(Editor’s Note: This is the third of a series of articles on President Barack Obama’s war on religion)
Bill Donohue’s Perspective:
President George W. Bush was the first president to initiate faith-based social service programs; he wanted to put an end to the exclusionary policy of funding only public social service entities.
There is a mountain of social science evidence showing the yeoman results of faith-based programs: homes for juvenile delinquents; drug rehabilitation centers; counseling services; foster care arrangements; prison ministries. The list is endless. On the one hand, Obama knew these faith-based programs were popular, so he felt obliged to keep them; on the other hand, his secular leanings pulled him the other way.
Early on Obama announced that these programs were not any better than their public counterparts (the data said otherwise), raising serious questions why they should be funded.
“I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits,” he said, “and I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up.” Worse, he toyed with the idea of gutting the faith component from the faith-based initiative.
To be specific, an open debate ensued questioning whether people who run faith-based programs should be allowed to hire those of their own religion. Similarly, should those who run foster care programs be permitted to place children with parents of their own religion? The idea that Orthodox Jewish foster care homes should insist that they care for children of their own religion is hardly unreasonable. But to many in the Obama administration, the proposition was at least rebuttable, if not simply wrong.
If the Obama administration were serious about faith-based programs, it wouldn’t ask their opponents for advice on how to run them. This is exactly what it did. It sought the input of Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State: he was invited to address the first faith-based council. Ever since, this initiative has floundered, as even those who have served on the council have acknowledged.
What happened is not in dispute: endless conversations on the proper role of religion in such initiatives yielded no consensus. More important, Obama’s heart was never in it.
The most decisive evidence that the Obama administration sees no fundamental difference between religious institutions, and those that are purely secular, came during oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hosanna-Tabor case. At issue was the right of a Lutheran school to fire a teacher found unsuitable by its standards.
Traditionally, the government has respected what is called a “ministerial exception,” the idea that religious institutions enjoy constitutional insulation from government oversight when making employment decisions. But for the attorney representing the Obama administration, Leondra R. Kruger, no such insulation was ever warranted: she actually maintained there was no real difference between religious associations and voluntary associations of a secular nature.
Justice Antonin Scalia was astonished by Kruger’s reasoning. “That’s extraordinary. That’s extraordinary. We are talking here about the Free Exercise Clause and about the Establishment Clause, and you say they have no special application?” Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, was similarly struck by Kruger’s argument. “I too find that amazing, that you think that the Free — neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Establishment Clause — has anything to say about a church’s relationship with its own employees.”
Kruger’s extremist position in the fall of 2011 resulted in a 9-0 victory for the First Amendment in the spring of 2012; the “ministerial exception” rule was sustained. While this was impressive, it yielded even more fruit: it revealed the way the Obama administration thinks about religious liberty. Had the administration won, the federal government would have been able to steer the employment decisions of every religious entity, effectively neutering their right to craft internal strictures that reflect their doctrinal prerogatives. In short, had the president’s views prevailed, religious liberty as we know it would no longer exist.
If there is one issue that has been at the heart of the culture war over the past several decades, it is abortion. The nation is split on this issue, though the vector of change is certainly moving in a pro-life direction: more Americans consider themselves pro-life than ever before, and there is scant support for abortion-on-demand through term. Without doubt, President Obama is the most radical president we’ve ever had on this subject. His enthusiasm for abortion rights — he has never found an abortion he could not justify — is so unyielding that he even supports selective infanticide.
When Obama was in the Illinois state Senate he fought the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act” on three occasions. The bill would have required doctors to attend to infants born alive after a botched abortion. Obama saw this as a threat to abortion rights, and so he found an exception to his embrace of universal healthcare: this was one human being who was not entitled to care — he could legally be left to die.
Now it is possible to take an abortion-rights position that at least respects the right of religious institutions not to cooperate in what the Catholic Church calls an “intrinsic evil.” But Obama has shown no such respect. Indeed, his war on religion extends to the days when candidate Obama made a pledge to Planned Parenthood in 2007. He told his fans that “the first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).”
FOCA is the most radical piece of abortion-rights legislation ever written: it would overturn virtually every law restricting abortion in the nation. Worse, it might very well force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. If they refused, federal funds would be cut off, effectively putting them out of business. This is Obama’s vision of healthcare and religious liberty. Fortunately, the bill never made it to his desk; Catholics and Evangelicals fought hard to block it.
As an interesting side note, when he was in the U.S. Senate, Obama supported government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo; he voted to provide the physically disabled woman with nutrition. But his pro-life epiphany didn’t last long: in 2008, when asked which senatorial vote he regretted the most, he cited this one.
In the same year, Obama was asked when life begins (Sen. John McCain answered “at conception”). Obama’s answer was classic. “Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective,” he allowed, “answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade.” It was a dishonest dodge.
Once in power, Obama moved quickly to enshrine the abortion agenda. Three days after becoming president, Obama reversed President George W. Bush’s ban on federal funding for international groups that promote or perform abortions; only 35 percent of Americans agreed with him on this issue.
The ban, called the Mexico City Policy, was just the first of many abortion-restrictive laws that would be targeted for repeal. For instance, Obama officials attempted to repeal the Hyde Amendment that bans federally funded abortions in public health insurance options. They had more success in effectively gutting the Dornan Amendment, i.e., the ban on tax-funded abortions in the District of Columbia.
When coupled with Obama’s opposition to school vouchers, including a successful scholarship voucher program for the residents of D.C., this effectively meant that if a poor inner-city pregnant woman, typically an African American, wanted to end her pregnancy, the government would pay for it. But if she insisted on taking her baby to term, hoping to later place her child in a private school, the same government wouldn’t give her a dime. The prospects for the women are stark, but for the child they are worse: either the baby’s life will be cut short, or his life chances will be.
Sterilization is another option that is attractive to the Obama administration. In 2009, Obama appointed John Holdren his “science czar.” He is a proponent of forced abortions and compulsory sterilization. In 1977, Holdren co-authored an article with radical environmentalists Paul and Anne Ehrlich whereby they entertained the notion of “adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods.”
Keeping an open mind about draconian methods, they also argued that while compulsory control of family size is “an unpalatable idea,” the alternatives “may be much more horrifying.” They were most excited about implementing their population-reduction ideas in poor, non-white nations.
The idea that abortion and sterilization are a positive good is so appealing to the Obama administration that it has sought to punish those who don’t subscribe to its agenda. For example, Catholic programs to combat the human trafficking of women and children have long received federal funds. But because these initiatives do not provide for abortion, they were denied a grant by Obama officials.
It didn’t matter a whit that the Catholic proposal garnered high marks from an independent review board, or that it actually scored higher than some that were awarded a grant. What mattered is that Catholics don’t view abortion as a way of helping women and children living in a state of near slavery.
(The fourth and final article in this series is “Obama Wages War on Catholicism.”)
Dr. William Donohue is the president of and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization. The publisher of the Catholic League journal, Catalyst, Bill is a former Bradley Resident Scholar at the Heritage Foundation and served for two decades on the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars. The author of five books, two on the ACLU, and the winner of several teaching awards and many awards from the Catholic community, Donohue has appeared on thousands of television and radio shows speaking on civil liberties and social issues.
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