The best commentary on the Obama “accommodation” so far, and how to respond to it, has come from Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, in an article at America. He writes: “I believe that an even greater opportunity is before us, namely to have a deeper and on a more prolonged basis a fundamental dialogue about the role of religion in society in general and the nature of religious liberty, especially as it applies to faith-based charitable, health and social service ministries in the United States, in particular. I also believe that the president, relying on his personal experience with church, which he cited once again this week, has not only the potential but also the responsibility to make a significant contribution to this more sustained and expansive discussion.” Bishop Cupich’s balanced look at the issues involved should be read by everyone, but especially by his brother bishops.
I am deeply ambivalent about President Obama’s proposed “accommodation” regarding the HHS mandates. I was grateful I was in the car most of the day on Friday, and unable to offer immediate comment. When I listened to the President’s remarks, it seemed to me that the better part of wisdom was to say nothing over the weekend and, instead, first consult with people whose perspectives, knowledge and expertise I value. Alas, I am as ambivalent this morning as I was on Friday.
There is much to say on this topic, and it is difficult to neatly separate the ecclesial from the political issues. The debate over the past several months, and especially over the past three weeks, revealed a great deal about our culture at this moment but, nonetheless, I would like to try and focus this morning on the ecclesial significance of the decision.
Folks - I am driving back to DC this morning, me and the three dogs, so no longish op-ed post this morning. Instead, here is a link to Jake Tapper's look at the debate on the conscience exemtions within the White House.
Here is the link to the audio from my discussion on "Radio Times" this morning with my freind Sally Steenland from the Center for American Progress and Radio Times' host Marty Moss-Coane.
From his new web-perch at RNS, Mark Silk looks at the significance of the voting on Tuesday and concludes that the culture wars are back in a big way. I suspect he is right, and not only for the Republicans.
In the Columbus Dispatch, Sister Judith Ann Karam, CEO of a Catholic health care system in Cleveland, called on Vice President Joe Biden to help "fix" the overly restrictive conscience exemption. Sr. Judith pointed out that she and others advocated for the Affordable Care Act. Her words should serve as a caution to those who are rushing to give the administration cover on the issue: The sisters who run Catholic health care were critical, indeed decisive, in getting the ACA passed. They have been thrown under the bus. And progressive Catholics are defending Obama? C'mon folks. The issue is not about contraception, it is about whether or not Catholic institutions can continue to follow their mission in good conscience.
Yesterday, I had the honor to speak with the "Global Issues" class at St. Bernard's High School in Montville, CT. Their teacher, Deb Fitzgerald, invited me to talk with her students and they were just great. They were completely unafraid to argue and question, they made good points, their comments reflected a real grasp of the way different issues interact with one another. I thank them and Mrs. Fitzgerald for having me and wish them lot of hard work and learning (and it is work, but it is worth it) in the rest of the year.
As regular readers know, I am up here in Connecticut this week and yesterday’s news and this morning’s papers were dominated by coverage of Governor Dannel Malloy’s State of the State address. Having not been paying close attention to state politics, I thought this would be a yawn for me but Gov. Malloy did not just set out the fiscal challenges facing the state. He called for wholesale reform of public schools including changing the tenure system for teachers.
Calls for changing tenure are not new, but coming from a Democratic governor in an very blue state, and at a time when public employee unions are understandably sensitive after a series of attacks on their most basic rights in Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, and elsewhere, I was surprised. Why would a Democratic governor tangle with his base so soon after coming off a big fight last year with public employee unions about give-backs to balance the budget?
Don Clemmer at the USCCB blog notes the similarities between Lyndon Johnson bemoaning Walter Cronkite's comments opposing Vietnam and Chris matthews comments on the HHS mandates. One this is clear - the White House is learning that we weren't kidding when we told them this issue would touch a chord with many progressive Catholics who are normally supportive of the President and his agenda.
Here is the link to the audio of my discussion yesterday with Professor Mark Silk on the Colin McEnroe Show. Silk knows more about religion and how it intersects with politics than almost any other two scholars combined and it is always a joy to be on a show with someone like him.
Just a reminder that I will be on the Marty Moss-Coane show on Philadelphia's WHYY tomorrow discussing both the Falwell book and the HHS mandates.