The announcement that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, will offer the benediction the night Mitt Romney accepts the Republican nomination for President brings the issue of religious freedom to the front and center of the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Cardinal Dolan stands out as one religious leader who has recognized the danger in the Obama administration’s health care mandate from the beginning and spoken against it.
The archdiocese of New York is one of more than 40 Roman Catholic groups suing President Obama because they contend the Obamacare mandate that employers provide insurance that covers sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives -- including those that can cause abortions -- violates their religious beliefs. So, Cardinal Dolan’s presence really draws attention to the religious freedom argument against Obamacare.
Cardinal Dolan’s presence also adds to the already strongly pro-life tenor of the Convention and sends a signal that despite the advice of his establishment Republican consultants -- with strongly pro-life Roman Catholic Paul Ryan as his running mate -- Governor Romney is prepared to embrace the pro-life elements of the conservative social agenda.
As one surveys today’s political scene, it is impossible not to compare the effect Obama’s gratuitous attack on freedom of conscience at Catholic institutions is having on Catholic voters with Jimmy Carter’s attack on Evangelical Christian schools during the late 1970s. Carter's attack helped galvanize Evangelical Christians into political action and create the so-called Religious Right.
When Carter’s IRS administrator issued an order stating that any religious school founded after the 1952 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court school integration ruling was presumed to be created to circumvent the ruling, and integration -- the response from religious educators of all faiths was swift opposition. It set-off what amounted to an atomic bomb in the middle of the hitherto apolitical Evangelical community and set the stage for the rise of the so-called Religious Right.
Jimmy Carter’s unprovoked attack on Evangelicals brought millions of new conservative Christian voters into the Republican Party. It also helped propel Ronald Reagan to victory in two national elections, led to the near-destruction of the Democrats as a national party in the Bible Belt and made Carter a one-term President.
Carter forced Evangelical Christians to confront the fact that to protect their children from state sponsored secularism -- and their institutions from an increasingly intrusive state -- they were going to have to get involved in politics. They realized that to undo the damage Carter wrought, and make sure it never happened again, the moral leadership that the clergy offer in their day-to-day ministries and Sunday morning sermons was needed.
Roman Catholic Church leaders and the Church hierarchy have yet to regularly bring that powerful force to bear against the Obama administration’s unconstitutional actions.
President Obama’s gratuitous attack on Catholic freedom of conscience is the kind of once-in-a-generation trigger event that can realign the political landscape. We hope Cardinal Dolan’s presence and prominent role at the Republican National Convention means that Catholic Church leaders will be at the forefront of vigorous public campaigns in favor of the right to life and will lead the faithful to demonstrate their opposition to immoral government policies between now and Election Day.
Church leaders vigorously entered the political debate in support of civil rights legislation when they declared segregation a moral wrong. The campaign to end the Obama administration’s unconstitutional invasion of freedom of conscience deserves that same kind of leadership.