In the weeks since President Obama proposed a compromise on his plan to mandate free contraception coverage, the nation's Catholic bishops have appeared unified and galvanized in their thorough rejection of the accommodation.
For the hierarchy, it's been an invigorating change after years of playing defense during the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
"What (Obama) offered was next to nothing," a confident New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service.
Other prominent churchmen were even more derisive. They blasted Obama's olive branch of having insurers -- rather than employers like Catholic hospitals and universities -- pay for birth control coverage under a separate policy as an "accounting gimmick."
The Obama administration is rejecting charges by the nation's top Catholic bishop that talks to modify a controversial birth control mandate are "going nowhere" because of alleged White House intransigence and efforts to diminish the central role of the bishops.
"The White House has put nearly every issue requested by the bishops on the table for discussion and has sought the views of bishops on resolving difficult policy problems, only to be rebuffed," an administration official close to the negotiations said Tuesday (March 6).
The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations and requested anonymity to speak candidly about the sensitive talks.
I was raised half-Catholic and half-Southern Baptist in Texas, so Rush Limbaugh made an auditory appearance now and again in my car growing up. One of my early memories was discovering a new term: “feminazis.”
These dangerous women were unkempt, outspoken, and downright ungodly, if you believed Limbaugh. Then I reached about age 14. I was actually going to be a woman and maaaaybe this was kind of insulting. I realized that Limbaugh was often self-admittedly absurd—a shock-jock. I stopped taking him seriously.
So when he spit out his latest attack on women and outrage followed, I wondered whether I should even be surprised. What came out of his mouth was disgusting, but this is a man who doesn’t believe in the existence of sexual harassment.
The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican-led bid to insert a broad religious exemption into a federal mandate that requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage.
The largely party-line vote was 51-48 in favor of tabling an amendment that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had offered to a federal transportation bill.
Blunt and other Republicans had argued that the measure would protect the religious liberty of institutions such as Catholic charities and hospitals that object to contraception on moral grounds.
"It's not just the Catholic Church," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during the floor debate on Thursday. "It's a moral and religious issue that should not be interfered with by the federal government."
A federal court has struck down a Washington state rule that requires pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill even if it violates their religious beliefs.
Religious liberty advocates cheered the decision. They have decried the 2007 state regulation as a violation of pharmacists' First Amendment rights, which guarantee freedom of religion.
ST. LOUIS -- Lutherans and Catholics are not historically known for their theological sympathy, but earlier this month the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod told the U.S. House that he will "stand with our friends in the Catholic Church" in opposition to a recent government ruling on contraception.
History aside, the Rev. Matthew Harrison made it clear that the Missouri Synod now has "large consensus with the Roman Catholic Church on moral issues."
"The Christian church is a billion times beyond the Missouri Synod," Harrison said. "Without the Roman Catholic Church in this country, our way would be infinitely more difficult."
I was intrigued by a recent comment from a major political contributor when he suggested using Bayer aspirin was a viable birth control method for women. Mega-contributor Foster Friess was being interviewed by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell when he referred to bygone days when “the gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”
He later claimed the remark was just a joke, but not before I’d spent a half hour trying it out. I wouldn’t have wasted my time seeing if it was possible which, according to my unscientific test, it’s not. Of course, it could have been the slacks I was wearing, which sometimes gather at the knees, or the angle in which I was sitting. But the darn thing just kept falling out.
The president's plan meant that religious employers — mainly Catholic universities, hospitals and social service agencies — would not be involved in paying for or administering something they deem sinful: contraception. At the same time, all employees would still have access to the same contraception benefit, no matter whom they work for.
Critics of the president's plan, however, didn't see it that way.
"Dangerous and insulting," a group of leading Catholic bishops wrote to their fellow churchmen. "A cheap accounting trick," Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon and several other leading culture warriors complained in an open letter that has generated more than 100 signers.
The "compromise," said New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, "asks the parties involved to compromise their reasoning faculties and play a game of 'let's pretend' instead."
Yet that "game," as Douthat put it, is actually a venerable tradition in Catholic moral theology that for centuries has provided a way for Christians to think about acting virtuously in a fallen world.
The American public is closely divided over the federal rule that would require employers, including most religiously-affiliated institutions, to cover birth control as part of their health care benefits, according to the latest survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
On Feb.10, the Obama administration announced it would modify the mandate in response to criticism that the rule would force religious organizations to violate their religious beliefs in providing contraception coverage. The latest Pew survey shows little difference in opinions among people interviewed before the administration’s proposed modification and those interviewed afterward.
I’m not a fan of calling things wars that aren’t really wars. As soon as something is labeled a “war”, whether it be the “culture wars” or now the “war on religion,” we severely limit the ways we can move forward and solutions available to us. EJ Dionne in his column today at the Washington Post puts it this way:
Politicized culture wars are debilitating because they almost always require partisans to denigrate the moral legitimacy of their opponents, and sometimes to deny their very humanity. It’s often not enough to defeat a foe. Satisfaction only comes from an adversary’s humiliation.
