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The Bishops’ Lobby Shouts, “Jump”; Senator, Opinion Writers Ask, “How High?”

February 1, 2012

The campaign by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against alleged religious intolerance should be seen today for the shell that it really is. In a nation where the largest single religious denomination in Congress is Catholicism; where six of the nine Supreme Court justices and more than a quarter of the population were baptized Catholic and where one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, DC, is the bishops themselves, it hardly seems plausible to believe that there is widespread intolerance of Catholic views. In fact, it’s completely implausible. There is a certain intolerance, or more correctly, rejection of some of the bishops’ demands, but that is to be expected when it is widely known that the vast majority of Catholics disagree with the bishops, ignore their dictates and, instead, act according to their own individual consciences—which is precisely what Catholic teachings demand of them.

But all it took was a press release from the bishops about their opposition to the Obama administration’s decision to cover family planning, and all hell broke loose.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, has introduced legislation designed to overturn the decision. Op-eds appeared—two in two days in the Washington Post—decrying the administration. (It should be noted that in their rush to do the bishops’ bidding, EJ Dionne and Michael Gerson bewailed a decision that neither of them accurately described, using faulty logic and spurious arguments.) Editorials also appeared in some newspapers denouncing what was described as unwarranted intrusion by the government into religious matters.

Fortunately, not everybody was taken in by the bishops’ outrage. The New York Times, among others, wrote balanced pieces that systematically outlined the benefits of the decision. And Catholics from across the country, incensed by the bishops’ attempts to prescribe public policy and healthcare access, are writing to their local papers, calling their elected representatives and saying what anyone who has been paying attention already knows: most of the 68 million Catholics in this country support greater, more affordable access to contraception in their employers’ insurance plans.

“The bishops have long realized that they have lost the battle for the Catholic faithful when it comes to family planning,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “In fact, the bishops have used their bully pulpit to try to impose failed teachings indiscriminately on Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Their abject failure doesn’t stop them trying to enforce their views in other ways. The bishops tried and failed during the healthcare reform process and now they are bleating about how unfair it all is.

“The media’s hysterical reaction to the bishops was unfortunate. Rather than simply ignoring a business-as-usual note from the bishops, who are opposed to modern methods of family planning for any reason, even if it could help save a woman’s life, some journalists failed to do due diligence and seek comment from the 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women who use a method of contraception banned by the bishops. They are the voices that really matter in this debate.”