- - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The story of President Obama’s first term is one of a president who has sought to transform how the government interacts with the governed. Mr. Obama seems to view civil society, particularly the church, as an obstacle to the only essential relationship: that between individuals and the state. For that relationship to flourish, civil society must be eliminated or dominated.

Consequently, Mr. Obama has spent much of his first term trying to conscript, bully and otherwise force churches to advance his agenda.

Mr. Obama’s allies wrote Obamacare in a way that requires all insurance plans to cover “preventive health services,” including sterilizations, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. In January, after months of deliberation, Mr. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Catholic Church and other organizations that view those practices and drugs as gravely immoral would not be exempted.

The decision was an unprecedented violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. It quickly became clear that Mr. Obama’s plan was to recruit Catholics to do his dirty work. Mr. Obama wrote the policy while in regular contact with liberal Catholic groups, including Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, a network of 2,000 Catholic hospitals and other health facilities that is the largest group of nonprofit health care providers in the country. When it became clear that even Mr. Obama’s Catholic allies rejected the mandate, Mr. Obama was forced to craft an “accommodation” for religious organizations that objected to covering birth control. In those cases, the insurer, not the employer, would be required to provide contraceptive coverage to women free of charge.

After scrutinizing the proposed changes, the Catholic bishops rejected the “accommodation” because religious employers and others still would be required to have their employee health insurance plans and premiums “used for services they find morally objectionable.”

Not that the Obama administration cared about what the bishops thought. As a New York Times article stated, the accommodation was “never really driven by a desire to mollify Roman Catholic bishops, who were strongly opposed to the plan.” Instead, the “rule shift on birth control is [a] concession to Obama allies.”

Mr. Obama continued to work with liberal Catholics such as Sister Keehan while shutting out church leaders, including New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a cardinal who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Richard Doerflinger, the bishops’ chief pro-life lobbyist.

As Notre Dame professor Gerard V. Bradley noted, the Obama administration’s decision to conscript the Catholic Church to advance its goal of universal birth control coverage “may reflect a desire to remove the last moral stigma from contraception, precisely by involving the Catholic Church in it.”

The HHS mandate controversy is only the most prominent example of Mr. Obama bullying religious institutions. Last October, HHS ended funding for a successful Catholic program that helped victims of human trafficking. The stated reason: The Catholic program refused to refer pregnant victims to abortion facilities.

When Mr. Obama repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality with no religious-liberty exceptions, it had serious religious-liberty implications for military chaplains and all service members of faith.

Mr. Obama has vowed to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law, which would interfere with the right of religious employers to choose their employees. In the Supreme Court case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the Obama Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tried to force a Lutheran church to hire an employee the EEOC wanted, arguing that the church didn’t have the right to control whom it employed according to its religious beliefs. The court ruled unanimously against the Obama administration that “the Establishment Clause prevents the Government from appointing ministers, and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.”

These examples are included in a devastating new book by conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly and journalist George Neumayr. “No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom” explores the disturbing trend in the Obama administration of trying to transform the relationship between church and state.

As the authors write, “Through stealth and sophistry, [Mr. Obama] is gradually transforming America into a secularist and socialist dystopia along modern Western European lines.”

Neither of the authors is known for pulling punches. They expose the numerous ways Mr. Obama has enlisted religious supporters to help him justify his socialism. Mr. Obama exploits faith because, the authors write, “doctrinal Christianity is a disposable proposition for him, while political liberalism represents an organizing, not-to-be-doubted-or-changed truth for society.”

However, the administration has encountered a formidable adversary in the church. The Catholic bishops couldn’t be more united against the mandate, and Sister Keehan has backtracked on her previous support for the mandate “accommodation.” She recently stated that it is “imperative” that the administration broaden its “narrow” mandate exemption to include not just churches but also Catholic hospitals, health care organizations and other church ministries.

Mr. Neumayr and Mrs. Schlafly raise the very real prospect of civil disobedience if Mr. Obama wins a second term and continues his assault on religious liberty. “If Obama isn’t bound by the Framers’ words,” they ask, “why are the people bound by his?”

The bishops have hinted at civil disobedience. Referencing Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the bishops released a statement in June that declared, “Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified. Every effort must be made to repeal them. When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.”

The authors ask: “Mr. Obama is on a collision course with the religious. Is he prepared in his second term to throw priests, pastors and rabbis into prison?” The answer may be yes.

Mr. Obama’s actions suggest he believes democracy is somehow endangered whenever religious groups enter the public square. He has it exactly backward. Democracy is endangered whenever religious groups are forced to advance government objectives against their consciences.

Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate, is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.

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