On Religious Liberty, Crickets

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

The president of the United States just held his final press conference of 2013 (all the “tough,” “worst year” talk is best left to the Friday afternoon before Christmas). During it, President Obama got a pressing question from NBC’s Chuck Todd on his mess of a health-care law, and tried to talk his way out of it by blaming contractors and bad I.T. decisions of White House years past. But as we know, there are substantive problems with the law way beyond a bad Internet rollout.

Meanwhile, this week, the Obama administration was struck a substantial blow by a federal judge in New York. During the presidential campaign year, an unprecedented political unity on the part of Catholic bishops, among others, protested the administration’s abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate. As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and pastor with some communications talent, Cardinal Dolan was a headache for the president. As National Review Online readers never hesitate to remind me, the Catholic bishops’ conference has long advocated for universal health care. During the debate over the president’s health-care push, the bishops — and Cardinal Dolan, not yet president of the conference — cautioned against anything that would be a threat to religious liberty, appealing to a long-time bipartisan agreement that conscience is to be protected in America. The bishops were opposed to the president’s legislation because of the inherent conscience threats in it, and it only got worse after Congress passed it so we could find out what was in it — and so regulatory writers could get to work on a “Preventative Services” mandate cooked up by abortion-rights advocates (Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America were well-represented on the panel). HHS secretary was geared up for this war, and the president has subsequently bragged about it. Don’t accuse Catholic bishops of starting this, they’re just trying to protect religious liberty in America — joined by an ecumenical coalition — as theirs has been infringed on.

You’d think Cardinal Dolan’s legal win this week would make someone in the White House press corps curious for President Obama’s reaction.

Of course, his week is far from the first time the press had seemed to have very little idea the president’s policy was being contested in court. During the campaign year, you would have heard crickets on the issue if it weren’t for the “war on women” boom-box blasts from the White House, Democratic party, and abortion-industry allies. Even while gushing over a selective ideological observing of Pope Francis, Chris Matthews, “as a Catholic,” couldn’t bother asking the president about the continuing problem while interviewing the president on Hardball earlier this month,  even as the University of Notre Dame, where the president spoke in his first year as president, promising to respect conscience rights, re-filed suit against his administration over the abortion-drug mandate two days earlier.

During the health-care debate, the president of the United States accused the Catholic bishops of bearing false witness on threats to the dignity of human life in his legislation. After a meaningless executive order to secure the votes he needed to get the law passed, claiming to “accommodate” the religious-liberty of some religious entities in a narrow and arbitrary approach to religious-liberty exemptions, and dismissing anyone pointing to the truth of the coercive nature of the religious-liberty violations in the HHS Mandate, and now a slap down in federal court, Cardinal Dolan clearly has a case. At today’s press conference, the president was asked about his feelings, his new year’s resolutions, and the Olympics. How about a question about bearing false witness on religious liberty? Or asking him what religious liberty is anyway?

As we approach the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court oral arguments in the spring, we should expect better from the media than the parroting of “war on women” White House talking-points and “corporations are people” throw downs. There are people in America who take the “the holidays” seriously. There are people in America who believe in the Incarnation, that God became man — that’s Christmas, and it changes everything, everyday, if you believe it, if it’s authentic. They’re should be free to believe this for real in their lives, in the public square, which includes the marketplace. The Obama Justice Department has been arguing that they do not. What do you think about that, Mr. President? Would a mainstream reporter in the White House press corps ever ask such a thing? Can we resolve to insist in the New Year that we quit looking away? Can we let the world know to let the world know religious liberty is to be insisted on and protected, that moral characters are indispensable to a flourishing society? Can we be good stewards of this gift?

There are people in our world who are counting on us to be a beacon for religious liberty. Let’s do better in the new year. And if you have a spare card, you might thank the Green family that runs Hobby Lobby (or buy last-minute gifts at their stores), the Hahn family that runs Conestoga Woods, who will also be at the Supreme Court this spring, Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop William E. Lori, who heads the religious-liberty committee at the Catholic bishops’ conference, a man named John Kennedy, the Little Sisters of the Poor, also in court, or the lawyers at the Becket Fund, Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Center for Law and Justice, among others. Pray for those who risk their lives to go to church this Christmas — or any Sunday, or living their faith out in the open, according to conscience, any day. 

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