Obama VS. Religious Freedom–Don’t Let the Point Get Lost!

In determining to fight President Obama’s famous—or should I say infamous?—contraception mandate, the American bishops, I suspect, were devoutly hoping two things would not happen. The first undesired outcome was that the issue would become politicized. The second was that it would be seen as an argument over contraception itself.

Cardinal Dolan Gesturing

Cardinal Dolan strives to make the Church's point.

Predictably perhaps, both have occurred, at least to some degree. Politicization has taken place, as almost certainly was bound to happen, with the division breaking down along familiar liberal-conservative lines within both the Church and the political world. And contraception as an issue of women’s rights has come to the fore in numerous ideologically skewed claims regarding what this fight is all about.

These unfortunate developments hugely complicate the task of remedying the situation created by the administration’s decision to co-opt religious institutions as part of a federal system for distributing contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs via Obamacare. A remedy is still possible, but something that was never easy has been made difficult in the extreme.

President Obama’s much ballyhooed “accommodation” of the bishops’ objections—an approach that doesn’t even exist as a detailed and discussable plan up to now—leaves untouched the essence of the system that’s envisaged as well as the ethical problem. Its genius lies in bringing back those liberals—including Catholics—who’d been disposed to concede that the bishops had a point. The president tossed stardust in their eyes and they’ve fallen obediently in line.

But—to repeat—the accommodation would change nothing of importance. Church-run schools, charities, and hospitals would remain locked in place as components of a delivery system to which the Church has profound moral objections. The violation of First Amendment religious liberty rights is palpable and real. And it’s religious liberty, not contraception, that’s been the focus of the bishops’ pleas for relief from the start.

Hence the genius of the second shift, apparently engineered by the White House with the connivance of the media and the abortion-birth control industry—to transfer the focus of the argument from religious liberty (they lose) to contraception (the bishops lose). The faithful toeing of this line by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), former Speaker of the House, reached absurd new heights when she accused the hierarchy of “want[ing] the federal government and private insurance to enforce” a contraception ban.

In fact, the bishops deserve congratulations for their handling of this crisis up to now. With few exceptions, their published comments, while reflecting understandable aggravation at duplicitous maneuvers by the president and his team in promising one thing and delivering something else, have been temperate and reasoned. That stands in healthy contrast to the longtime partisans who’ve taken up this fight as one more opportunity for indulging themselves in Obama-bashing during an election year.

Enormously helpful, too, has been the support of prominent non-Catholics for the Church’s position. They have no stake in backing Catholic teaching on birth control, but they realize that if government can get away with trampling Catholics’ constitutionally protected conscience rights today, it will do the same thing to non-Catholics tomorrow if that happens to suit its purposes.

Would that Catholics who’ve lost their stomach for standing with the Church could get the point! The issue isn’t contraception or women’s rights or Barack Obama’s re-election or defeat—it’s religious liberty, the right of religious bodies, consistent with the common good, to live as conscience tells them they ought.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at RShaw10290@aol.com.

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  • Edgar_bates45


  • Joe DeVet

    The public policy debate is about religious freedom, it is true.  For this reason, it waa “politicized” from its very inception, ie, from the very first statement of the mandate by HHS.  Although it is political, this battle must be fought by our Church leaders, and us.  We must stand with the bishops on it and take the fight to its rightful conclusion.

    But spiritually, the battle is about marital chastity.  It’s very much about contraception for us Catholics.  It calls the question–if we find it important to defend our consciences about the right to avoid cooperating in the evil of contraception, what is the nature of that evil?  If we fight for the continued right to declare the truths of the faith, yet don’t live by them, who are we?  Time to wake up and recognize that the teachings against contraception are not only true but good and beautiful, and as we were wont to say, “right, proper and helpful to salvation.”

    The spiritual battle, which occurs within the heart of each Catholic, is the more important one, since salvation itself is at stake.  Also at stake is the integrity and flourishing of marriage and family life.  As Teresa of Avila is reported to have said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.”

  • Nah

    Well framed analysis of what’s under attack and the sneaky way the administration is using its resources (mainstream media, feminists, liberal catholics, etc..) to accomplish its mission. 

    I think its a little harsh though to assume that some longtime partisans are only taking up the fight just to bash Obama.  Freedom in general, not just religious freedom, is at stake with all the policies of this administration. 

