That Missing Freedom Thing

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

These last two debates have been unsatisfying, haven’t they? I think the Romney camp is probably right that the governor wins in the plausible-president category, which is significant.

I’d like to associate myself with Yuval’s assessment, in many ways, as is often the case.

But the first thing that caught my eye this morning was Church bombings in Nigeria – news of a Church bombing there is a bit like running into a Starbucks in the U.S. at this point.

Now that may, in fact, be a reflection of the times. The debates aren’t everything. The debates really aren’t the educational opportunities they could be so much as they are reality TV shows. Can you put on a good one? Can you plausibly pull off the role of American president? You weren’t always sure Barack Obama could, these three nights. Romney didn’t win the finale, but there are two weeks yet.

There is this one fundamental issue, though; you may have noticed my obsession with it. Religious freedom, as a domestic and international issue, didn’t get time last night, aside from the president paying lip service to “religious minorities.” Never mind a Catholic family in Denver or John Kennedy in Michigan, who President Obama’s Justice Department says has to surrender its integrity — their religious liberty does not follow them into the commercial world — to do business. Welcome to the alternative reality we now live in, where a Bible publisher isn’t sufficiently religious to have a legitimate claim to religious freedom. 

You and I — whatever we believe, whether or not we believe in God or how we do — we are stewards of religious liberty, this right that precedes others, that the government doesn’t grant, but protects. Or so it should. Or so the Constitution says. We owe it to those who have fought to protect liberty with their lives. We owe it to the Nigerian for whom going to Mass on Sunday is an act of tremendous bravery, very possibly a final act. We owe it to humanity. We owe it to ourselves, as an act of gratitude, stewardship, and choosing. Do we believe the United States should continue to be a beacon for freedom? Do we even truly value freedom anymore? Do we even know what it is?

It is a remarkable thing that “the Mormon issue” isn’t one, isn’t it? But is it a statement about religious tolerance (which Mitt Romney has spoken well about) or an increasingly common understanding of religion as a private thing that doesn’t have much of anything to do with our public lives, unless we invoke God in time of tragedy or as merely a safe harbor in a time of need. An approach to religion that John Kennedy articulated and that has now been institutionalized by this administration, has been struck down by the Supreme Court in one instance, but is very much federal policy now, thanks to the unprecedented regulatory regime Obamacare ushered in, leaving people of faith with conscience objections to abortion, contraception, and sterilization who happen to be employers facing a choice the United States government should not be forcing.

This is important because it is really happening. This is a choice we make in two weeks (some, already, and sooner), that we’re not all even aware of. The Obama administration wins the obfuscation debate, managing to have the issue downplayed and misrepresented as a matter of strategic success. But we do not get our information from David Gregory or CNN or the New York Times – insert name of traditional news source you’re most nostalgic about here — like we used to. You can do some educating about the erosion of religious liberty under Barack Obama’s leadership.