By Dave Andrusko
I’ve watched presidential elections since just after time began (aka 1960) and in retrospect you could always point to a turning point. Most of the time you didn’t know it at the time, which is not the same thing as saying hindsight is 20-20, but you could looking back.
For what it’s worth, I think we saw the symbolic turning point Tuesday when 43—count them, 43– Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and other institutions filed suit, accusing Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services of violating the First Amendment and federal law by requiring Catholic organizations to “sacrifice their beliefs in order to be able to continue their mission of serving all people in need.”
That litigation (actually comprised of 12 lawsuits filed simultaneously in various U.S. district courts) is hugely important on a number of fronts. Let’s talk about four.
#1. The importance of what is at issue, something not just Catholics understand, but which the Obama Administration either missed altogether or calculated was worth the risk. What set everyone off—and properly so—was the Obama Administration’s infamous mandate requiring religious institutions and individuals of conscience to pay for health insurance plans that cover medical procedures and drugs contrary to their religious beliefs and consciences.
If you don’t value religious beliefs and the right of conscience—or if you think violating them is a small price to pay to “fire up the base”—then you have your Department of Health and Human Services do the bidding of Obama’s allies. ( It’s important to understand that the multiplier effect is in play. This mandate isn’t the first time that the Obama Administration has attempted to expand government power at the expense of religious liberty, which helps explain why the Catholic Church and other institutions are responding so vigorously.)
Appearing on CBS’ “This Morning,“ Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained the Bishops’ perspective.
“This is about religious freedom, it’s not about contraception. What we’re worried about now is the exemption given to the churches is so strangling, and so narrow and it’s also presumptuous that a bureau of the federal government is attempting to define for the church the extent of its ministry and ministers.”
#2. Joining the litigation was Notre Dame University, along with The Catholic University of America, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and the University of St. Francis in Indiana. I supposed you can make too much about Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama, but on reflection I think not.
In 2009 Obama was invited to give the commencement address and be granted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. As Anthony Lauinger, NRLC’s Vice President, wrote at the time in a guest editorial for National Right to Life News,
“The invitation to Mr. Obama makes a mockery of Notre Dame’s Catholic character. His 2012 re-election campaign already underway, he is cynically exploiting and manipulating Notre Dame for his own political purposes: seeking legitimacy with Catholics, co-opting the Catholic vote, undermining respect for the teaching authority of the bishops regarding the primacy of the pro-life issue, inoculating himself against the charge—the fact—that he is a radical pro-abortion extremist.”
The President of Notre Dame explained the university’s involvement in the lawsuit in an email sent yesterday.
“The decision to file this lawsuit came after much deliberation, discussion and efforts to find a solution acceptable to the various parties,” wrote the Rev. John Jenkins. “If one presidential administration can override our religious purpose and use religious organizations to advance policies that undercut our values, then surely another administration will do the same for another very different set of policies, each time invoking some concept of popular will or the public good, with the result these religious organizations become mere tools for the exercise of government power, morally subservient to the state, and not free from its infringements.”
After previously giving Obama cover that Notre Dame is now joining in the lawsuit protesting Obama’s assault on religious liberties sends an unmistakable message.
#3. You will read over and over and over again that his mandate is, at worst, a wash for the President, and, more likely a net plus for the upcoming election. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson addressed the canard in a piece that ran today:
“Between early March and mid-April — soon after the mandate battle was joined — the Pew Research Center found that Obama’s support among all Catholics fell from 53 percent to 45 percent. Among white Catholics, it dropped from 45 percent to 37 percent. These numbers have remained depressed. Obama won 54 percent of Catholic voters in 2008. A recent Gallup survey found Obama’s Catholic support at 46 percent.
“Correlation is not causation. But, in this case, it doesn’t seem mere coincidence. John White, a political science professor at the Catholic University of America, finds Obama’s decline among Catholics ‘in large part due to the recent debate over health care and contraception.’”
#4. I can’t get inside of anyone’s mind, but my strong suspicion is that members of Catholic institutions as well as ordinary Catholics are as outraged as the rest of us are by Obama’s feigned “compromise.” The irony is delicious. If he was delusional enough to think the Catholic Church would allow his Administration or anyone else’s to define what is and is not the proper “sphere” for an institution that has been in existence for 2,000 years, he was badly mistaken.
Keep May 21 in the back of your mind as the possible hinge on which all that played out in 2012 swung.
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