For many years, conservatives have considered the ACLU just another left-wing activist organization, cloaked in only the veneer of civil liberties. Asked of their defense of the Constitution, more than a few conservatives would ask just when the ACLU bothers to fight for Second Amendment rights. The ACLU protests this perception, pointing to a number of controversial clients they have defended and insist that their mission is only to preserve the civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the rest of the US Constitution.
I think this puts the ACLU argument to rest once and for all:
The American Civil Liberty Union announced today that President Obama’s decision to mandate coverage for birth control does not violate religious liberty.
The ACLU’s Alicia Gay warns that the “powerful lobbying arm of the Catholic Church” mistakenly claims that the HHS contraception mandate violates their religious liberty.
Individuals who choose not to pay for employees’ contraceptives, the ACLU counters, are forcing their beliefs on their employees.
“The fundamental promise of religious liberty in this country doesn’t create a right to impose those views on others, including ignoring civil rights laws or denying critical health care,” Gay insists.
Er, who is imposing their beliefs on whom? Catholic employers don’t tell employees — either in church or in hospitals, clinics, or charities — that the use of contraception will end their employment. As has been tediously pointed out by supporters of Barack Obama’s diktat, plenty of Catholics use contraception and still show up in church. Plenty of them support abortion on demand, too. But until now, no one has forced the Catholic Church to fund those actions, which is exactly what this mandate does. It forces Catholics to pay for services and products for others even though they represent mortal sins in our faith.
The First Amendment is pretty clear on what the government can and cannot do in dictating the actions of religious organizations. Heck, this should be so clear that even the ACLU should figure it out: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Dictating to Catholics that they have to fund contraception for their employees when our religion specifically prohibits it — including the use of abortifacients, which is equivalent to killing children in our faith — is prohibiting the free exercise of a core doctrine for Catholics (and many other Christian denominations as well), which is to defend the sanctity of human life.
Is that a “view” of Christians in general, and Catholics specifically? Yes. Are we “imposing” it by practicing our religion, including our outreach to the community through the provision of health care to the indigent and charitable works? Not at all. Those are voluntary associations, not mandated, unlike ObamaCare, which makes it impossible for the Catholic Church to avoid this mandate by simply ending employer-provided health insurance coverage. If a religion cannot express its views and live by its tenets because “views” are not protected, then the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment doesn’t exist at all.
Some have tried to claim that because the Catholic Church gets government funding through Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, their First Amendment rights are no longer applicable. Really? Does the government have the right to censor AARP because it participates in Medicare Advantage? How about Social Security recipients? I’d love to see the ACLU brief supporting those arguments, although that may become a reality if Obama remains in office for a second term, based on the ACLU’s statements. Do government contractors lose their First Amendment rights to petition their government? Considering the activities surrounding Solyndra investor George Kaiser and his frequent visits to the White House, the Obama administration doesn’t appear to think so, and the ACLU was curiously quiet if it believes that.
The rights in the Constitution are not granted to American citizens because the government decided to offer them beneficently at their discretion. They exist in the document as a testament to our natural rights, part of our innate humanness, and are detailed in the Constitution as a bar to government’s overreach in trampling them. If the ACLU can’t figure that much out, then not only have they jumped the shark, they’ve nuked the fridge and made themselves entirely irrelevant except for the elitist crowd that cheers on tyranny. And that is exactly what has happened with this HHS mandate.
In my column for The Week, I point out that there will likely be a large political consequence for this action:
However, Catholics are not, by and large, social conservatives. Obama won the Catholic vote by nine points in 2008 (54 percent to 45 percent). Catholics accounted for a whopping 27 percent of the 2008 electorate. Purposefully alienating that voting bloc in an already-difficult election year risks flipping that vote substantially against Obama in November. Even for those Catholics who don’t agree with church teachings on contraception, the spectacle of a president dictating doctrine to bishops won’t endear them to Obama.
The national number just begins to tell the story. Catholics comprise even higher percentages of the vote in key swing states that Obama must win in order to get a second term. For instance, Obama won Pennsylvania in 2008 by 11 points while losing Catholics — a third of Pennsylvania’s electorate — by 4 percent. With Pennsylvania Catholics now hearing condemnations of Obama’s decision from their bishops, Obama may have put the Keystone State at serious risk. A Republican could win Pennsylvania for the first time since Ronald Reagan.
Florida is another example. Obama carried the Sunshine State by a narrow three-point margin in 2008. Catholics comprised 28 percent of that vote, and Obama only barely won among them, 50 percent to 49 percent. How many of those Catholics will cast another vote for Obama, especially since their own Sen. Marco Rubio — a Catholic himself — has now proposed a bill specifically revoking the new Obama rule and protecting choices of religious conscience? If more than a few switch from Obama to his Republican challenger, Obama will lose 29 electoral votes he can hardly spare.
The damage won’t be limited to Catholics, either, or voters of faith in general. Republicans have long painted Obama as a radical executive inclined to rule by diktat rather than govern by the rule of law. Obama’s mild personal demeanor has helped him deflect this criticism, but forcing Christians to violate their conscience in order to fit his own worldview provides the GOP a great deal of evidence for their argument.
Rick Santorum hit this last theme in his victory speech from Missouri. Expect it to become a prominent attack in the general election, even if the Obama administration backs down this week.