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We’re All Catholics Now

By From the April 2012 issue

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New York Times editorials are often worth reading—stop laughing, I'm serious!—because they provide a window into the mindset of the liberal left, the ideological tendency that dominates many major cultural institutions and, for at least the next nine months, the executive branch of the federal government.

Times editorialists write for people who think alike and seek reinforcement of their prejudices. Unconstrained by any need for compromise or sensitivity, they provide an honest distillation of left-liberalism, something you can't always get from politicians who need to appeal broadly enough to win electoral majorities. What you learn from reading Times editorials is that the fundamental attitude of left-liberalism today is one of contemptuous ignorance.

A case in point: In late January, as expected, President Obama signed off on an Obamacare regulation deeming contraceptives, including abortifacient drugs and sterilization procedures, to be "preventive" medicine, which employer-provided medical insurance must cover. When he refused to exempt religious organizations that have moral objections, even pro-Obamacare Catholics like E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association objected. But not the New York Times, which sneered at Mitt Romney for "promising to defend the Roman Catholic Church's 'religious liberty.'" Those scare quotes were the most shocking act of punctuation since early in what Reuters called "the 'war on terror.'"

By mid-February, Obama had made a symbolic concession to religious liberty, an accounting gimmick by which insurers would say they, not employers, were providing the disputed services. That fig leaf was enough to satisfy Dionne and Keehan, but nobody else—including the Times, which was happy with the substance but angry about the symbolism. This time the editorial led with the scare quotes:

In response to a phony crisis over "religious liberty" engendered by the right, President Obama seems to have stood his ground on an essential principle—free access to birth control for any woman.…

Nonetheless, it was dismaying to see the president lend any credence to the misbegotten notion that providing access to contraceptives violated the freedom of any religious institution. Churches are given complete freedom by the Constitution to preach that birth control is immoral, but they have not been given the right to laws that would deprive their followers or employees of the right to disagree with that teaching.

In reality, no one denied that individuals have "the right to disagree with that teaching," and the reli-gious institutions that objected to the mandate did not claim the authority to police their employees' private lives or opinions. Rather, they opposed the government's attempt to coerce them into facilitating the practices against which they preach.

The editorial continued by assuring Times readers that everyone who disagrees is dishonest, be-cause the Times knows what they really think: "The president's solution, however, demonstrates that those still angry about the mandate aren't really concerned about religious freedom; they simply don't like birth control and want to reduce access to it." The evidence for this assertion:

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican of Florida, has introduced a bill that would allow any employer to refuse to cover birth control by claiming to have a religious objection. The House speaker, John Boehner, also supports the concept. Rick Santorum said Friday that no insurance policy should cover it, apparently unaware that many doctors prescribe birth control pills for medical reasons other than contraception.

The Rubio and Boehner examples, as described here, offer zero support for the claim that opponents "don't like birth control" and contradict the claim that they "aren't really concerned about religious freedom." The Rubio bill would give broader recognition to religious freedom than an exemption limited to religious institutions.

As for Santorum, he has voiced serious, and not unreasonable, doubts that birth control is good for society. But let's stipulate for the sake of argument that he doesn't "like birth control." First of all, so what? The Times editorialists may believe that birth control is valuable or beneficial, and it may be, but it's weird that they get bent out of shape merely because other people don't like the stuff. Second, even if the Times accurately characterizes Santorum's views on birth control, it is both a non sequitur and, knowing him, a completely preposterous assertion that he isn't "really concerned about religious freedom."

Times columnist Gail Collins went off message, beginning her column on the same day as the editorial: "It's not really about birth control." It was amusing to imagine left-liberals who look to the Times for guidance, driving themselves crazy trying to reconcile the dueling messages.

But Collins was right that wasn't about birth control. It was about freedom from government control. She wants more such control; as she put it sneeringly: "National standards, national coverage-all of that offends the Tea Party ethos that wants to keep the federal government out of every aspect of American life that does not involve bombing another country." But at least she has some rudimentary understanding of the other side of the debate.

Not so her op-ed colleague Nicholas Kristof, who in his column the following day treated savvy readers to this magnificently funny display of un-self-awareness:

I may not be as theologically sophisticated as American bishops, but I had thought that Jesus talked more about helping the poor than about banning contraceptives.

The debates about pelvic politics over the last week sometimes had a patronizing tone.

Physician, heal thyself. But the most revealing Kristof assertion was this one: "The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can."

That prompted an incandescently furious response from Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

Nicholas Kristof's statement is light years beyond the President in disrespect for religious liberty.…The language of accommodation is almost as old as the Constitution itself, but it was never framed as Kristof frames it—certainly not by the founders who spoke of "inalienable rights" granted to human beings by the Creator's endowment.…

With this one simplistic and condescending sentence he throws religious liberty under the bus and reveals what makes sense to so many in the secular elite.

They will try their best, they promise, to respect our religious beliefs, and to "accommodate them where we can."

That's it. Don't dare ask for anything more.

Religious liberty—no scare quotes here—is one of America's basic principles, the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. The separation of church and state protects religious minorities, and nonreligious ones, from the coercive imposition of religious law. It is also a bulwark against a secular government's impositions on private conscience. To the Times editorialists, it is at best an inconvenience.

And the paper's reporters aren't much better. Here's what passed for balance in a story by Laurie Goodstein:

The uproar threatens to embroil the Catholic church in a bitter election-year political battle while deepening internal rifts within the church. On the one side are traditionalists who believe in upholding Catholic doctrine to the letter, and on the other, modernists who believe the church must respond to changing times and a pluralistic society.

Albert Mohler is a Baptist. This columnist is an agnostic. But I'm with Mike Huckabee, another Baptist, who said: "We're all Catholics now."

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About the Author

James Taranto, a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, writes the Best of the Web Today column for OpinionJournal.com.