When did we decide it would be a good idea for our government to be in the birth control business? The uproar over contraceptives, religion, and the health care law distracted Congress from the reality of revisiting the payroll tax cut, battling over the budget, dealing with long-term unemployment, and plotting how best to stall any semblance of progress until after the 2012 election. For a few days their worries took a back seat to pontificating about religious freedom, or trying to justify demands forced on us by the health care law.
The dispute was also a much-needed diversion for Republican candidates bent on destroying their party’s chance to replace Barack Obama. Their all out effort to convince voters that no GOP candidate is suitable for the presidency shifted to familiar conservative turf as they made religious freedom a campaign issue, hurling charges at the White House and, predictably, each other.
On Capitol Hill John Boehner decried the president’s attack on religion, reassuring the country that This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country must not stand, and will not stand.¹
Senate Republicans also took up the call, charging that the Administration Tramples Religious Liberty:
Now the Obama administration has decided that it can do away with Americans’ First Amendment rights and force people of faith to live by the dictates of the government instead of the dictates of their consciences.²
The moral high ground seemed out of place coming from a House and Senate that waited until an election year to move on a congressional insider trading ban. Republicans would have been better served had they calmed down and thought things through before pushing the hot button over birth control. They could have scored some valuable points during the fracas by focusing on the intrusion of Democratic big government into our lives.
Republicans should hang up the religious freedom argument. Government and religion do not play well together, especially when the shoe is on the other foot, as it was with the Ground Zero Mosque. There is not a politician born, Republican or Democrat, who will not rend their shirt while attesting to a fervent, undying commitment to religious liberty. The real issue should be how we allowed Washington to get into the health care business in the first place, and how we should go about getting out of it.
Big promises were made in January 2011 when Republican House members staged their symbolic vote against the health care law and promised that the bill would be dismantled. Health care reform is still alive, well, and on schedule, even though the House GOP website offers the illusion that it has been halted in its tracks:
Because the new health care law kills jobs, raises taxes, and increases the cost of health care, we will immediately take action to repeal this law.
This promise was fulfilled on January 19, 2011, with the passage of H.R. 2. President Obama’s Job Destroying Health Care Law was repealed by the House of Representatives.³
Last week confirmed that the bill was far from dead, and brought us an unspoken, unexpected alliance between the Catholic Church and the Republican Party. It would have been more productive to hear arguments focusing on our out of control Federal Government that in less than two years will force Americans, under penalty of fines, to carry health insurance. By buying into the religious freedom rhetoric Republicans risk coming under the same fire as Democrats. Big government intrusion cuts both ways. It is difficult to argue that government should not impinge on religious freedom while GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates advocate policies that are based on religious convictions.
The solution to this quandary is for the Federal Government to get out of the health care business. As for legislating morality, the government should not be in the religion business, either. Our government is not about morality. It is easier to make the case that government is fundamentally amoral, and by nature infringes on its citizens and makes decisions that run counter to religious values.
Whether or not Americans agree that birth control and religious liberty should be pivotal issues, most agree that an economy that creates wealth and jobs so we can pay our bills, afford our houses, and not spend our retirement years broke and homeless are values we can all embrace. If lawmakers and presidential hopefuls cannot get enough mileage out of the economy, debt, and deficit to keep them from straying into dangerous moral territory, they are not trying very hard.