Metropolitik: Who decides religion’s role in American life?

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa led a panel 
on Thursday called: “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama 
administration trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”

We got such great responses from Thursday’s column on the religious right’s war on Obama’s supposed war on religion — both congratulatory and deeply opposed — that we decided to return to the issue this weekend. But we’re not the only ones: Republican legislators have doubled down on the culture war, holding a House panel Thursday aimed at determining whether the Obama administration is violating religious liberty with its policy requiring all employers to provide health insurance — including birth control — for women.

So it was that Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, convened a room full of holy men to get to the bottom of how, exactly, the Obama administration’s insurance mandate infringes on employers’ rights to restrict women’s full access to reproductive health options.

(Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University student whose health plan lacks contraception coverage, was forwarded by Democrats as a lone female voice on the panel, but Issa declared her “not qualified” to testify with the eminently qualified male panel on issues of birth control and menstrual cramps.)

Beyond the obvious absurdity of excluding women from a discussion on reproductive rights, the evidence from Obama’s presidency simply does not support right-wing claims of an administration war on religion. In reality — you know, the world in which statements one makes are borne out by actual facts? — Obama has been very friendly toward religious institutions, handing out hundreds of millions to faith-based charities through budget items and stimulus measures. 

More important, however, is the fact that Catholic scripture does not specifically condemn birth control — and therefore the insurance mandate. Though Pope Pius XI, in 1930, argued that opposition to contraception had doctrinal support, recent church authorities disagree.

All people have a right to personally decide matters of faith. But forcing beliefs on others — exactly the crime bishops and GOP?legislators put on Obama’s head — is not a right. Republicans have a point, though: There’s a fine line between religious freedom and religious tyranny. They simply mistook which side of it they were on.

Follow Brayden Simms on Twitter @metropolitik


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