Back in 2008 when Barack Obama was running for president, his media and message-savvy team smugly dubbed him ‘no drama Obama,’ so controlled was his image. They’re going to have to come up with something new for 2012.
His ”war on the church” dominated news cycles last week, and isn’t going away yet. Though “the church” in the headlines is Catholic, other religious leaders have started saying “We’re all Catholic now.”
I’m reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s profound remarks in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
And constitutional rights that apply to everyone anywhere in its bounds are at stake here. Which is why the “firestorm” of controversy that dominated headline news last week produced Friday’s ‘breaking news’ press conference pegged as a “compromise” by Obama in concession to religious leaders.
It wasn’t. Watching it live, I said to those around me ‘He hasn’t changed a thing. This is a smokescreen. A shell game. It’s restating the same imperative using different words.’
Here, in a nutshell, is how a lot of media are portraying it.
U.S. Catholic Church leaders said they will fight President Barack Obama’s controversial birth-control insurance coverage policy despite his compromise that religious employers would not have to offer free contraceptives for workers, shifting the responsibility to insurers.
In an abrupt policy shift aimed at trying to end a growing election-year firestorm, Obama on Friday announced the compromise.
And here, in a nutshell, is that “compromise”:
Here’s how the HHS mandate and the new “accommodation” work.
Then: All employers that don’t meet the narrow “religious exemption,” including Catholic hospitals and universities, are required by law to provide insurance coverage that includes contraception and sterilization procedures with no out of pocket costs to the insured.
Now: All employers that don’t meet the narrow “religious exemption,” including Catholic hospitals and universities, are required by law to provide insurance coverage. All such coverage must include contraception and sterilization procedures with no out of pocket costs to the insured.
There is no difference, except in word arrangement and rhetoric.
“The so-called new policy is the discredited old policy, dressed up to look like something else,” said [Congressman Chris] Smith. “It remains a serious violation of religious freedom. Only the most naïve or gullible would accept this as a change in policy.”
“The newest iteration of Obama’s coercion rule utterly fails because it still forces religious employers and employees who have moral objections to paying for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception to pay for these things, because it is still the employers who buy the coverage for their employees,” he said. “Today’s announcement is a political manipulation designed to get Obama past his own self-made controversy and past the next election.
He has helped himself in at least that, as this insightful piece by Phil Lawler points out.
Unfortunately, before the bishops released their second statement, leaders of two of the largest Catholic employers in the country—the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA–had released their own statements indicating that they were satisfied with the Obama administration’s “compromise” proposal. So while the political battle continues, the Catholic forces are already split.
In a perceptive analysis of the political debate, reporter Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times said that in its decision to amend the original HHS mandate, the Obama administration was “never really driven by a desire to mollify Roman Catholic bishops, who were strongly opposed to the plan.” She explained:
“Rather, the fight was for Sister Carol Keehan–head of an influential Catholic hospital group, who had supported President Obama’s health care law–and Catholic allies of the White House seen as the religious left. Sister Keehan had told the White House that the new rule, part of the health care law, went too far.”
Now that Sister Keehan has endorsed the Obama “compromise” (along with Father Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities USA), the Obama administration can claim that many Catholics, including some who had originally opposed the plan, now see the wisdom of his ways. President Obama does not intend to persuade the American bishops to support his proposal; he intends to siphon off support for the bishops among American Catholic voters, driving a political wedge further into the country’s Catholic community.
Especially now that they’ve come together in the force of unity.
So the USCCB leaders recognize the thrust of the Obama administration’s political offensive. They realize that the White House has set out to divide and conquer, to separate the Catholic laity from their bishops. Now surely they see that when groups like the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA side with the Obama administration, they are contributing to the erosion of the bishops’ authority and the splintering of the Church. So this is not merely an important political battle; it is a critical test of the bishops’ overall authority.
They’re not retreating anytime soon.
In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.
We will therefore continue—with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency—our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.
Mr. Obama should be concerned about the larger Catholic Vote.