by Susan Bergert
"All Floridians…deserve the opportunity to benefit from programs with a secular purpose provided by religious organizations." --Florida Catholic Conference
In playing the religious freedom card to justify denying birth control coverage to employees, Catholic authorities have seriously hurt themselves and the politicians who support their stand.
The Catholic Bishops, who take their orders from a foreign potentate—the Pope in Rome—have screamed that by requiring them to follow the regulations in the Affordable Health Care Act, President Obama is waging a war on religion. They ordered a letter to be read in every Catholic church that said, "the Obama administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution" and denied Catholics "religious liberty."
The public hasn't seen this quite the same way. The birth control controvery is seen by many as not a war on religion, but rather a war on women. Recent polls show that female voters favor Obama by double digits over any candidate supportive of the bishops' stand.
Criticism of the bishops has come from all directions, even Catholics themselves. Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, pointed out that 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used a form of birth control forbidden by the Vatican. According to O'Brien, “having failed to convince Catholics in the pews, the bishops are now trying to impose their religious views by fiat," and that "in the process they stand to impede the religious freedom of millions of Americans of all faiths and no faith, taking reproductive healthcare options away from everybody. The result will be an unconscionable violation of the conscience rights of Americans, sponsored and supported by a small group of religious leaders who have lost all credibility on this issue."
Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State echoed this stand. "When the claim of ‘conscience’ by large religions collides with that of an individual woman, it is her right to make her own moral decision that must be saved.”
Lauren Youngblood of the Secular Coalition of America commented in her blog that "Religious institutions are not above the law or entitled to special treatment "This is especially true," she said, "when the organizations in question accept government funding—as so many religious hospitals, charities and universities do. Religious liberty certainly doesn’t give organizations the right to force their views, through taxpayer dollars, on those with different religious views, or to ignore the law."
The Bishops have taken another kind of hit: ridicule from the world of entertainment. The cast of Saturday Night Live and the influential Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have ripped into them. Watch Colbert's informative take on the issue here: