Americans are familiar with Republican tendencies to inject hot-button issues in elections that invoke passion and outrage against Democrats, and it usually means the GOP lacks substantive policies leaving them with mudslinging and dirty politics as their only weapon. For the past three years, Republican obstructionism has not eluded Americans who voice their disapproval in polls showing their lack of confidence that Republicans have the people’s best interest at heart. Although the general election is ten months away, Republican presidential hopefuls have joined forces to inject religious liberty into the campaign and it promises to be a polarizing issue for a segment of the population. For reasonable Americans though, it is a distraction away from important economic issues.
Although all the aspiring presidential candidates have accused President Obama of waging a war on religious freedom, it is presumed front-runner Willard “Mitt” Romney who manages to combine inflammatory rhetoric with blatant hypocrisy. On Monday, Romney’s campaign website launched a petition assailing President Obama for mandating that employers providing health insurance include coverage for contraception. The petition warns that the contraception rule seeks “to impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.” Romney is implying that President Obama is forcing practicing Catholics to use contraception against their will, and it is a scare tactic; nothing more. It is a typical Romney maneuver in that it is the height of hypocrisy from a man who either has a very limited memory, or is pandering to anti-contraception Catholics.
In 2005 when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he required all hospitals to provide emergency contraception and said that he believed “in his heart of hearts” that rape victims should have access to emergency contraception. Romney did not include those sentiments in his petition accusing the President of impeding religious liberty. Many Catholics and evangelical fundamentalists believe the “morning after pill” is a form of abortion, and if their religious dogma prohibits them from using contraception, then President Obama’s ruling does not affect them whatsoever. However, their religious freedom does not give them the right to deny contraception to women who choose to use them, and indeed, the Constitution guarantees that no religion has the right to impose its beliefs on the rest of the population; doing so is subverting religious liberty.
Romney’s characteristic inconsistency is not lost on Catholic leaders who portray his criticism of President Obama as “politically expedient,” but they welcome it all the same. The executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, C.J. Doyle said, “The initial injury to Catholic religious freedom came not from the Obama administration but from the Romney administration. President Obama’s plan certainly constitutes an assault on the constitutional rights of Catholics, but I’m not sure Governor Romney is in a position to assert that, given his own very mixed record on this.” Doyle noted the inconsistency and hypocrisy in Romney’s latest turn-around and continued that he “is very consistent at working both sides of the street on the same issue at the same time. His record on this issue has been one of very cynical and tactical manipulation.” Translation; Romney is a hypocrite when he sees a chance of political expediency.
The Obama Administration explained the decision to require Catholic institutions to provide birth control coverage in health plans is an appropriate balance with respect to religious beliefs and the simple fact that 98% of Catholic women use contraception. The requirement does not force any Catholic, evangelical fundamentalist, or any other religious adherent to use birth control, just that health insurance plans include them in their normal prescription coverage the same as erectile dysfunction pills. Although the new rule requires religious institutions such as Catholic universities and hospitals to provide contraceptive coverage for employees, churches are exempt from the policy. However, that did not stop House Speaker John Boehner from assailing the mandate as unconstitutional, or priests from reading a protestation by Catholic bishops to their congregations.
Romney’s accusation that the President is assaulting religious liberty is another example of electoral misdirection away from the real issues facing America. It is also a sign of Romney’s low moral character. As Sarah Jones articulated in an article on PoliticusUSA yesterday, the more Americans learn about Willard, the more they find to dislike about him. It is not just his policies voters will learn to hate, it is his inherent inability to commit to a policy based on principles, and as voters will learn, Romney is all about pandering for votes; not principles. Romney commented last September that religion is not the most important issue in the presidential campaign and he said, “I know there are some for whom religion is the most important issue, and I may lose some of those folks, but for the great majority of Americans, they want to see this country going again.” In 2007 in a speech entitled, “Faith in America” he promised to “put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law,” but with job numbers improving and more Americans viewing President Obama favorably, Romney is doing what he has done throughout his political life; reversing course to curry favor with voters, and putting religious doctrine above authority of the law.
Mr. Romney does not want religion injected into this election and he is taking a significant gamble attempting to align with any of the mainstream Christian denominations. There are substantial numbers of Americans who will not vote for Romney because of his religious beliefs, and if he continues assailing President Obama for non-existent wars on religious liberty, then all bets are off and he will get the religious war he seeks. Romney misjudges the American people who want a president who is committed to helping all Americans have a living-wage job, a home, health care, education, and security in their old age; they also want a president who believes contraception and religion are personal choices that are not the purview of Catholic bishops.
President Obama’s decision to require all employers, except churches, to provide contraception coverage protects personal religious liberty and women’s right to choose their own reproductive health. It may not play well to forced-birth fundamentalists or Romney, but for 98% of Catholic women who use contraceptives, it is a fair decision and fairness is what Americans respect about President Obama. If Romney had a sense of fairness, he would run on his record and not a phony hot-button issue, because those issues tend to expose the truth and Romney will not fare well when his truth is exposed.