Friday, January 19, 2018
Opinion

White House leading attack on religious liberty

The Obama administration's attack on religious liberty embedded in its sweeping health care reform law is the target of nearly two dozen federal lawsuits, filed mostly by Catholic organizations. Why are we so mad? Start with a look at the Obama playbook that through four easy steps forces faith-based groups to pay to be faithful.

First, draft the health care legislation in a seemingly innocuous way by requiring an employer's insurance to cover women's "preventive care," and assure wavering congressmen that abortion-inducing drugs would not be included. Step two, after Congress passes the law, consult a biased group of like-minded medical experts and conclude that contraception is "preventive care." (Prevention from what? The disease of pregnancy?) Three, violate the guidelines on federal rulemaking and jam through regulations in a manner described by lawyers for the University of Notre Dame as a "regulate first, think later" approach — and make no attempt whatsoever to address the interests of the big players in the Catholic Church who self-insure. When challenged, scream, "War on women!"

Finally, create an exemption for religious organizations that is cynically narrow, designate a bureaucrat in the bowels of the Department of Health and Human Services to decide which religious organizations are sufficiently "religious" to qualify, and fine the rest who don't comply.

This behavior is nothing new. For three-plus years I have watched the White House faith-based office I once directed lead the assault on religious liberty and marginalize any groups not conforming to the administration's secular orthodoxy. Faith-based groups who for years ran successful programs had their federal grants stripped if they ran afoul of administration doctrine. The Pentecostal pastor chosen by President Barack Obama to lead the purge, Joshua DuBois, had solid credentials for mobilizing religious groups sympathetic to the president. He previously worked in Obama's Senate office and on the 2008 presidential campaign as his religious outreach point man.

Recently, the Obama 2012 campaign hired a new faith outreach adviser — Michael Wear — plucked directly from, you guessed it, the White House faith-based office.

Watching all of this is disillusioning for those of us who felt it is possible to be a good Catholic and a good Democrat. For the record, I stayed a Democrat the entire time I served as a senior adviser to former President George W. Bush, and I served previously in the Cabinet of then-Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat. So I am no political partisan. Yet I found myself last November in Immokalee in a tiny government office near where my family just moved, no longer registering to vote as a Democrat.

I did this not only because I was alienated by the Obama administration's record on religious liberty, but because it had been championed by Catholic Democrats like Vice President Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and supported by virtually every single Democrat in Congress, beginning with the commander in chief.

There used to be good role models for those of us wanting to be practicing Catholics and good Democrats. Many of us uncomfortable with the socially liberal views of the party could point to Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey — whom I had the privilege of introducing to Mother Teresa of Calcutta to show her that not all Democrats were proabortion — and cling to the belief that indeed it was possible to serve God and Caesar, just as he did. So we lived our faith, stayed Democrats, voted Republican in the presidential elections and hoped for a new generation of Democrats who would model faithful citizenship in public life.

None emerged. Where are the Bob Caseys now? Never before, under the leadership of either a Republican or Democratic president, has the federal government bullied faith-based organizations into doctrinal conformance on an issue of such religious and moral gravity. The religious exemption the Obama administration has provided in its HHS regulations supports the conclusion that the president wants evangelical and Catholic voices out of the public square and consigned to roles on Sunday mornings. The so-called "accommodation" by the administration to shift the cost of abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization to insurers is a farce, an accounting gimmick. That is why groups like little Ave Maria University are in federal court.

Allowing a U.S. president of any political party or religious affiliation to force conformance to his or her religious or secular orthodoxy through executive action is a perilous precedent. Fortunately, America is awakening to this threat. You don't have to be a Catholic to see that religious freedom is under attack.

Jim Towey is president of Ave Maria University, a Catholic liberal arts college south of Immokalee. He previously served as assistant to President George W. Bush in the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. He was legal counsel to Mother Teresa of Calcutta from 1985-97. He also served as secretary of Florida's former Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services in the administration of Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Comments
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18