Maybe you saw the pictures. Five middle-age men seated at a congressional hearing table to discuss freedom of religion and contraception. And not a single woman was on the panel. Unbelievable. Do you think Congress would ever have a hearing on prostate cancer and only have women speak? Of course not.
Washington is so out of touch with what’s happening to families across this country that the Senate is about to vote on an amendment that would allow any insurance company or any employer to claim a vague “moral conviction’’ as an excuse to deny you health care coverage. Here’s the really astonishing news: Senator Scott Brown is not only voting for this amendment, he is fighting to get it passed.
What does this mean? If you are married and your employer doesn’t believe married couples should use birth control, then you could lose coverage for contraception. If you’re a pregnant woman who is single, and your employer doesn’t like it, you could be denied maternity care. This bill is about how to cut coverage for basic health care services for women.
Let’s be clear what this proposed law is not about: This is not about Catholic institutions or the rights of Catholics to follow their faith. President Obama has already made sure religious institutions will not be forced to cover contraception – at the same time that he has made sure women can get the health care they need directly from their health care insurers. Carol Keehan, the president and CEO of Catholic Health Association, said that Obama’s approach “protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.’’
I support Obama’s solution because I believe we must respect people of all religious faiths, while still ensuring that women have access to contraceptives. Brown has rejected this compromise. Instead, he has cosponsored a bill that will let any employer or any insurance company cut off contraceptive care, maternity care, or whatever they want, and leave women without coverage at all for this basic medical care. This bill is about how to cut coverage for basic health care services for women.
It is shocking that in 2012, Brown and his Republican colleagues would try to pass a law to threaten women’s access to birth control and other health care. Women all across this Commonwealth should have the right to use birth control if they want to. Giving corporate CEOs and insurance companies the power to dictate what health care women can and cannot get is just wrong. Those decisions should be up to women and their doctors.
Our goal should be to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, high-quality health care. At a time when families are struggling with the costs of health care, we should be trying to strengthen our health care system – not finding ways to create loopholes that threaten the rights of women to obtain the health care they need.
Massachusetts has been a leader in every aspect of health care: increasing access, reducing costs, and engaging in the innovations and research that make higher quality care better. We need to keep moving forward – not take a big step backward.
By: Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Candidate for US Senate (MA), published in The Boston Globe, February 24, 2012-
As Adele Stan noted in this space yesterday, Rick Santorum reached a new summit Saturday in his efforts to paint the president and “liberals” generally as secularist enemies of Christianity. In a speech at a luncheon sponsored by the Ohio Christian Alliance (successor to the Ohio branch of the Christian Coalition), Santorum used an interesting phrase to describe Obama’s belief-system:
Obama’s agenda is “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology,” Santorum told supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement at a Columbus hotel.
Some observers immediately connected these comments to the widespread myth among Obama-haters that the president is actually a Muslim.
Thus, when Santorum, under questioning about these remarks, said “If the president says he’s a Christian, he’s a Christian,” it probably looked to some as though he was backing down a bit from the thrust of his attacks.
I don’t think so.
As I noted in a post last week that has drawn some fire from conservative bloggers, Santorum is on record identifying with the fairly common fundamentalist belief (shared by some “traditionalist” Catholics and even by secular commentators) that mainline or “liberal” Protestants have largely abandoned Christianity for man-made idols. To use Santorum’s own phrase for Obama, many conservative Christians think mainliners maintain a theology that is “not a theology based on the Bible,” but on the nefarious beliefs of such neo-pagans as the “radical environmentalists” who don’t understand God gave dominion over nature to man for his enjoyment and exploitation.
In other words, Santorum’s dog-whistle is aimed not so much at people who ignorantly believe Obama is a secret Muslim, but at people who look at Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Methodists and Congregationalists (Obama’s own denominational background) and see infidels who don’t understand that “true” Christianity requires hard-core opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, or for that matter, environmentalism, feminism, and other departures from nineteenth century American mores. Indeed, in the 2008 Ave Maria University speech I wrote about the other day, Santorum described mainline Protestants as people who had, sadly, gone over to the enemy camp in a “spiritual war” between God and Satan.
