The Obama Watch

Caesar Overreaching Once Again

Catholic Bishops draw a line in the sand.

By 2.6.12

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What do political pundits Peggy Noonan, Chris Matthews, E.J. Dionne, Jr., and Mark Shields have in common?

Noonan, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, is Catholic. Matthews and Dionne claim to be loyal but dissident Catholics at least on matters such as contraception (Dionne) and public policy on abortion (Matthews). Mark Shields, another Catholic, is a moderate Democrat.

But there is something other than their Catholicism that unites these very different political personae.

All of them have expressed shock, even outrage, and confusion over the Obama administration's decision to coerce Catholic institutions -- schools, universities, hospitals and other charities -- to provide health insurance covering contraception, abortifacients and sterilization services, at their expense and against long-standing Church teaching, or face the prospect of either penalties or getting rid of their insurance plans and, possibly, closing their doors.

On Sunday Noonan told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that Obama's decision detonated a "bomb," the consequences of which the political class has yet to appreciate or fully comprehend. In her column in Saturday's the Wall Street Journal, she flatly stated that this will cause Obama to lose the presidential election in November.

On his program last week, Matthews was conflicted given what he heard from the pulpit the previous Sunday and his evident regard for the President. Still, he featured a journalist from the Washington Post, a liberal, who saw this as major blunder. Matthews clearly appreciated the political problem for the administration given the history of fickle Catholic voters in presidential elections going back to the "Reagan Democrats" in 1980.

In columns and television appearances, Dionne and Shields joined a rising chorus of those left-of-center Catholics who feel betrayed given their steadfast support of Obamacare in the face of so many attacks from more conservative Catholics who argued that it funded abortion and abortifacients. Think of the sad tale of Michigan Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak, formerly a pro-life stalwart, beaten into submission by the White House and the Democratic caucus, who decided not to run for reelection after voting for Obamacare.

President Obama has disturbed a raging hornets' nest of conscientious resistance given the truly monumental implications for the First Amendment and the James Madison's vision of an authentically pluralist and tolerant society.

On a political level, Obama seems to have forgotten that Catholics are the "jump-ball" of American electoral politics, to use a phrase of my former boss, John Engler, who was a three-term Governor in Michigan. Or, maybe, the President is just blinded by a secularist ideology.

There are reports that, Sunday before last, over 70 percent of Catholics heard sermons from their pastors or read letters from their bishops excoriating this wretched decision by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a member of Obama's cabinet. Washington, D.C.'s Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl is fully engaged and predicting ultimate success in reversing the Obama administration's diktat.

This Sunday the percentage had to be over 80 percent. In the battleground state or Commonwealth of Virginia, the bishops sent out a joint letter on the subject that was read at many parishes including my own.

In their letter issued last Monday, January 30, Bishops Paul S. Loverde (Arlington) and Francis X. DiLorenzo (Richmond) wrote that they were addressing "an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith."

"The federal government, which claims to be 'of, by, and for the people,' has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people-the Catholic population-and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful," opined Bishops Loverde and DiLorenzo. "In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation's first and fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty."

In language not heard from a bishop since the days of Archbishop "Dagger John" Hughes, the first archbishop of New York City, Loverde and DiLorenzo, stated flatly, "We cannot-and we will not-comply with this unjust law." Drawing a line in the sand, they asserted, forthrightly, "People of faith cannot be made second class citizens."

"Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights."

These bishops also directed the faithful to a new website established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with more information and instructions on contacting Congress "in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration's decision."

From the pulpit, my own pastor drew historical parallels with recusant Catholics in Tudor England and the Islamic institution of dhimmitude, all very dark chapters from the Catholic Christian perspective.

Moreover, in his pastor's letter to the parish, he cited the negative impact of the HHS mandate on institutions such as Catholic Charities and the Belmont Abbey College, a Benedictine school already in litigation over this matter.

"This is Caesar overreaching again," wrote my pastor. "And it falls to the Christian faithful once again to bear witness to an Authority that transcends the state."

President Obama has sown the wind. He will reap a political whirlwind unless he reverses course and restores to Catholic institutions the full rights of conscience that is their just due.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.