Romney Accuses Obama of Stifling Religious Liberty

Today, the Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Mitt Romney, “President Obama versus Religious Liberty:”

The Obama administration is at it again. They are now using Obamacare to impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.

This is the same Mitt Romney who could barely utter a word about religious freedom for his own faith when it was under assault by some of his fellow conservatives. Now that he’s expected to be his party’s nominee, he feels compelled to take up its most potent religion crusade this year: the claim that religious institutions who are opposed to contraception should get a special exemption from the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that employers provide contraceptive coverage to their employees, free of co-pays. Even those religious institutions which have been, without complaint, providing contraceptive coverage to their employees for years. 

As I wrote on the night of the Florida primary, and as I predicted earlier in January, these supposed liberal attacks on “religious liberty,” and in particular, the contraception requirement, would become an essential theme of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Romney, fighting off Newt Gingrich’s campaign theme that he is a “Massachusetts moderate,” today jumps on the bandwagon in hopes of sealing the deal with religious conservatives:

But, now, more than two centuries after the drafting of the Bill of Rights, religious liberty is facing the most serious assault in generations. And the assault is coming from liberalism itself. In the process of implementing Obamacare, the Obama administration is pressing forward with a rule that tramples on religious freedom, taking particular aim at Roman Catholics. The Obama administration is forcing religious institutions to choose between violating their conscience  or dropping health care coverage for their employees, effectively destroying their ability to carry on their work.

But note how Romney only builds the case that he’s a politically opportunistic flip-flopper with this op-ed, in particular:

[W]hen it comes to the agenda of the left-wing of the Democratic Party—those who brought us abortion on demand and who fight against the teaching of abstinence education in our children’s schools—their devotion to religious freedom goes out the window. They would force Catholics and others who have beliefs rooted in their faith to sacrifice the teachings of their faith to the mandate of federal bureaucrats.

That’s the same Romney who pledged, while he was running for governor of Massacusetts in 2002, “I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one. Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government’s.” (Or the Bishops, right?) In that same campaign, in response to a Planned Parenthood questionnaire, Romney answered “yes” to the question: “Do you support the teaching of responsible, age-appropriate, factually accurate health and sexuality education, including information about both abstinence and contraception, in public schools?” But here he blames the “left-wing of the Democratic Party” for forcing religious people to violate their consciences.

Katha Pollitt dispenses with the argument that the Catholic institutions are entitled to have an exemption based on religious conscience:

Are Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other pacifists exempt from taxes that pay for war and weapons? Can Scientologists, who abhor psychiatry, deduct the costs of the National Institute of Mental Health? As an atheist, a feminist, a progressive, I ante up for so much stuff that violates my conscience, the government should probably pay me damages. Why should the bishops be exempt from the costs of living in a pluralistic society?. . . . The vast majority of Catholics long ago rejected the Vatican’s ban on contraception. Catholic women are as likely to use birth control as other women. What about their consciences?

Or, for that matter, the consciences of Romney’s fellow Mormons: the LDS Church permits the use of birth control, all methods. And here’s another one: what would the reaction of the anti-Mormons in conservative-land be to a claim of violation of religious freedom by the LDS Church, should it request an exemption from a law? Wouldn’t they start to worry that the government might be endorsing that non-Christian religion? 

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