As a Roman Catholic, of course, Rick Santorum doesn’t follow a theology that is based strictly on the Bible, either, but on centuries of (selectively applied) Church teachings that happen to coincide with those of conservative evangelical Protestants. Catholic “traditionalists” are engaged in their own parallel war with “liberal Catholics” whom they accuse of “betraying” their Church by supporting legalized contraception and/or abortion or same-sex marriage or the ordination of women.
The political alliance of Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic “traditionalists” has become a familiar part of the landscape in this country, odd as it may seem to old-timers who remember the conservative Protestant hostility to JFK’s presidential candidacy on grounds that no Catholic could conscientiously support strict separation of church and state (a position conservative evangelicals have themselves now emphatically abandoned.) But it’s important to understand that all the thundering about “secularism” we hear from the religio-political Right these days represents in no small part an intra-Christian civil war by conservatives on those in every faith tradition who do not accept their elevation of “traditional” cultural values to the level of religious absolutes.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 20, 2012
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
Catholic leaders and the GOP presidential candidates have intentionally distorted the Obama administration’s new rule requiring employers and insurers to provide reproductive health benefits at no additional cost sharing. Conservatives are seeking a way to politically unite Republican voters around a social issue and portray the regulation as a big government intrusion into religious liberties. In reality, the mandate is modeled on existing rules in six states, exempts houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of faith, and offers employers a transitional period of one year to determine how best to comply with the rule.
It’s also nothing new. Twenty-eight states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception and since 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, many Catholic institutions offer the benefit to their employees. For instance, a Georgetown University spokesperson told ThinkProgress yesterday that employees “have access to health insurance plans offered and designed by national providers to a national pool. These plans include coverage for birth control.”
Similarly, an informal survey conducted by Our Sunday Visitor found that many Catholic colleges have purchased insurance plans that provide contraception benefits:
University of Scranton, for example, appears to specifically cover contraception. The University of San Francisco offers employees two health plans, both of which cover abortion, contraception and sterilization…Also problematic is the Jesuit University of Scranton. One of its health insurance plans, the First Priority HMO, lists a benefit of “contraceptives when used for the purpose of birth control.”
DePaul University in Chicago covers birth control in both its fully insured HMO plan and its self-insured PPO plan and excludes “elective abortion,” said spokesman John Holden, adding that the 1,800 employee-university responded to a complaint from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission several years ago and added artificial contraception as a benefit to its Blue Cross PPO.
Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn., offers employee health insurance via the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, a consortium of Christian Bible and other private college and universities. Its plan excludes abortion, but probably covers artificial contraception as a prescription drug, said C. Gregg Conroy, the executive director of the TICUA Benefit Consortium.
Boston College, the six former Caritas Christi Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts, and other Catholic organizations that are located in one of the 28 states that already require employers to provide contraception benefits could have self-insured or stopped offering prescription drug coverage to avoid the mandate — but didn’t do so. Instead, they — like many Catholic hospitals and health care insurers around the country — chose to meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of Catholic women and offer these much needed services.
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 7, 2012
According to a CNN exit poll of South Carolina Republican primary voters, Newt Gingrich, a thrice-married Catholic, won twice as much support from evangelical Protestants as Mitt Romney, a Protestant. And among voters for whom religion meant “a great deal,” 46 percent voted for Mr. Gingrich and only 10 percent for Mr. Romney.
This is the second evangelical-heavy state Mr. Romney has lost. With a third, Florida, next on the list, it’s important to consider the often antagonistic skepticism that many evangelicals have of Mr. Romney’s brand of Protestantism: Mormonism.
