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February 29, 2012

Column #1,592

“We’re All Catholics Now!”

By Mike McManus

            A month ago I wrote, “President Obama has picked a fight with America’s Catholic Bishops over religious liberty. He’ll lose.”

            As Mike Huckabee put it recently, “We’re all Catholics now!” 

            Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, opened his column in “The Christian Post” this week with two paragraphs:

            “Let’s begin by making one thing crystal clear.  The debate generated by the Obama administration’s requirement that virtually all health care insurance plans provide free contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization services in all health insurance plans is not a debate about contraception or `reproductive services.’

            “This is a debate about coercion, not Catholics; conscience, not contraceptives; and freedom, not fertility. This is about principle, not `pelvic politics.’”

            From a theological point of view, Southern Baptists are poles apart from Catholics. Each Baptist church is autonomous vs. the hierarchy of Catholics, led by the Pope and his bishops.

Yet they are equally devout in their commitment to the first of the freedoms in the Bill of Rights:   “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

            The regulations to enact Obamacare initially declared that all organizations other than churches had to provide sterilization, contraceptives or abortion-inducing drugs at no cost – even Catholic colleges and hospitals which provide a sixth of all hospital beds in America.

            That touched off such an uproar that the Administration made an “accommodation” that would not require religious institutions to provide these services, but all insurance plans.

            “This so-called `accommodation’ changes nothing of substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy,” said a statement, “UNACCEPTABLE” issued by 500 Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders, university presidents and scholars.

            “Under the new rule, the government still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services…It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying “five day after pill” pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer.”

            Among signers were Timothy Cardinal Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship, presidents of Harvard and Catholic Universities, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, founder of Zaytuna College, the first U.S. Muslim college and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University.

            These regulations, stemming from a law passed by Congress, amount to an establishment of a secular religion to which all Americans must bow, and prohibit the free exercise of religion by those opposed to it.  Every organization with 50 employees must buy health insurance that includes offensive provisions to millions.

            Congress is considering a bill, Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, that would prevent the imposition of regulatory mandates violating religious or moral convictions.  It is likely to pass the House, but not the Senate.  Even if it did, Obama would probably veto it.

            One top Protestant asserted Obama has made a “huge miscalculation. He saw polls that 98% of Catholics use contraceptives, and felt he could drive a wedge between the clergy and laity. But even those Catholics don’t want government telling bishops what to do.”

            Obama’s people believe that sexual rights trump religious rights.  He named a lesbian law professor, Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, who has said that when the rights of gays, lesbians and transsexual people conflict with religious people, the “religious must give way.”

            Simply put, it costs only $10 a month to buy contraceptive pills. Any woman can afford that. Why insist that Catholic University or its insurer provide pills free to any employee or student?

            Lawsuits have been filed, but they take time.  The Supreme Court has already scheduled an unprecedented length of time for arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare.  It will focus primarily on whether Congress has a right to require every citizen to purchase health insurance, or pay a significant fine. The freedom of conscience issue surfaced only recently and is unlikely to be part of the Court’s deliberations this spring.

Whether the Court declares Obamacare constitutional or not, I preduct this issue will grow over upcoming months.  It will be intensely controversial in such swing states as Ohio, which is 44% Catholic, moving millions to vote against Obama. It could even give safe Democratic states like New York, two-thirds Catholic, to Republicans.

            Don’t discount committed Protestants. ”We are all Catholic now.”

Copyright © Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers, is a syndicated columnist.

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