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A Better Solution to HHS Mandate Mess

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearings yesterday indicated, if any indication was necessary, that the debate over the HHS mandates is shifting in two ways, both of which make it more difficult for those Catholics, including the bishops, to make their case that they should be exempt from any mandate that violates their First Amendment rights.

First, the issue now enters the smog of partisan wrangling. “Smog” is a portmanteau derived from smoke and fog. The smoke, in this case, suggest smoke and mirrors, a lot of political rhetoric which may or may not correspond to any actual legislative objective and, instead, is designed for political effect. The fog is even more dangerous, suggesting the fog of war, in which it is difficult to discern the situation on the ground and the risk of friendly fire is vastly increased. Both smoke and fog becloud one’s vision and therefore one’s judgment.

The Eisenhower Memorial Controversy

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There is a storm brewing in Washington and, mercifully, it has nothing to do with conscience protections. The design for a monument to President Dwight Eisenhower as come in for criticism, especially from Eisenhower's family who think the architect, Frank Gehry, took one line for a forgettable speech by Ike and made it the basis for a monument design that is oddly discordant with Eisenhower's life. The family is right - the design is deplorable.

This is the second issue surrounding the design of projects in the monumental core of DC. Officials finally agreed to change the words etched into the monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The words were not a direct quote and they made King sound like a "twit" according to Maya Angelou.

Another Bum Rap for Romney

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I am no fan of Gov. Romney, but at a press conference yesterday on Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans at which they announced their continued opposition to teh President's "accommodation" on HHS mandates, a reporter asked about whether or not the congressional Republicans were similarly displeased by Gov. Romney's record in Massachusetts where, it was asserted, he did the same thing.

Actually Romney did something worse, approving a health care law that explicitly provided for taxpayer abortion and, contra those who think Mr. Romney's conversion from pro-choice to pro-life provides him cover on the issue, the Romney health care law was enacted after his conversion.

Run, Sarah, Run

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Have you noticed that the former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, has been all over the airwaves recently? Did you notice how she has consistently said she would vote for the underdog, usually Newt Gingrich, because the primary process needs to keep going and the candidates need to be vetted more thoroughly?

Could it be that Ms. Palin is hoping for a convention in which no one has a majority of the delegates, for the first brokered convention since 1952? And that, in the their frustration with the current crop of candidates, and the personal animosity between them preventing any deal, the convention might, in its wisdom and commitment to conservative principles, turn to her? Is she that delusional?

Yes and yes and yes.

What About Contraception?

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Over the past few weeks, many public commentators, in their zeal to make their case, have grossly mis-characterized the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding contraception, and inadvertantly, pointed to some of the basic problems facing pastors in communicating the teachings of the Church.

Last night, Sean Hannity ranted that the Obama administration was asking Catholic institutions to violate a “core tenet” of their faith. Certainly, the Church’s teaching on contraception is one of the most widely known of its teachings, but is it properly understood as a “core” teaching? We all stand and recite the Creed each Sunday, but I do not see contraception – or any other moral claim – mentioned therein. There is nothing in the Creed about sexual morality and also nothing about social justice. We skip over the life of Jesus in silence, except to note He was born and he died. The “core” teachings of the Catholic Church are doctrinal, then anthropological, and finally ethical and I encourage anyone who attends a lecture of ethics to ask the presenter to start at the beginning, and if they don’t start with the Trinity, ask them what is distinctively Catholic about their views.

Garnett & Schneck on HHS Mandates

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Hard to name two people whose minds I respect more than Rick Garnett and Stephen Schneck. They each have articles up about the HHS mandates that are worth reading. Here is the link to Garnett's and here is the link to Schneck's.

Contra Garnett, I do not think we have to see the President's move as cynical, except and only insofar as we see all politicians as drinking at the well of cynicism as part of their daily duties. Certainly, Republican presidential aspirants that fret about religious liberty concerning contraception are strangely silent about the religious liberty issues raised by Alabama's GOP-endorsed anti-immigrant law.

Hail to the Victor

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The GOP race heads to Michigan next week and two recent polls show Rick Santorum opening a lead over Mitt Romney. This is a surprise to the Romney people who thought that Michgan would be in the bag. Romney's father was a popular governor in the state and Romney won Michigan four years ago. But, parts of Michigan are exceedingly conservative. The southwest corner of the state, the areas around Grand Rapids, is home to a host of evangelical and charismatic colleges and universities. While Detroit has produced some uber-liberal congressional reps, in the Upper Peninsula, only a Democrat with the conservative street cred of Bart Stupak could win. These areas should prove very open to Santorum's candidacy.

Both men need to come out of the state singing the U of M fight song, but only one gets to be the victor. If Romney wins, he can deflate a lot of the steam behind the Santorum candidacy heading into Super Tuesday. If Santorum wins, he not only puts to rest Romney's inevitability argument, he also likely pushes Gingrich's supporters into his own column on Super Tuesday.

Mea Culpas

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First, in my post this morning on conscience, I should have noted that the PRRI poll randomized the order of the questions asked, so as to off-set what I perceived as a bias towards framing the issue as one dealing with contracpetion.Pollsters, at least good pollsters, and the people at PRRI are very good, use techniques like randomization to avoid creating bias, but in this case I think it needed more than randomization. I would note that none of the questions, randomized or not, served to frame the issue the way I and many others thought it should be framed, e.g., "Do you believe that church-affiliated instutitions have a First Amendment right to be exempt from government mandates that contradict their moral teachings?"

Second, I should have also noted that the second headline in the press release from PRRI read "Catholics more divided on whether birth control requirement should apply to religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals."

Rehabilitating Conscience

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Throughout the debate over the HHS mandate, the difference between the way the Catholic Church looks at the world and the way the ambient culture looks at the world keeps popping up in ways that often have frustrated the debate, but which point to some of the most fascinating fault lines in our twenty-first century American culture. This difference has been most obvious when the conversation has turned to a word that has been at the heart of the controversy: conscience.

Must-Read Interview with Msgr Scicluna

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Vatican Insider has a really great interview with Msgr. Charles Scicluna, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the recently conducted symposium on the sexual abuse of children, held in Rome last week.

It will be curious to see if his demand that ecclesial efforts to protect children receive an indpendent audit will be honored by Bishops Bruskewitz and Vasa who have refused to conduct such audits.

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