For many evangelicals, that faith — a “false religion,” as the Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress called it — raises serious doubts about Mr. Romney’s suitability for office. But such concerns ultimately say more about the insecurities of the establishment denominations than about Mormonism itself.
Many evangelicals assert that Mormonism denies the divinity of Christ and is therefore not a branch of Christianity. But the Mormon belief is that Jesus was the first-born child of God and a woman, and that humans can aspire to share his spiritual essence in the afterlife.
What’s more, if a belief in Christ’s divinity were used as a test of our politicians, many past American leaders would fail abysmally. Most of the founding fathers — including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine — endorsed deism, which sees Jesus as a very good human being, not part of the godhead.
It was precisely the founders’ religious tolerance that, over the years, has given rise to many new denominations and sects — particularly during the so-called Second Great Awakening, the 19th-century period of religious revivals that energized existing churches (including the Baptist and Methodist churches, bulwarks of today’s Bible Belt) and yielded new ones, including the Mormons.
In that era, it was a short step from feeling that one was possessed by God, as often happened at revivals, to feeling that one was appointed by God for a special mission. Joseph Smith Jr., who founded Mormonism after experiencing a vision of an angel, was among them.
But Smith wasn’t alone; many religious groups sprouted during the period. Like Mormonism, some were founded by people considered divinely inspired by their followers — for instance, Ellen G. White by Seventh-day Adventists and Mary Baker Eddy by Christian Scientists — while others, like Charles Taze Russell of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were admired for their charisma.
There’s plenty about these and other surviving Protestant groups that’s out of sync with mainstream religion. Christian Scientists, for instance, eschew doctors and medicine. Seventh-day Adventists have often set dates for the end of the world that have come and gone, while Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the doctrines of the Trinity and eternal punishment.
But neither those nor other American-bred religions arouse nearly the degree of anxiety that Mormonism does. Why?
For one thing, many people associate Mormonism with polygamy; according to a recent poll, 86 percent of Americans aren’t sure whether Mormons practice polygamy, despite the fact that the church banned the practice in 1890.
Then there’s the issue of race. In 1852 the church banished blacks from the priesthood and did not allow them back in until 1978. But while this is undoubtedly a stain on the church’s history, it was also a reflection of the country’s racial attitudes at the time.
Still, the church’s doctrines and practices, past and present, don’t fully account for evangelical uneasiness. After all, there are hundreds of religious groups in America today, some of whose tenets or practices are far more distant from the mainstream.
The real issue for many evangelicals is Mormonism’s remarkable success and rapid expansion. It is estimated to have missionaries in 162 countries and a global membership of some 14 million; it is also, from its base in the American West, making inroads into Hispanic communities. Put simply, the Baptists and Methodists, while still ahead of the Mormons numerically, are feeling the heat of competition from Joseph Smith’s tireless progeny.
Some evangelical leaders take this a step further to accuse Mr. Romney of vaguely conspiratorial motives. The Baptist minister R. Philip Roberts, author of “Mormonism Unmasked,” recently said that evangelicals are concerned not about Mr. Romney promoting his faith as president, but about the great boost a Mormon presidency would give to the church’s proselytizing efforts.
There is particular worry that Mr. Romney, a wealthy, prominent figure in the church, is too close to his faith. How else to explain the concern among evangelicals when it became public that Mr. Romney had tithed some $4 million to the church over the last two years?
Interdenominational competition may also explain why the faith of Mr. Romney’s father, George Romney, went unchallenged when he ran for president in 1968. Back then Mormonism was a much smaller, and therefore less controversial, part of the religious landscape.
Amid the passions of this election season, it’s time to revive the tolerant spirit of the founding fathers. Religious competition of any kind, they believed, can breed bigotry, repression and hatred. The founders made an earnest effort to keep religion out of politics. Let’s do the same as we carry out the important work of choosing our next president.
By: David Reynolds, The New York Times Opinion Pages, January 25, 2012