Obama and Catholics: Sometimes, you have to take it on faith

When the Obama administration made the decision to require Catholic-run organizations to pay for health-care plans that include contraception, officials … Continued

When the Obama administration made the decision to require Catholic-run organizations to pay for health-care plans that include contraception, officials no doubt expected its critics to attack. What they didn’t expect, I’m just as certain, is that those friendly to so many of its policies would cry foul, too.

It’s an issue that won’t go away and the White House knows it. The DNC rapid response team is hard at work, issuing releases that explain how the rules won’t apply to churches and pointing out that many Catholic universities and hospitals already cover contraception in their plans.

Democrats are sharing survey results that say nearly six in 10 Catholics agree that employers should provide health plans that cover birth control at no cost. Fellow Republican Newt Gingrich is attacking what he says are Mitt Romney’s own inconsistency on the issue when he was governor of Massachusetts.

All those things are true, and they are also beside the point. It’s more emotional than logical, this feeling among many religious Americans, Catholics in particular, that the separation of church and state is not protecting the church as it should. Are there contradictions among word and deed?

Sure: You don’t see the big families in the pews that were routine in the past. (The five kids in my Catholic household fit right in at St. Pius V). But that doesn’t mean Catholics don’t aspire to be faithful and don’t respect the rules, even those they break.

It’s a mistake that politicians and parties make, categorizing Americans into red vs. blue, poor vs. hard-working middle class, godless secularists vs. true believers. They don’t get that most people are both-and, not either-or. As someone in that small Venn diagram overlap of African American and Catholic, I can attest that issues and people are more complicated than any survey could ever show.

There are many Catholics angry with bishops and clergy more concerned with male hierarchy and harsh directives than tending the flock. But they return to Mass each Sunday for a renewal of faith and strength to face the week ahead. Liberal and progressive Catholics reject punitive rhetoric, and admire the church most for the way it reaches out to all — regardless of denomination or station — in schools and hospitals.

Many supported affordable health-care legislation because it fits that mission, and they feel that those in the trenches, doing good work with little reward, will have to make tough choices between serving those in need and being true to their beliefs.

Just like in life, you criticize your own family members but circle around when they feel threatened in any way. These supporters of health care for all weren’t looking for a capitulation, just a compromise from an administration that has given Catholic organizations financial and moral support in the past.

One of them is my colleague Melinda Henneberger, who questioned administration actions and at the same time said the church does itself no favors when a bishop uses his power to kick out a priest for praying wrong. She noted that Obama “has handed his critics an example of an action that fits nicely with the narrative that he’s a secularist who looks down on believers,” something the administration never intended.

Of course Republicans candidates have jumped on this latest controversy — throwing in a measure of distortion and exaggeration — sensing an opening on the social issue front now that the economy is nudging up. It’s politics.

David Axelrod had to step up, defending the position of the Health and Human Services Department at the same time he hints at a compromise and emphasizes the year-long delay in implementation.

You can understand why the administration made too many assumptions about how people might interpret freedom of expression in a free society. And you can feel conflicted about the reach of religion, even your own, and still want government to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3.

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  • Curly4

    This would be a good place for Obama to change his mind and then offer the same coverage for the birth contorll and related needs directly to the persons who would not be able to get from their employer. It would give the coverage that he wants to extend to that seciton of the population and also turn the hearts of this group toward the government which would be another stept for full coverage health care from the government.

  • flyover22

    Divide it up anyway you want, but it is over-reaching by the Government in four areas-

    One plan must fit all- whether you’re a healthy, single, nonsmoking, 25 year old male, or a obese, 50 year old, female smoker. Per Sebelius on NPR we need the young and healthy to pay for the old and sick. Per Sebelius on NPR any difference in rate between male and female is gender discrimination and illegal (her opinion).

    It is no longer Health insurance to protect against major injury or illness but a payment system- Barbara Boxer is concerned that if the Catholics don’t add birth control to their plan, somebody may have to pay “upward of $600 dollars per year’ for prescription birth control. Is the government down to this level of personal involvement and personal choice.

    If the government can dictate want must be included, they can dictate what can excluded- Drugs, procedures, equipment, locations, doctors and the like.

    There is no user choice and/or free market benefits- Why question a procedure that’s free, why worry about doctor visits with no co-pay, why use other forms of birth control and a natural healthy lifestyle when drugs are free and why pay the same as others if you want a higher deductible.

  • julianrios

    so we should let emotions dictate public policy for relegious affiliated employers? What’s next? Will other religious-affiliated entities seek to be exempt from labor discrimination laws? rally around the tribe all you want but that should not be the basis for policy.

  • yittlecoop

    The real problem is the republican majority in the house and state governments.
    The church hierarchy for centuries has been subjugating women and wont be happy until they make them second class citizens.If the shoe were on the other foot and men could bare children abortion would be a sacrament.

