The White House vs Catholicism

Barack Obama has come under a barrage of criticism from religious organisations over a new requirement that Catholic-run schools and hospitals provide free contraception to workers. As you might imagine, the republicans have also leapt upon this issue and are attempting to mint some political coin out of it by claiming he is “hostile to people of faith”. (Republicans playing the religious card … gasp! … what a shock).

This newly announced regulation, which takes effect in 18 months, says that all health insurance plans provided by employers must offer birth control to women free of charge. It applies equally to Catholic-owned universities, medical establishments and charities … no exceptions.

Many are now stomping on the administration about this, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, have all been strongly critical. This is politics, so normally you might expect less rhetoric and more compromise, for example a broad religious employer exemption, but this is not a normal year. There are signs that the administration is not unhappy to fight this battle because they feel that many independent voters, particularly women, will side with the president. That is not certain, they will also (obviously) alienate large numbers of Catholic voters, so you can be darn sure that somebody in the administration is doing the maths to work out which option will yield the most votes. I suspect that with a bit of give and take the proposalwill probably remain more or less intact asis.

Many of those spouting off might claim to side with the believers, but they always give priority to whatever will win votes. For example, when Romney who opposes this was governor of Massachusetts in 2005, a new state law required all hospitals, including Catholic-run ones, to provide morning after pills to rape victims – the Catholic church went nuts about it (don’t they always). Romney, with an eye on votes tried to keep all on side at the time by saying he was against it … but was also quoted as saying:

My personal view, in my heart of hearts, is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraception or emergency contraception information.

So what Rommey is objecting within this new proposal are more or less the same services that are currently provided in Massachusetts and were covered when he was governor.

If it does become a key election issue, then you can quickly see what else might be in scope … specifically the attempt to halt grants to Planned Parenthood, and then the U-turn after the fuss that caused. If they gave it some thought,  then I suspect the Republcans might think it wiser to not open that can of worms once again, so it is still quite possible that this does not become a key issue.

What do others make of all this?

Well, Tim Stanley over in the UK Telegraph today claims it to be an un-american war by Obama upon the Catholic church. Is he fishing for Republican votes in the UK? If so, then somebody should perhaps point out to him that the UK is not the 51st State. Actually no, he suffers from a far more serious ailment than republicanism … namely religion, hence he deploys terms such as “this is nothing less than a secular Jihad” (yep he really does use that specific term).

Believers will, as always, “officially” believe it all, but will also often be very pragmatic and cherry pick the bits they like and ignore the rest. Yep, Catholicism believes contraception to be wrong and bans it, but most Catholics are quite sensible and simply ignore that rule.

What all can agree upon is that freedom matters, but should freedom of belief take priority over and above everything else? To answer that, lets finish with a few very practical observations …

  • Nobody is infringing upon freedom of thought, all are quite clearly being permitted to believe whatever they wish.
  • Nobody is insisting that Catholics must use contraception, instead the administration is simply proposing that all, both the religious and the non-religious, should have the choice; each and every individual is then free to make their own personal selection.
  • What is going on here matters, because it is important that the religious should never be permitted to dictate law and interfere in state business.

What is truly ironic about this catholic mandate against contraception is that most Catholics ignore such edicts and use it anyway. You also have democrats who are sharing survey results that say nearly six in 10 Catholics agree that employers should provide health plans that cover birth control at no cost. So while the bishops and clergy might insist “no”, the majority of those sitting in their pews don’t agree.

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