NY Times Gets It Wrong
Following Obama's offer for an accommodation for religious objections to the new HHS mandates on February 10th, the NY Times editor wrote that the whole uproar over the HHS mandates was "a phony crisis over 'religious liberty' engendered by the right".
No doubt, many Republican lawmakers who otherwise couldn't care less about the religious liberty of Catholics have, in just the last few weeks, picked up the cause only as a weapon to attack Obama. (And frankly, I've been very disappointed to see that something as fundamental as protecting religious liberty has fallen along partisan lines among politicians.)
But to say that the US bishops, along with many leaders of other religions, many of whom have come from across the political spectrum, who have been fighting the HHS mandates for the last six months (yes, the rules were first issued in August of last year, and were opposed immediately) are really just a part of some Republican conspiracy is so absurd that it would be comical if it wasn't so insulting. Because these claims are obviously false, the NY Times has shown itself to be either embarrassingly ignorant of the most basic details of one of the biggest stories of the year or to be purposefully misleading people.
In addition, the phrase "religious liberty" is in scare quotes, as though it is a euphemism invented and used only by those who were against the HHS mandates. Such mocking of the first and most important right in our Bill of Rights from supposedly one of what our country's foremost newspapers is itself greatly disconcerting.
The NY Times editor also wrote:
[I]t was dismaying to see the president lend any credence to the misbegotten notion that providing access to contraceptives violated the freedom of any religious institution. Churches are given complete freedom by the Constitution to preach that birth control is immoral, but they have not been given the right to laws that would deprive their followers or employees of the right to disagree with that teaching.The controversy is not about access to contraception but about who will be paying for it. Also, no one has asked for "laws that would deprive their followers or employees of the right to disagree with that teaching" - so not only is this a red herring, but it implies that someone has asked for such laws, which is false and therefore misleading.
But what's most disturbing here is that the editor has decided to collapse religious freedom into the freedom of speech. While the two freedoms are of course linked, they are distinct in our Bill of Rights and certainly very distinct in application. The First Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..." The free exercise of religion is far more than being able to say what your religion teaches; it also includes being able to actually do what your religion teaches - which includes being able to do something as basic as run an organization with employees without being forced to violate your religion.
In a headline on its website, CNN referred to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a "Catholic group". I'm afraid the USCCB is not just some Catholic group but is the conference of the US bishops.
Quick lesson about the largest religion in the US and in the world: In the Catholic Church, bishops are successors of the Apostles, represent Jesus Himself to their flock, and are the teaching, sacramental, and governing head of their diocese. The Catholic Church isn't like an ethnic or cultural group that only has unofficial leaders insofar as they represent the beliefs or values of the group; the Catholic Church is a real institution with legitimate, ordained leaders who rightfully teach, guide, and govern their flock. To use an example, Sister Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, may be an influential Catholic layperson, but the bishops are the rightful leaders and representatives of the Catholic religion.
Washington Post columnist E.J.Dionne, a self identified "liberal Catholic", made the same error in a recent column: "Some conservative Catholics still insist that the relief from regulation that Obama offered is not enough." Left out, or at least not given any sort of special mention among those who have rejected Obama's offer, are the ones whose judgement matters most in the matter, the bishops - who, given that their teaching on a wide range of issues that does not comport fully with either the Democratic or Republican party, cannot be seriously boxed in as politically conservative.
Referring to the USCCB as just another Catholic group attempts to undermine the authority of the bishops in the Church and thereby divide the Catholic bishops from the Catholic faithful.
Another attempt to divide Catholic faithful from their bishops was evident in the frequent use by the White House and the news media of a statistic that claimed that 98% of Catholic women use contraception. Aside from the fact that the statistic is bogus (although it's undeniable that many Catholics do break this particular teaching of the Church), and aside from the fact that most of the Church's moral teachings are broken at some point or another by most people (e.g. how many Catholics have lied before or have not seriously put into practice the Church's teaching concerning the poor?), and aside from the fact that the whole purpose of moral teaching is to make us better people - not to give affirmation that however we happen to be living already is just fine - its rhetorical use is clear: since so many laypeople don't listen to the bishops, the bishops can be sidelined.
|Archbishop of NY Timothy Dolan,|
also President of the USCCB
Phil Lawler over at CatholicCulture.org also came to the same conclusion:
Now that Sister Keehan has endorsed the Obama “compromise” (along with Father Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities USA), the Obama administration can claim that many Catholics, including some who had originally opposed the plan, now see the wisdom of his ways. President Obama does not intend to persuade the American bishops to support his proposal; he intends to siphon off support for the bishops among American Catholic voters, driving a political wedge further into the country’s Catholic community.No doubt, many Catholic faithful in the US openly and regularly dissent from their bishops as well as from the Pope - a sad testament to the state of the Church here in the US. But to exploit internal divisions in the Church for political gain is low.
The Rhetoric of Confusion
Also notice below the CNN headline that Obama's offer is referred to as "Obama's compromise", not as the "offer" that it really was. Many other news agencies reported Obama's offer in a similar fashion (e.g. Reuters: "Obama's compromise sought to accommodate religious organizations") Calling it a "compromise" implies that the parties with whom Obama had the disagreement have accepted it, even though the very article in which the phrase is being used is about how the US bishops have rejected it.
In other words, a compromise is a compromise only if both sides accept it as such. One side cannot declare something to be a compromise if the other side hasn't responded, much less if the other side has rejected the deal. To say that the deal is a compromise in such circumstances is a rhetorical tool to get the public to think that the controversy is over and that therefore any continued protest is unreasonable. It's like a politician publicly declaring victory in an election before the results are conclusive: it serves only to confuse and manipulate for one's own political advantage, not to accurately describe the situation. Of course, Obama used the word "accommodation", but the same problem remains: an accommodation is an accommodation only if the other side considers it to be an accommodation.
Although the bishops had led the charge against the HHS mandates and are the rightful leaders and representatives of the Catholic Church, Obama's offer was labeled a "compromise" and an "accommodation" before the bishops even had the details of what the offer was.
In a piece entitled "Catholic church demanding yet another financial advantage", Mario Salazar over at the Washington Times trotted out the old stereotype that the Catholic Church is really just in it for the money, and that in this case the Catholic Church is just trying to save a few bucks by not covering abortifacient drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraception.
Amanda Marcotte over at Slate's "XX Factor" section, a section that has the subtitle "What Women Really Think", wrote that the controversy has simply been "two solid weeks of Republicans rapidly escalating attacks on contraception access" that's been "all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty". Again, as with the NY Times, she's either woefully ignorant or being intentionally deceitful of who has been fighting the HHS mandates (primarily religious leaders, led mostly by the US bishops - not Republican lawmakers), what the real concerns have been (yes, religious freedom is the primary concern), and how long it's been going on (6 months not 2 weeks).
The USCCB explains why they have rejected Obama's proposed accommodation, in their press release responding to Obama's announcement of his proposed accommodation
The USCCB's Conscience Protection webpage
Currently, there is a great video on the homepage of the USCCB website of Archbishop Timothy Dolan responding to the White House
A letter rejecting Obama's proposed accommodation that's being circulated and signed by university professors, university presidents, and journalists (signed by 118 at my last count)
Obama to Face Lawsuit From Attorneys General Over Mandate
Several evangelical leaders reject Obama's "accommodation" as still not enough
An analysis of Obama's proposed accommodation: "President Obama, the Right Not to Do Wrong, and the Politics of Ruse and Delay"