race will happen with the presidential race. People sent me up here to focus on being a good congressional representative, not worrying about being a cheerleader in a food fight.”
House Republicans will move legislation later this month to repeal a key portion of Obama’s health-care law, days ahead of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the legislation. Next week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is expected to unveil a budget proposal that will slash federal spending and stick closely to last year’s controversial proposal to alter Medicare with private options. Both of these efforts could flow seamlessly into whatever coordinated effort emerges once there is a nominee.
But, while it is widely acknowledged that tax reform will be a key point of argument in the fall campaign, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said last week that he will not wait to for a presidential nominee decide how to move ahead on the issue.
“I’m going to continue to do that regardless of when we get a nominee,” Camp said. “I’ve got an agenda that I’ve been working on for a year and a half, and I’m going to keep doing that.”
House Republicans had hoped to be able to take some of the presidential nominee’s proposals and offer them on the chamber floor, while Senate Republicans might use their rights to offer them as amendments. If the nomination fight lasts deep into the spring, there will be little to no time for such stage battles in Congress.
Hedging on health care
One area of legislative indecision has already emerged. While the House GOP is moving ahead with its health-care debate, Senate Republicans have not decided whether to push for another vote repealing the health-care law. Action in the Senate could shine a spotlight on what Republicans believe will be a key issue of the fall campaign, but another vote could also give embattled swing-state Democrats the chance to vote for repeal, bolstering their independent credentials.
There is deep division between House and Senate Republicans about the consequences of a long primary season. Some, like McCain, thinks it hurts Republicans. Others, including McCain’s close friend Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), say the lengthy process has made Romney a better candidate, who will benefit from having had to fight for the nomination.
GOP leaders had anticipated that Romney would wrap up the nomination by Super Tuesday, and they would then begin the routine cooperation in which the presidential candidate defines a daily message that members of Congress amplify. For the immediate future, they will have to wait on that.
Gingrich’s top ally in Congress, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), is trying to build support by arguing that his candidate can energize the base and give down-ballot candidates something to rally around. Barton says that when he first ran, in 1984 on the same ticket as Ronald Reagan and Phil Gramm, he linked his candidacy to the popular president and the Senate candidate from Texas.
“Everything I did was Reagan, Gramm, Barton. They didn’t know me. But they knew them,” he said.
And lawmakers acknowledge that the GOP message got derailed in February, when the issue of contraceptive coverage in the health-care law consumed the presidential campaign. As the discussion focused on whether the federal government could compel institutions connected to the Catholic Church to cover contraception costs in insurance programs, Republicans thought they were on high ground, and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced an amendment to allow exemptions.
Then when Santorum publicly declared his opposition to the use of contraceptives, the tables began to turn. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on contraception, in which no women testified; the optics of that miscalculation were amplified by the politics of the presidential primary debate with adverse consequences for the GOP on the Hill.
Blunt, a key Romney backer, said that the other candidates in the race must decide how much longer they want to deprive Romney of the chance of assuming the mantle of the nominee. “They have to decide on their own that they’re no longer serving a positive purpose,” Blunt said.
By: Paul Kane and Rosalind S. Helderman, The Washington Post, March 10, 2012: Contribution by Ed O’Keefe