The image was of Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He proudly held up his T-shirt bearing the declaration at a Feminist Majority “Women, Money, Power Forum” a few blocks away from the White House. He was wrapping up a panel on “Bishops, Politicians, and the War on Women’s Health.” It was really a political pep rally, energizing the “reproductive health” crowd to mobilize women voters. A feminist here looks like a liberal Democrat supporter of legal abortion who wants to ensure a second term for President Obama. And they either have reason to believe that anti-Catholicism is their unholy electoral grail, or else, like the overreaching administration they support, they simply can’t help themselves.
Lynn declared that he and his fellow feminists are simply seeking “freedom from oppression” from a “patriarchy that is right out of the twelfth century” that has “abdicated” its “authority.” He followed another panelist who explained that the Vatican should be charged with “crimes against humanity” and compared Catholic bishops to “gang leaders.”
It was a celebrity panel, in that it included Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law activist who has now famously campaigned for a birth-control entitlement for law students on track to lucrative careers. And it featured what was presented and received as shocking testimony.
“I had no idea the rights I would be giving up,” an undergraduate from the Catholic University of America — a Washington, D.C., university I happened to graduate from myself — explained about her experience as a transfer student to the school. She painted a picture of a campus where resident assistants prowl the dorms seeking to catch students having sex, and “getting caught having sex can get you kicked out of school.”
That’s not a description of the school I attended, as much as I may have wanted it to have more of a disciplined atmosphere, living up to its Catholic name. “Ridiculous,” a more recent alum says of the forum’s portrait of the school: “They in no way seek out violations.” But she adds an eminently sensible “Like, hello?”: “You sign up to go to THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA. Did you not read the name on the application?”
Among the feminists who want to be the majority, the very existence of a school with moral standards, to whatever degree they may or may not be enforced, is some kind of threat to the common good. The CUA gal has co-founded an unofficial Students for Choice group and declared her hope that “our university will one day end [its] war on women” — which was standing-ovation material. The audience’s view could not have been clearer: The proposal that Catholic University is presenting to young people — to consider living differently than the broader culture may expect — is so beyond the pale of reasonable thought that it must amount to a war against women. It is deemed a shameful and oppressive proposal, even if the students and their families freely joined the community. Someone has to step in, to protect these poor people trapped in another century.
This is what the debate over the recent Department of Health and Human Services regulation that would mandate coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs is about: marginalizing what those with unprecedented federal regulatory power consider backward thinking.
“We’re never going to let this happen again,” Ms. magazine editor Kathy Spillar proclaimed, underscoring the real purpose of the “war on women” desperation campaign. Democrats lost women in 2010, and they want them back. And they will scare women — even constructing threats that don’t actually exist — if they have to. Their strategy is insulting to women who don’t share their hostility toward the Catholic Church and other religious groups that have tried to be led not into the temptations of our secularist age. Even New York Times polling suggests that voters are paying more attention to the details behind the incendiary, misleading rhetoric that the White House and its allies insist on. When people are specifically asked if individuals and institutions with moral objections should be able to be free of government contraception coercion, freedom wins.
This week is the holiest of the year for some who consider their faith not simply as a part of who they are, a Sunday ritual, but as their truest identity. If they’re authentically living that in America, we’re all better off. George Washington knew it, reminding us in his Farewell Address that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” In Havana on March 28, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society.” Religion is a good. But we’re not all agreed on that today, are we?
Abraham Lincoln famously said, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and its finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time or die by suicide.”
That’s the kind of moment we are at in our nation’s history. Bigoted scare tactics — however well-intentioned — may only make that choice all the clearer, as Americans choose the life of freedom.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.