  • jemcewen

    Where does it end? If Catholic owned businesses are exempt from this particular mandate, then why not have the Christian Science Monitor step up and say they don’t want to cover healthcare at all – they will only cover readings by Christian Science practitioners. Then Jehovah Witnesses owned businesses will demand to not have to cover blood transfusionts, and on and on.

  • Elvis has left the building

    Don’t care about the catholics…they got confession…..but don’t mess with my kosher salt or there will be hell to pay……

  • question1

    The entire concept of health insurance is to pool money to provide the most coverage to the folks who need it most. The sick have ALWAYS used more of the funds than the well. “I’m not paying for THEM” is the most absurd argument of all – if you have that attitude you shouldn’t have health insurance. Or the gov’t should provide universal coverage for everyone.

    Actuaries study for years & make ginormous bucks divvying up subscribers into teeny categories in order to assess risk & provide limited coverage while allowing for huge CEO bonuses.

    Reproduction aside, several other religions have proscribed practices like blood transfusions – should insurance plans drop that coverage requirement?

    Businesses are NOT religions. Employers are NOT churches/temples/mosques. Religious freedom is for religions. Corporations are people, are they now RELIGIOUS people?

  • jninny

    The catholic church is against this because of the moral teachings/beliefs? I find that funny when you think about the sexual abuse that was/has been going on behind church doors. They have excused that behavior, but they can’t reconize that over 90% of female catholics are on some form of birth control. Maybe they need to figure out that times are different, not every catholic wants to have 10 children, nor can they afford them. Birth control should be a right for a WOMEN to decide on, not churches. Would the catholic church pay for Viagra for men? If so then why not birth control for women?

  • question1

    IMO, it’s YOU that is missing the point superlatively. SCOTUS established that businesses are people, are they now to be considered religious bodies as well? Religious freedom is for religions, not businesses.

    The entire point of health care insurance is to provide the widest amount of coverage for the largest group of subscribers – it has NEVER been “I shouldn’t have to pay for THEM”. Without the pooling of premiums there is NO PURPOSE to health insurance. Either get rid of it or let the gov’t provide universal coverage.

    Aside from reproduction what about other religious proscriptions like blood transfusions – should they be denied in plans for businesses associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses?

    Businesses are NOT religions. Businesses provide health care coverage (however pathetic) through health insurance PLANS to ALL their employees. Folks like yourself should take Insurance 101 & write an essay about the difference between BUSINESSES and RELIGIONS.

  • question1

    Exactly. Except that, as usual, the loudest complainers are only really concerned with the reproductive & sexual choices of others.

    I haven’t heard or read anything from the Catholic Bishops about the dead & dying children in Africa, Haiti, Syria…once the fetus is delivered, it seems most fundies of all religions consider them little parasites trying to suck up taxpayer funds….it’s incredible.

  • PRGinSS

    Amen, sister.

  • question1

    Do they allow coverage for vasectomies? I’m not sure, but I’ll bet that never raised a Bishop’s eyebrow.

  • question1

    That’s what I use to home-cure my bacon. LOL.

  • ohioan

    Without ObamaCare — this wouldn’t be an issue., and this most likely won’t be the last issue caused by ObamaCare.

  • 2012frank

    What good Catholic would vote for Obama? Socialists are never supportive of religious freedoms.

  • 2012frank

    Obamacare’s great awakening. The country is being exposed to the raw political control that is the core of the Obama health-care plan, and Americans are seeing clearly for the first time how this will violate pluralism and liberty.

  • flyover22

    And Government is NOT businesses or religions. If a business wants to offer its employees insurance that doesn’t cover something they are not restricting the employee of any rights or freedoms. They are free to pay out of pocket, or from health saving accounts, or have procedures that are covered, or change jobs. If a religious group wants to restrict your freedom, unless you are kidnapped, you can do what you want or find another religion.
    The government dictating what you must do is restricting your freedom. ie you must buy insurance, it must include this this and this but not that that or that.

    All you liberal parrots never think past the end of your upturned nose. You love Obama, you love Sebelius, you love the 15 people that are going to decide what is best for you and you are fine with that. In the future there may be a Republican in there, a conservative “Sebelius” and 15 conservative and they also will have the power to decide what is best for you.
    Don’t give up your freedom of choice so easily.

  • armyboy

    You are the one who needs to do some checking. The Supreme Court attached freedom of association to the 1st Amendment saying that we do not give our rights when we join a group, any group, whether you like that group or not. It is to protect us from people like yourself who think they have the last word on what is good or not. it does not matter what type of group you are accociated with, there is no mention anywhere about businessses.
    This mandate is not about that but about Obama’s mandate attacking the 1st Amendment’s religious protections against the government. .
    Congress is not allowed to make any laws against religion, or religious groups or the peactices of those religions. If Congress is not allowed to pass a law than sure as hell the president can not issue a mandate. For a supposedly smart Constitutional lawyer his stuff ends up in court a lot. This is just the tip of the iceberg with Obamacare. And you guys thought it was so cute when Pelosi said” we’ll see what’s in it after we pass it”. Not so funny anymore, huh?

