Gingrich Claims Obama Violates Catholics’ Right to Worship

ORLANDO, FL — At his final campaign stop before tomorrow’s primary, Newt Gingrich noted that he and Callista went to Mass last night, and contrasted that to President Obama’s “anti-religious bias.”

At Catholic churches across Florida, Gingrich said, a letter from the Bishops was read, “pointing out that the Obama administration last week in effect waged war against the Catholic Church and against every religious institution which is not in favor of abortion.”

Gingrich was referring to the Department of Health and Human Services rule that requires employers who provide health insurance to their employees to cover contraceptives without a co-pay. Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the rule, but the Bishops had sought a wider exemption for other religious institutions such as hospitals and universities (even though many such Catholic institutions’ health plans already cover contraceptives). The new HHS rule does not address abortion. Conservatives maintain that some of the contraceptive methods covered amount to abortions, but the Bishops’ objection is based on the Vatican’s opposition to birth control.

“It is an amazing letter,” Gingrich went on, “and it’s based on the rules from the Obama administration on what you have to put in your health insurance, and basically eliminates any conscience objection in a way that is a fundamental violation of our right to to worship without interference from the government.”

Not only did Gingrich conflate abortion and contraception, he expanded the definition of what “worship” is. Because of course the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment prohibits government interference with freedom of worship. But the Obama administration’s rule does not impede anyone’s right to worship.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently launched an Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty because “never before have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider.” It has portrayed public policy and laws, ranging from same-sex marriage to same-sex adoption to contraceptive coverage as a violation of religious freedom.

At the campaign stop, Gingrich, who has been fond of listing executive orders he will sign within hours of becoming president, added a new one to the list. He pledged that he would sign an executive order that would “repeal every aspect of Obama’s anti-religious bias,” a promise which, in true Gingrichian fashion, is sweeping, ridiculous, and impossible. But at his last stand in Florida, the idea of Obama as not only a destroyer of American exceptionalism, but as an enemy of all that is good and holy, played well as Gingrich spoke from the stage with his third wife at his side.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email