Obama vs. the Catholic bishops

What exactly does President Obama have against Catholics?

It’s no secret that the president sees Catholic social teaching on a range of issues as backward and harmful. It doesn’t bother me at all that Obama doesn’t share the views of Catholics. A great many Americans don’t believe that all life is sacred, that it begins at conception, and that God has invested union of one man and one woman with a holy significance.

Fair enough. We don’t all have to agree. But lately Obama has done more than simply disagree with the Church. He has actively sought to deprive us of our constitutionally protected religious freedoms.

First, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sought to deny the rights of churches and religious organizations to choose their own leaders. The reasoning? Anti-discrimination statutes forbid employers from making hiring and firing decisions based on religion.

This makes it tricky for Baptists to get jobs as religion teachers in Lutherans schools, and vice versa. The Obama administration naturally jumped in to correct this terrible injustice.

But in a January ruling the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the “ministerial exception” to federal employment laws and rejected the government’s attempts to interfere with the inner workings of religious organizations.

“This decision makes resoundingly clear the historical and constitutional importance of keeping internal church affairs off limits to the government—because whoever chooses the minister chooses the message,” said Bridgeport, CT Bishop William Lori in a statement. He went on to call it a “great day for the First Amendment.”

But the joy didn’t last long. Just days after this judicial rebuke, the apparently unfazed Obama administration doubled down. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a ruling that requires employers to offer employee health plans that cover, among many other things, sterilization, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs.

The ruling applies to all employers, including religiously affiliated colleges, hospitals, and charities. There is an exemption to the new rule, but as many have noted, it is extremely narrow and would likely not apply to most Catholic schools and hospitals.

If the ruling stands, these institutions will be forced to violate their principles, drop their health insurance plans and incur Obamacare’s hefty fines for doing so, or shut their doors altogether.

None of these options hold any appeal. And none are in the best interest of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who rely on the services provided by Catholic medical, educational, and charitable organizations.

It should have surprised no one in the Obama administration that Catholics would reject this unequivocally. In fact, it was reported that Obama called New York Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan on the day of the announcement to alert him to the decision.

“You bet we got a disagreement,” Dolan told an audience at Fordham Law School. “The government doesn’t have the right to butt into the internal governance and teachings of the church”

So why is Obama doing this? Why go to all this trouble to pick a public fight with the Catholic Church and her bishops? What profiteth it Obama to alienate the 53 percent of Catholics that voted for him?

No one knows for sure, but I’ll hazard a few guesses.

The administration is committed to a belief in the state’s ability to completely and effectively regulate commerce, promote justice, and provide for the material comfort of all citizens. The work of the Church is done outside and apart from state control, making it in some eyes a competitor with the state for the people’s allegiance. This is pretty standard-issue anti-Catholic bias, and I think the Obama administration suffers from at least a small case of it.

Another possibility is that the Catholic Church’s stances on a host of social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, exist well outside what the president’s party considers tolerable. Obama and his allies therefore view the Catholic Church as a regressive influence on society, one that must be turned back where possible.

Sadly, I think this is the likeliest answer to the question, “Why is he doing this?” Until the president offers a plausible explanation for these continued attacks on religious freedom, and on Catholics in particular, we are free to assume the worst.

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