Fatuous ‘Fortnight’: Bishops’ crusade is about power, not religious freedom
What exactly is the Catholic hierarchy up to? Are the bishops genuinely concerned about religious freedom or are they engaging in a partisan power play?
Today is the first day of the so-called “Fortnight for Freedom,” a prelate project supposedly intended to rally parishioners against an alleged Obama administration assault on religious freedom.
According to a USA Today report, “Nearly half of the nation’s 195 dioceses have announced events from prayer breakfasts to town-hall-style meetings to readings of the Constitution. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is providing resources including a dramatic special prayer for strength and courage.”
The two-week campaign is heavily focused on a provision in the health-care reform that requires all employers (except churches) to include birth control as part of their employees’ insurance coverage.
In response to complaints from the bishops, the administration is even compromising on that front, allowing workers at religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges to get contraceptive coverage directly from insurance companies at no cost to the employers.
USA Today says Archbishop William Lori, the hierarchy’s point man in this crusade, still isn’t happy. He dismissed that concession as “an accounting shell game.”
Lori’s clerical colleagues have gone even further. New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who serves as president of the bishops’ conference, told CBS “This Morning” that the White House is “strangling” the Catholic Church, and Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky compared the president to Hitler and Stalin.
The bishops’ intransigence and their florid rhetoric suggest that much more is going on than a spat over birth control coverage. The men who head the church see their power, privilege and government funding at risk, and they are taking dramatic political action to ensure that none of these perks are lost.
The newspaper noted that many critics think the religious liberty banner is being waved to cover up a war on free choice in a nation of many faiths. It quotes AU Executive Director Barry Lynn as calling the campaign a “clerical power grab” that redefines religious freedom to mean “the right to force their dogma on the unwilling.”
In today’s Washington Post, Lynn speculated that a political game is afoot.
“It’s hard not to see this whole campaign,” he said, “as a partisan attempt to unseat President Obama…. America is a secular democracy, and public policy should reflect the public interest, not the teachings of one religion.”
In a statement issued to the media yesterday, Lynn also had this to say: “The bishops have been far from even-handed in their political activities. At some point, it may raise questions about compliance with federal tax law, which forbids tax-exempt organizations from favoring or opposing candidates for public office.
“This bishops’ project isn’t about religious freedom,” he continued, “it’s about privilege. They are asking for preferential treatment from the government, and if they are successful, it would undercut the rights of millions of Americans.
“Religious freedom does not give the Catholic hierarchy – or the leaders of any other church – the right to make decisions for everyone. If the bishops get their way on health care, millions of Americans will denied access to contraceptives. That’s completely unacceptable.
“A lot of attention has been focused on the birth control issue, but that’s only one topic on the bishops’ agenda. They are also demanding special treatment when it comes to government funding. They are demanding that the government pay for church-run social services, even if those services refuse to comply with public policy. That’s an outrageous demand, and the Obama administration simply must not cave in to it.
“We stand at a critical point in American church-state history,” Lynn concluded. “We have to decide if we’re going to stick with the time-tested principle of church-state separation or allow aggressive religious lobbies to dominate government policy.”
I think that about sums it up.
Most Americans, including most Catholics, support a clear separation of government and religion. If you’re one of the many who do, it’s time to speak up.