Henneberger on Religious Politics

by Michael Sean Winters

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In Friday's Washington Post, Melinda Hennberger had a great piece on how Romney's European tour was targeted less at foreign heads of state than at U.S. heads of religious organizations.

I think Henneberger is right that the White House's political calculations may be off. But, there is something worse about the administration's unwillingness to find a fix to the mandate mess they created. Obama could have had a Sister Souljah moment with the pro-choice crowd which, in this instance, is not defending a woman's right to have an abortion, nor even a woman's right to access to contraception. There were plenty of policy remedies for the issue of guaranteeing access. No, in this instance, women's groups just decided they wanted to sock it to the bishops, and the White House timidly went along, after conducting polls and focus groups to be sure. Lost in this was not only the possibility of a better working relationship with the USCCB, but a loss of vision about what makes a society good and great. To quote from the concurring opinion of Justices Alito and Kagan in the Hosanna-Tabor case:

Throughout our nation's history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have “act[ed] as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State.” Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U. S. 609, 619 (1984). In a case like the one now before us—where the goal of the civil law in question, the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities, is so worthy—it is easy to forget that the autonomy of religious groups, both here in the United States and abroad, has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws. To safeguard this crucial autonomy, we havelong recognized that the Religion Clauses protect a privatesphere within which religious bodies are free to governthemselves in accordance with their own beliefs. The Constitution guarantees religious bodies “independence from secular control or manipulation—in short, power todecide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America, 344 U. S. 94, 116 (1952).

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