Forum Right, 2/14/12

Obama Tries to Alienate Catholic Vote

By David H. Landon

Last month the President managed to find a way to anger construction workers, many of whom were union members, with the brilliant decision to block the Keystone XL Pipeline. Last week in an effort to alienate yet another voting block, the Obama administration ruled that, under Obamacare, employers with religious objections to providing contraceptive and abortifacient coverage must do so anyway.

The Catholic Church reacted angrily to the decision. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, numerous members of Congress, university presidents and hospital administrators all loudly criticized the decision. In the wake of the reaction, the President immediately started looking for a way to minimize the damage.

Last Friday,the Obama administration attempted to walk back the decision announced earlier by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, which eliminated a federal exemption allowing religion-affiliated institutions to opt out of required coverage of contraceptive services in their health insurance plans.  The administration offered to tweak the regulation in the hopes that it would head off a full-blown Catholic revolt that would seriously hurt his re-election chances.

Under the latest Obama revision, women will still be guaranteed coverage for contraceptive services without any out-of-pocket cost. However, they will have to seek the coverage directly from their insurance companies if their employers object to birth control on religious grounds. Religiously-affiliated non-profit employers such as Catholic schools, charities, universities and hospitals will be able to provide their workers with plans that exclude such coverage. However, the insurance companies that provide the plans will have to offer those workers the opportunity to obtain additional contraceptive coverage directly, at no additional charge.

The obvious question: Who is paying for the coverage?  If the women aren’t paying for their own birth control, where does the money come from to cover the costs?  The average monthly cost for birth control ranges from $25 to$50. Who’s going to pay for that additional coverage? It will certainly not be paid by the insurance companies. They’ll simply pass the costs back to the religious employer in the form of higher premiums on everything else.  So we’re right back where we started. The Catholic institutions are still paying for the coverage, but we are calling it something else.

Here’s a fact of life. The Roman Catholic Church bans artificial methods of contraception. If you are working for a Catholic institution, you do so with the understanding that they are a religious organization and will have employment rules consistent with the teachings of their church. They don’t ask for you to agree with this ban of contraceptive methods if you’re not Catholic.  They do however expect the federal government to respect this basic rule of the Catholic Church and pass no law which would cause a Catholic to have to choose between violating this basic belief of the church or violating the law.

However the administration tries to repackage the plan, they are still violating religious freedom by, in effect, forcing these Catholic institutions to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs. This is not the Obama administration’s first attempt to interfere with religious freedom. In the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC which was decided last month by the Court, the administration showed its penchant for violating the First Amendment.

The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to eliminate the “ministerial exception” to employment laws. From the beginning of the American republic, churches have enjoyed an absolute right under the First Amendment to hire and fire their religious ministers. In Hosanna-Tabor, the Obama administration argued that there is a governmental role in the selection and retention of priests, ministers, rabbis and other religious leaders. In a blunt rebuke to the administration’s position, the Supreme Court justices announced last month in a 9-0 opinion, a decision which resoundingly reaffirmed the ministerial exception. I bring this up to demonstrate that there is general disregard for the First Amendment by the President. The current assault by Obama against the teachings of the Catholic Church is consistent with what is becoming a pattern by this administration.

Here’s why it’s not good politics for Obama to alienate the Catholic base. The Catholic Church in the United States has more than 77 million members. It is the largest single religious denomination in the United States, comprising about 22 percent of the population and a slightly higher percentage of registered voters.  One voter in four is a Catholic. In 2008, Obama won the Catholic vote 54 percent to 46 percent based on exit polls. For years considered an automatic voting block for Democratic candidates, Catholic voters should now be characterized as a swing voting block. Since 1972, Republican presidential candidates have carried the Catholic vote four times including Nixon in 1972, Reagan twice in 1980 and 1984 and George W. Bush in 2004. Catholic votes cannot be taken for granted by either party.

In addition to their influence in presidential politics, Catholics hold numerous offices in federal, state and local government.  Currently there are 25 Catholics in the United States Senate, including 16 Democrats and 9 Republicans. In the United States House of Representatives, 134 out of 435 members are Catholics, including the current House Speaker John Boehner.

The principle of protecting religious freedom goes back to England in the year 1215, where the first clause of Magna Carta states that “the English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.” To the extent Catholic voters, even those who use contraceptives, believe that this regulation is a question of religious liberty, it has great potential to influence a pull away from Democrats and toward Republicans. I can’t wait to see the next political brainchild of this administration.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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