My wife and I were born and raised as Roman Catholics. In fact, the first time we spied each other was at Sunday Mass. We were married in the church and sent our kids to Catholic schools. The other day our first grandchild was baptized in the church.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not setting myself up as a religious role model. If the church gave out good conduct and attendance awards, I’d be at the back of the pack. But I do feel qualified to comment on the church’s showdown with the Obama administration over religious freedom.
On its surface, this is a First Amendment dispute over a church’s protections against government interference with its teachings and doctrine.
The Obama administration’s new health care regulations mandate that every employee health plan must include coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing medicines. Because such devices and drugs directly conflict with the core doctrine of some religions, primarily the Catholic Church, Obama exempts such employers from the mandate. But, therein lies the conflict: The Obama exemption is only granted to purely religious organizations, such as churches and religious orders that exclusively confine themselves to teaching doctrine and exercising church rites.
The Obamacare exemption, the religious “conscience clause,” does not extend to church-owned and -operated hospitals, schools, charities and universities, which serve the general public. Obama says these are not institutions that are religious enough to merit the conscience-clause exemption.
In other words, if Obamacare survives the Supreme Court, every Catholic hospital, school and charity will be forced by federal law to help their employees break God’s law as the church sees it.
That’s the surface conflict. But it’s merely the flash point in the much greater, long- simmering collision between organized religion and the nation’s secular forces.
You see, America’s organized religions present the single greatest obstacle to fulfilling the secular lobby’s long-term agenda. Or, as the Family Research Council’s Cathy Ruse puts it, “There is no good reason for the mandate and even less to put Catholic institutions under it against their will and in violation of their religious liberty.”
“Why go to battle with the Catholic Church? The answer may lie beyond the current fray. So much of what the Catholic Church stands for is antithetical to so many positions of Mr. Obama and his core supporters (think abortion, embryo-destructive research, same-sex marriage) … Take the Catholic Church down a notch, now, and make future battles easier later.”
Bingo, Ms. Ruse nailed it. Yes, we now live in a nation whose religions are at odds with the national agenda instead of guiding it. To the media, Hollywood, the universities and, sadly, the Democratic Party, the Catholic Church is the enemy.
And it’s not just the Catholic Church. Look at how the media and Hollywood are punishing the Mormon Church for its leadership role in California’s Prop 8 gay marriage defeat. Or, the attacks on those “homophobic” black Baptist ministers rallying against gay marriage in Maryland.
Watching Obama’s assault on the Catholic Church play out simply confirms Cathy Ruse’s thesis. First the media reported that “a small group of very conservative bishops has hijacked the church,” according to Lisa Miller, the Washington Post’s religion editor.
But what you do expect from a “religion editor” who also writes, “On the specifies of what constitutes a ‘good’ or ‘right’ kind of family, The Scriptures offer no guidance at all.”
Miller belongs to the contemporary Facebook Faith, which teaches that there’s no universal right or wrong, only what each of us decides is right or wrong. And, except for political incorrectness, no one’s behavior should be judged.
Amazingly, when the Catholic Church resisted Obama’s mandate, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. criticized the church for “eagerly picking fights with President Obama” and, then, the media and the Democrats launched a disinformation campaign pretending that the controversy was about women’s access to contraceptives, not about religious freedom, and that the church was waging war on women.
Mr. Dionne is a “cafeteria Catholic,” one who picks and chooses which church doctrines he likes. But cafeteria Catholics who embrace abortion and same-sex marriage are like NAACP members who support segregation and lynching. Why bother belonging?
However, the biggest surprise, by far, arising from this conflict is the willingness of an American president to slap around the Catholic Church in public. Apparently Obama and his secular Democrats believe the church is so weak and so discredited that using it as a punching bag is good politics. November’s election returns will determine if that’s a miscalculation.
But for the Catholic Church, and for all American religions, this should be a resounding wake-up call. If your churches are half full, if the ranks of your clergy are depleted, if Hollywood, the media and the president of the United States treat you with open contempt, it’s because you have become irrelevant.
In their earliest days, Christians hid from persecution in catacombs because their beliefs frightened the power structure. But today, America’s secular power structure dismisses the church and its teachings with impunity. Maybe it’s time for the church to become relevant again to challenge the power structure, even if it means returning to the catacombs.
Blair Lee is CEO of the Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in The Gazette. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.