Conservatives Unite In Defense Of Our "Religious Freedom"

Earlier this week, the Obama administration ignited an ideological fireball over a pending federal rule that would require religious-leaning institutions to provide insurance plans that would offer a plethora of birth control options, including the so-called morning after pill, to their female employees.

As was to be expected, church organizations and the religious right of the conservative movement convulsed with frenzied hysterics and epileptic rage.

The airwaves literally lit up with right-wing ideologues outraged at what they unanimously perceived as a flagrant violation of the First Amendment rights, and most importantly an infringement on religious liberty, of Americans.

The Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Dolan, viewed the administration’s move as an appalling overreach. “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” he declared.

Not to be outdone, the Republican establishment, including the current GOP frontrunners for the 2012 presidential election, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, seemed copiously incensed by the rule.

Santorum offered up what was probably the most lucid articulation of the conservative argument when, in an interview with CNN’s John King, after reiterating that the issue was centrally about the rights of churches (not women), he categorically stated that "this has to do with the right of a church not to spend their moral resources in a way that's inconsistent with their faith."

Promising to overturn the policy on his first day in office, Romney hastily dismissed it as an "unambiguous attack on religious freedom" even though, according to critics, the policy is eerily reminiscent of a law in effect while he was governor of Massachusetts that offered similar privileges to rape victims.

The Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, characterized the policy as an "unambiguous attack on religious freedom" that he would personally work to legislatively decapitate.

The progressive coalition, rank and file Democrats and women’s rights groups, on the other hand, came out in solid defense of a requirement widely believed to be invariably about gender equality in health care.

Representatives Nita Lowey of New York and Diana DeGette of Colorado were among many lawmakers that came out in support of the rule. Urging the “extreme right wing to stop playing football with women’s health,” Lowey called on all to “stand in solidarity with American women who have waited decades for equity in contraceptive coverage” that they had “fought for too long."

Planned Parenthood President, Cecile Richards, reiterated that "birth control is basic health care and women should have access to birth control, no matter where they work.”

Contrary to the GOP’s clever re-framing of the issue, churches are actually exempt from this rule. The policy, which does not go into effect until August 1st, only applies to religiously-affiliated non-profit hospitals and schools. And even after it goes into effect, these institutions would still be allowed up to a year to demonstrate compliance.

What is also often ignored or conveniently fine-printed is the fact that nearly 30 states currently afford women employees of such institutions similar coverage requirements.

I personally believe that it is prodigiously disingenuous of anyone to take this issue from the realm of health coverage/equality of access where it rightfully belongs to the murky, highly charged and inherently zero-sum world of American ideological orthodoxy.

It seems apparent that in an effort to capitalize on this clearly manufactured controversy, Republicans may have dangerously miscalculated. Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans, including catholic respondents, are firmly in support of this policy.

But, as has been the case on far too many occasions in the past, it seems to be working!

The Obama administration appears to be caving into this contrived conservative indignation. Recent pronouncements by administration officials and a few Democratic Congressional leaders suggest an imminent but most perplexing back-pedal.

Fearing that a backlash from this controversy could negatively impact the outcome of the November presidential elections in critical swing vote states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, many including Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator John Kerry are hard at work in search of a palatable “compromise!”

It is startlingly fascinating that the same GOP leaders and “family values” power centers who have assigned themselves the role of defenders of the faith and champions of our religious freedom were the very ones that most raucously denied Muslim Americans the right to, in accordance with existing local codes and districting laws, erect a mosque in lower Manhattan.

There is utterly nothing new here about the game plan; it’s really nothing to do with our First Amendment rights or religious freedom and everything to do with the staple of modern day Republican politics: duplicity, hypocrisy and divisive/bigoted posturing. Throwing up the white flag or retreating this time only forces the condition to calcify and the proponents to be further emboldened into depraved recalcitrance.

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