  • armyboy

    What the Catholic church or any group does is none of the governments business, just like any citizen, as long as they obey the law of the land. The Supreme Court has established this already. Will you be so flippant when the government issues a mandate on something you believe in. How about the government saying you can only have one child and depending on the population at the time what the sex of that child is. Would that be enough of an infringement on your rights of privacy to raise an eyebrow or two? Can’t happen, right? Maybe someone like Pelosi will be in charge of writing it and will say” we’ll see what’s in it after we pass it.” Sound familiar? This genie you are letting out of the bottle is going to be very difficult to get back in.

  • armyboy

    What have you done personally for the children in Africa, etc.?

  • judithod

    Gee, If birth control pills are going to be “free,” how about making the same offer for vital medications, such as blood pressure meds and anti-rejection meds.

    ObamaCare continues to be a can of worms.

  • judithod

    If contraceptives, which are arbitrary meds, are going to be “freely” distributed, how about doing the same for meds that are vital to keeping people healthy and alive such as insulin?

    There’s no end to the requests for “free” medications that can be made legitimately if birth control is deemed to be so necessary to women’s health.

  • judithod

    And who is going to pay for that extension of coverage? The declining numbers who pay federal income taxes are becoming weary of subsidizing not only the government but 53% of their fellow citizens.

  • armyboy

    Funny thing about this mandate is that while all the tolerant Progressives are trying to spin this as a contraceptive/abortion issue, the WhiteHouse has heard from a number of their own that after sitting back and reading it they do not like what they see. Be careful all you good bureaucrats out there, you may have to reverse course soon to keep up with Obama’s back tracking on this Constitutional over-reach. You guys see that picture of him sitting next to Sebilius (sp). This mandate was her idea and I bet she’s hearing an earful.
    Love this website and all you crazy Progressives. I come for the laughs and never leave disappointed.

  • armyboy

    I agree,. This is just the beginning of the dissection of this terribly written law. Best thing is if the Supreme Court finds the purchase mandate unconstitutional and then throws the whole thing out because there is no severibility clause in it. Otherwise everytime Sebelius tries to exert her power of determining things she has to right to determine, as in this case, we’ll be right back in the courts. Can you imagine the amount of lawyers and regulators needed just to keep track of all his waivers? Kruathammer has a great article on this mess.

  • armyboy

    Read the 1st Amendment and if you do not like it change it. Otherwise tell the government to keep it’s nose out of places it does not belong or someday the government will be mandating against something you have a right to believe in. Be careful how far you go here because Obama is already backing off on this constitutional over reach. Krauthammer has a great take on what happened here and how it is going to keep happening. This genie you want to let out of the bottle is going to be very hard to get back in.

  • armyboy

    Krauthammer has an article addressing exactly what you are talking about. Very informative. I think it will clear up your confusion about business/religious/employers. At least point out what a flawed law this is and how this is just the beginning. Pelosi should have read it.

  • dubblek2

    The Constitutional Question.

    As much as the Obama Administration may want to make some sort of “accommodation” here, for political purposes, as the Executive Branch of our Federal Government the Admin probably shouldn’t, just as the Legislative and Judicial Branches of the Federal Government probably shouldn’t as well.

    After all, this is indeed a Constitutional Question.

    Making an “accommodation” would, in itself, be a violation of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, which states in part:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
    So then, to make an “accommodation” the Admin (as the Executive Branch; or the Legislative or the Judicial Branches) would be violating both the spirit and the original intent of the “no law” portion of the amendment, in that to make “an accommodation” would in effect be making “a law” “respecting” a “religion”, which while not precisely acting in an effort at “establishment of religion” is tantamount to doing so.

    The “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” phrase of the 1st Amendment is not a consideration here either.
    The Framers of the US Constitution in no way meant by that phrase that a religion, in this case the Catholic religion, could carve out for itself a niche which sets itself apart from all other entities operating here in the US under the protections guaranteed by the US Constitution. A fundamental precept of our government in the US is that we are all equal under the law.

    Rather, the Framers, by that phrase meant that the Federal Government could make “no law” “prohibiting the free exercise” of the practices of a religion.

    In the specific case of the Catholic religion here that means that the Federal Government is prohibited by the 1st Amendment from making a law that would prohibit the Catholic Mass, or Baptism, or Confirmation, etc., what the Catholic Church refers to as the “rites” of its religion.

    In no way did the Framers intend that ph