Thursday, February 9, 2012

Electoral consequences of the HHS mandate

The electoral damage done to Obama by his "war on religion" is, of course, not the point.  Even if Catholics were a small, deeply unpopular minority - like those Jehovah's Witnesses who, in the midst of WWII, refused to salute the flag - the First Amendment would still protect their right to religious liberty.  As the Supreme Court said in its Barnette ruling, issued on Flag Day, 1943, "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion."  The issue is not how popular the Church's teaching on contraception and sterilization is, even among Catholics.  It is whether the Federal government has the right to impose its view on religious organizations, so as to force them to act against their consciences and to commit or collude in what they consider to be gravely immoral acts.

Still, it is good that the Obama administration will pay a price for its totalitarian statist leanings, its rejection of institutional pluralism--reducing 'conscience' to the relation of atomized individual to hypertrophied state.  May it cost him the election and serve as a warning for future politicians who are tempted to seek to trample the religious freedom on which the United States was founded.

At the Catholic Thing, George J. Marlin discusses the political cost Obama may have to pay for his secularist, anti-religious overreach:

Our president and his cadre of managers of the nation’s collective life caused a political firestorm in late January. They ignored conscience objections of religious leaders and ordered Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities to amend by August 30, 2013 their healthcare plans to include birth-control services (among them abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures) or be subject to millions of dollars in fines and penalties. This may lead to civil strife for the nation and political disaster in several key battleground states for Mr. Obama.
Prominent Catholics from all points on the political spectrum were aghast. Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “In effect, the President is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our own consciences. . . . Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”
The nationally syndicated columnist, E.J. Dionne, a baptized Catholic and relentless supporter of the president, denounced Obama for throwing “his progressive Catholic allies under the bus.” Sean Michael Winter, writing in the dissident National Catholic Reporter, accused the president of “dishonoring your own vision by this shameful action” and vowed not to vote for him this fall.
Obama’s assumption appears to have been that Catholics who ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception would not be offended – or at least that such offense as they might take will not matter politically. But that calculation appears to be profoundly mistaken. Reports from dioceses all over the nation indicate that most Catholics are appalled that the federal government is attempting to circumvent the First Amendment and restrict freedom of conscience. 
I myself witnessed that anger at a Catholic dinner in Manhattan on February 2. Bishop Nicholas DeMarzio, the Ordinary of the Brooklyn Diocese, received a rousing standing ovation from the 750 attendees after he denounced the federal edict.
This political blunder will have a price. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has introduced legislation to repeal the order, summed it up best when he said, “This is going to hurt [Obama] not only among Catholics and religious voters . . . because it reflects a pattern of overreach.” 
In my judgment, it could cost Obama the election. That’s because key-swing states that will determine the 2012 winner – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida – have large populations of older church-going Catholics who are not happy with Obama’s ideologically driven directive.

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