Conservatives see a war on religion; I see compromise

In the midst of this controversy over contraception in health care coverage and religious liberty, some Republican candidates for president have engaged in overblown rhetoric that is just plain crazy, even in an election season already punctuated with over-the-top rhetoric and vitriol.

Newt Gingrich recently told voters in Ohio that President Barack Obama "declared war on the Catholic church." Both he and Rick Santorum have accused the administration of waging a "war on religion" when they devised a rule covering contraception in health care plans because the exemption was not broad enough to cover religiously affiliated universities and hospitals.

Santorum talks about the "intolerance of the left," as if no people with progressive views ever embraced a faith or darkened the door of a house of worship. He even suggested that the United States is heading for something like the French Revolution, complete with guillotines, because of the alleged intolerance for people of faith by the "left." Really, Rick? Really? How many progressive people do you know?

Even Mitt Romney, who tends to be a tad softer on the subject, said recently, "This kind of assault on religion [referring to the contraceptive rule] will end if I'm president of the United States." Not a "war" maybe, but an "assault" nonetheless.

None of these candidates seems remotely aware that we have separation of church and state in this country. But of course, they are anxious to get that conservative evangelical vote, a bloc that does not understand much about that basic founding premise.

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This rhetoric is just plain crazy. There is no "war" on religion. At most, there is an attempt by the Obama administration to balance the right of women to contraceptive health care with the moral concerns of the Catholic church (actually the bishops, since most Catholics do not agree with their stance), and a few other religious bodies with similar views.

You can argue that they struck the wrong balance, but it certainly does not qualify as a "war" or even an "assault."

In fact, the White House agreed to a compromise on this issue that preserves both the liberty of religious institutions and the right of women to access contraception free of charge. This is not the conduct of generals at war. This is a work of listening and political compromise -- an especially amazing compromise at that.

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