    What the Church is experiencing now is the proverbial first shot across the bow.  There’s a reason why the Church is being attacked first, and Her reaction will dictate how the next attacks will be for everyone.  There’s also a reason that the president is using lukewarm Catholics (Sebilius, Pelosi, Reed, Biden) to do his dirty work.  They don’t want us to know it, but Catholics are crucial to the election and the implementation of all of their liberty stealing ‘social justice’ programs. 

    Those Catholics that have lost their stomach for standing with the Church aren’t worried about religious freedom.  So trying to convince them that the government has it wrong is a waste of time and plays right into the hands of the left – all the way through November. 

    Freedom from all government intrusions should be the over arching message from the Church.  A temperate and reasoned rejection of Obamacare, and a refusal to negotiate any longer with the current administration is what our Church and country needs NOW!

  • markeyjoe

    On December 7, 1941 the nation of Japan, after months of negotiations and without provocation, attacked the United States of America bringing us into a war with two nations.
    On January 20, 2012 President Obama after months of negotiations with the American Bishops and without provocation informed Archbishop Timothy Dolan that all Catholics must violate their conscience, thus declaring war on Catholics.

    From the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church (with referecne to Obamacare and the Mandate):399. Citizens are not obligated in conscience to follow the prescriptions of civil authorities if their precepts are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or to the teachings of the Gospel.[820] Unjust laws pose dramatic problems of conscience for morally upright people: when they are called to cooperate in morally evil acts they must refuse.[821] Besides being a moral duty, such a refusal is also a basic human right which, precisely as such, civil law itself is obliged to recognize and protect. “Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane”.[822]

  • C. Warren Stelly

    Dear Russell,
    You’ve mentioned two undersired outcomes at the beginning of your article. Maybe, just maybe the Holy Spirit has pushed for these exact situations so the Church official can preach the Faith in a extremely visible and broad stage. True civil law cannot duplicate the Catholic teachings of Jesus especially today, but the Church should take this opportunity to preach against all those issues of the past that have led to the social and moral decay that has unquestionably worsened through the years.  Article such as the following to name just a few: Steve Wood (The Twin Birth Control Crises Facing the CC), Jim Burnham (Casti Connubil: The Church’s Answer to Planned Parenthood), and Mary Eberstadt (The Vindication of Humanae Vitae) give us the past compared to today’s social statistics. Clearly this review of the recent past shows the errors of society—how we should live morally— yet the issue at hand is what civil laws exist via the U.S. Constitution that protect our religious beliefs. Thankfully the 1st Amendment prevents the Federal Government from making any laws respecting the establishment of religion, but that is just a legal battle in which the outcome should be obvious. By the way, another legal battle that the Church has not yet awakened to is that it can legally reverse Roe v. Wade in individual State that care to do so via Nullification (see Tom Woods’ book by the same name) of unconstitutional Supreme Court decisions. Clearly, there are two battle fields here—legal matters and preaching the faith issues.

  • Americanwithaconscience

    Religious freedom does not mean you get your way all the time. If there is anyone trying to manipulate the tenor of this issue it IS the Catholic groups trying to make this an issue of religious freedom.

  • Sharand52

     AWithoutAC, read the first amendment.  It IS about religious freedom.

  • Peter Nyikos

    I think it is a mistake to ignore the contraception angle altogether.  It can be attacked from a purely secular viewpoint, attacking Sebelius’s propaganda about the health benefits of contraception.

    (1) One alleged aspect is that it reduces the probability of ovarian cancer, one  of the rarest cancers, while breast cancer is one of the most common.  And, while there is a mountain of propaganda against the abortion-breast cancer link, there is really no doubt about the carcinogenic effects of estrogen

    (2) Emphasize the negative health consequences of being constantly on contraceptives.  These are well known and numerous and can be pretty thoroughly documented.

    (3) Emphasize that if the issue is some genuine health problem (severe acne, etc.)  for which the hormones in contraceptives happen to be an effective remedy, then the issue isn’t “contraceptives” but “medically prescribed hormones”.

    If we hit these angles hard enough, the Sebelius argument will eventually have to be the alleged health and other benefits (“carbon footprint,” etc.) of reducing America’s population — ignoring, of course, the fact that fewer Americans actually working means soaring health costs for the retired ones — and for everyone, for that matter.