One other thing about culture wars: One side typically has absolutely no understanding of what the other is trying to say.
There likely was little Sabbath-ing for politicians and journalists this weekend, as the debate over health policy raged across the campaign trail and in the television studios.
In a fiery comment piece in The Los Angeles Times, David Horsey reported that at CPAC, Mitt Romney pledged that he would “reverse every single Obama regulation that attacks our religious liberty and threatens innocent human life in this country.”
Speaking on Face The Nation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that the contraception controversy is an issue of religious freedom.
Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum laid out his position on the situation very clearly on Meet The Press.
Despite early indications that an "accommodation" to the mandate on insurance coverage for contraception announced Friday by the Obama Administration might earn their support, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops instead has reiterated its staunch opposition to the measure.
In a statement released late Friday by the USCCB, bishops condemned the Obama compromise (which had been announced earlier Friday), saying in part, “[The] proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”
President Obama on Friday said that all insurers — not all religious institutions — will be required to offer free contraceptive services to women.
Here's what people are saying about it:
"We’ve been mindful that there’s another principle at stake here –- and that’s the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution. As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right."
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction. We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”
Family Research Council:
"Liberals say keep your morals out of the bedroom, yet the President's plan forces everyone to pay the cost for someone else's contraceptive use in the bedroom. That's not freedom, it's a mandate."
Demonstrations Whisper Of An Arab Spring In Jordan; Perfect Storm Threatens Long-Term Unemployed; Obama: Birth Control Policy Meets Everyone's Needs; Will Inequality Keep Getting Worse?; What Davos, Occupy Have In Common; On Immigration, 'Amnesty' Isn't A Four-Letter Word (OPINION); In Year Of Uprisings, Reporters Brave Crackdowns From Wall St. To Tahrir Square (OPINION).
Facing growing furor from religious groups, President Obama on Friday unveiled an "accommodation" in which health insurance companies, rather than religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals and universities, will provide employees with contraception coverage.
Houses of worship remain exempt, and the new approach effectively removes all faith-based organizations from involvement in providing contraceptive coverage or even telling employees how to find such coverage. It also maintains Obama's pledge to ensure that almost all women with health insurance will not have to pay for it.
At issue was a mandate, part of Obama's 2009 health-care overhaul, that employers provide free birth-control coverage. The mandate was announced Jan. 20 by Health & Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Religious groups, particularly Catholic, fiercly objected, saying the federal government should not force institutions to violate the tenets of their faith. Womens' advocates argued that employees should have access to birth control regardless of where they work.
Nuns vs. strippers. Oprah and Hasidim. A Christian TMZ.com? Muslim tweeter is in trouble. Female backlash against the GOP. Catholic television network EWTN files a lawsuit against the contraception mandate. Santorum says the contraception fight has "nothing to do with women's rights." Did Cardinal Bevilacqua die of foul play? A plot to kill the pope. Drive-thru funerals and more...inside the blog.
The Obama Administration announced earlier today a change to its policy regarding conscience exemptions and contraception coverage for faith based organizations.
Sojourners released the following statement:
We applaud the Obama Administration’s decision to respond to the concerns of many in the faith community around respecting religious liberty. This compromise respects the conscience concerns of those persons and institutions opposed to the use of contraception while still allowing greater access to those services for women who seek it. Expanded access to contraception is important for women’s health and is a key part of our country’s efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce abortions.
The "Hawaiian Option" in the contraception kerfuffle. Catholic bishops say the whole measure must be "scrapped." The National Catholic Reporter's columnist John Allen talks tough. A helpful infographic illustrates how the rest of the world sees American Chrisitians. Not a fan of the Virgin of Guadalupe? Maybe she'll grow on you. The cutest dang retelling of Jonah and the whale you'll ever see. Santorum's Hannukah faux pas and more ... inside the blog.
The White House has surprised observers and disappointed some liberal allies by signaling that it is willing to compromise and provide a broader religious exemption in its controversial regulations requiring all employers to provide free contraception coverage.
Given that birth control use is almost universal — even among Catholics — many wonder why the Obama administration could wind up retreating on its pledge.
Here are five reasons that may help explain the political dynamic the president is facing:
1. It's about religious freedom, not birth control
A letter from Alec Hill, President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA to Intervarsity Staff
Last month, the Federal government mandated that Catholic universities, hospitals and charities must provide – and pay for – contraceptives to their employees and students. The mandate may also — depending upon interpretation – include the provision of sterilization services and the morning-after pill. (There appears to be some disagreement amongst scholars regarding the potential scope of the new Health and Human Service mandate.)
Why should I care? I am not Catholic. Nor do I agree with Catholic teaching on contraception, though I do have grave concerns about the morning-after pill.
Politically, I am a moderate and hence not prone to condemn every governmental edict.
I care because this matter touches upon the religious freedom of us all. I care because InterVarsity is engaged in a parallel struggle. Over the past 18 months, our status as a recognized student organization has been challenged on 41 campuses.