Yesterday, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), along with his fellow Democrats, wrote a letter to the Committee Chair, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), asking that he condemn Rush Limbaugh’s slurs of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. Issa had barred Fluke from testifying at his “religious freedom” hearing on the contraception mandate last month, claiming she was not “qualified.”
Today Issa wrote back to Cummings, and said, in a nutshell, while Limbaugh’s remarks were “inappropriate,” “I am struck by your clear failure to recognize your own contributions to the denigration of this discussion and attacks on people of religious faith.”
I’ve now covered two hearings on this “religious freedom” topic convened by Issa, and the hearing this week convened by the House Judiciary Committee at which Issa again grandstanded on this “religious freedom” issue, with his hyperbole that requiring religious institutions’ insurers to cover contraception for employees represented the greatest threat to religious freedom ever conceived. After Issa’s own smug display of contempt for the Democratic side of the Oversight Committee, the need of American women for access to affordable birth control, along with his fawning over the martyred arguments presented by the Catholic bishops and their allies, it’s hard to see his entire “religious freedom” crusade as anything but a total farce. The rejoinder to anything a Democrat says is not that they are enemies of religious freedom.
As Cummings noted on several occasions in the hearings, and at the hearing the Democrats held at which Fluke was the sole witness, his own parents are Pentecostal ministers. He is a religious person. It’s precisely that devotion to religion that compels Cummings and other supporters of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses to reject demands that the government bend generally applicable, neutral laws like the HHS regulation to suit the religious convictions of certain religions. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), another member of the Oversight Committee that Issa singles out for particular scorn, is a Catholic who had previously pointed out that the Bishops’ position on contraception is not shared by all Catholics. He questioned the Bishops’ twisting of the concept of religious freedom, and the troubling intertwining of church in policymaking by the state. At both Oversight hearings, Connolly pointed out that the notion the Bishops are constitutionally entitled to impose their views of contraception on others by gaining exemptions not envisioned or required by the Constitution was a distortion of the First Amendment. But Issa charges Connolly with heresy, claiming he “even went so far as to assault the integrity of the clergymen testifying about their concerns regarding the First Amendment, stating, ‘your participation on the panel makes you complicit in, of course, the trampling of freedom.'” For Issa, the clergymen (yes! clergymen) are ipso facto above reproach, while Fluke is “not qualified.” Do you need more evidence that he has a problem with the Establishment Clause—and with women?
Issa goes on to complain that his female staffers have been subject to verbal harassment, including “hag” and “traitor.” If true, that is despicable. But as far as I know, no nationally syndicated radio host has said those things. And if Issa has learned even the most basic of playground civility,he would realize that, you know, two wrongs don’t make a right. Indeed, since he’s so interested in protecting the religious freedom of Catholic institutions, and, apparently, all things Catholic, perhaps he should take a look at Georgetown president John DeGioia’s letter to his community. DeGioia quotes St. Augustine: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.”