Tom Cotton Did Not Question Senator Mark Pryor’s Faith

by Joel Gehrke

Senator Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) is winding up the outrage machine in order to deflect Representative Tom Cotton’s attempt to tie him to President Obama’s position in the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, which the Supreme Court decided in favor of the company.

Because the HHS mandate was promulgated under the authority of Obamacare, Cotton blamed Pryor (who voted for the law) for the mandate, which the court ruled violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“It’s just another example of how Obamacare infringes on the liberties of all Arkansans,” Cotton told a local media outlet, according to the Washington Post. “Barack Obama and Mark Pryor think that faith is something that only happens at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings. That’s when we worship. But faith is what we live every single day. And the government shouldn’t infringe on the rights of religious liberty.”

Pryor, who still has not said what he thinks of the Hobby Lobby ruling, replied by claiming that Cotton had impugned his faith. “I’m disappointed in Congressman Cotton’s deeply personal attack on me,” he said. “He and I may disagree on issues, but for him to question my faith is out of bounds. From a young age I have never shied away from talking about the importance of God in my life, and it’s my Christian faith that gives me comfort and guidance to be a steady voice for Arkansas in the Senate.”

Pryor’s decision to construe his Senate opponent as unfairly as possible comes as no surprise, but reporters really shouldn’t fall for it. Cotton’s remark is of a piece with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ complaint about the HHS mandate; to wit, it assumes that religious people only act religiously in explicitly religious settings.

The bishops argued that, under the HHS criteria, Jesus Christ and the twelve disciples wouldn’t count as religious. “HHS has concluded, for example, that a church is not a religious employer if it (a) serves those who are not already members of the church, (b) fails to hire based on religion, or (c) does not restrict its charitable and missionary purposes to the inculcation of religious values,” the bishops wrote in 2011.

“Under such inexplicably narrow criteria—criteria bearing no reasonable relation to any legitimate (let alone compelling) government purpose—even the ministry of Jesus and the early Christian Church would not qualify as ‘religious,’ because they did not confine their ministry to their co-religionists or engage only in a preaching ministry. In effect, the exemption is directly at odds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus teaches concern and assistance for those in need, regardless of faith differences,” they also wrote.

Cotton didn’t apologize. “Senator Pryor is a man of faith and practices it with commendable openness, which I respect, but I wish he would respect Arkansans’ right to practice our faith,” Cotton said, per the Post. “Instead, Senator Pryor and President Obama still defend Obamacare even after the Supreme Court said it violated freedom of religion. Senator Pryor supports taxpayer-funded abortion and late-term abortion and would force Christians to pay for abortions despite their deeply held religious beliefs. That’s a real attack on faith.”

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