As I've noted previously, National Catholic Reporter's Michael Sean Winters just doesn't get it when it comes to understanding why many of us commenting on the "religious freedom" crusade of the U.S. Catholic bishops and of their right-wing white evangelical allies place the phrase "religious freedom" or "religious liberty" in quotation marks as we issue our comments. Again yesterday, Winters repeated what he's said about this before: he maintains that people are using quotation marks in such commentary because they want to put the notion of religious freedom itself into "scare quotes."
He views the use of quotation marks in thiis context as an attack on the idea of religious liberty, and he proposes that the U.S. Catholic bishops have invited such attack by allowing themselves to become rabid partisans in a political movement to mount war against the current president of the U.S., Barack Obama.
This analysis spectacularly refuses to see the point that many of us sought to make from the outset of the bishops' "religious liberty" crusade against the Obama administration — a point many of us who are Catholic sought unsuccessfully to communicate to people like Michael Sean Winters or the Commonweal "liberals" including E.J. Dionne when they immediately jumped onto the bishops' "religious freedom" bandwagon. As many of us tried to point out from the outset of the bishops' anti-Obama "religious liberty" crusade, while one "liberal" Catholic after another who should know better hopped onto the bishops' bandwagon (see Patti Miller on this point), the bishops are not defending religious freedom at all: they're trying to ram down the throat of the entire culture a notion of religious liberty that benefits them and their allies at the expense of everyone else, and especially of targeted others like the LGBTQ community.
The bishops are promoting a notion of "religious freedom" that is religious freedom for me but not for thee. As Linda Greenhouse notes today in New York Times, though the Supreme Catholic men stated over and over again at the Zubik hearing last week that the Obama administration is trying to "hijack" the religious freedom of conservative Christians, it's those conservative Christians who are seeking, with the collusion of these Supreme Catholic men, to hijack the religious freedom of our entire society:
At its core, this case, Zubik v. Burwell, is a case about religion's role in civil society. The plaintiffs are betting on an expansive interpretation of a federal statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. And here's where hijacking comes in. What's being hijacked is not the religious objectors' insurance plans, but the Religious Freedom Restoration Act itself. . . .
[T]hey [the Catholic bishops and the Little Sisters of the Poor] are after bigger game: getting the Supreme Court to interpret the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to mean anything they say it means.
This is not religious freedom. This is religious bullying. And so Winters' framing of what is taking place with the U.S. bishops' bogus and entirely partisan "religious freedom" crusade is wildly off the mark. Not only does he completely misunderstand why folks want to ridicule the notion that it's religious liberty that the bishops are all about by placing the phrase in quotation marks when they're commenting on the bishops' anti-Obama political crusade, in the essay he published about this yesterday, he proposes (absurdly) that this is a both-sides-are-wrong kind of battle in which each side is equally to blame and equally determined to score points against the other.
He accuses the Obama administration of seeking to see that women's contraeptive needs are covered by the Affordable Care Act because it's caving in to his bête noire, radical feminists. Winters appears curiously oblivious to the fact that there's a matter of basic moral principle at stake here: that principle is that women, who need access to contraceptive coverage for a variety of medical reasons, are seeking the full and complete medical coverage recommended by the best of professional medical organizations in the U.S. today, and the Obama administration is trying to assure that they receive such medical coverage.
Not only is access to contraception the right of women, but when the vast majority of Catholic women are actually using contraception in their marriages, it beggars belief that the bishops want to draw a line in the sand about contraception coverage at this point in time. Let me repeat: the Catholic bishops of the United States, using the Little Sisters of the Poor, are the ones who have drawn a line in the sand regarding contraceptive coverage, and they are pushing the ridiculous argument that it's immoral for Catholic groups even to notify the federal government that they object to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees, so that someone else may provide that coverage.
This is far from a both-sides-are-wrong situation. It's a situation in which one side clearly stands on the side of moral principle, while the other is throwing an ugly, immature, very unedifiying temper tantrum about its loss of control over secular society as a whole, in a pluralistic, secular democracy that should never have afforded any particular religious group such control in the first place — and certainly not in the name of a debased, inverted religious freedom that tramples on the religious freedom of everyone outside that religious group.
The Obama administration is not, as Michael Sean Winters wishes to believe, caving in to radical feminists in insisting that contraceptive coverage be included in the healthcare package of women, including by Catholic employers — almost all of which never made the slightest issue about providing such coverage in the past, almost all of which did in fact already provide such coverage until they saw an opportunity to attack the Obama administration regarding contraceptive coverage. In insisting that contraceptive coverage be included in the healthcare package of women employees, the Obama administration is merely standing on a point of basic moral principle.
And that point is hardly lost on the vast majority of Americans, including Catholic Americans, who richly resent the attempt of the U.S. Catholic bishops, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and right-wing white evangelicals to deny the religious freedom of those who disagree with these religious groups — and to call this hijacking of "religious freedom" an attempt to protect authentic notions of religious freedom. If Winters would only open his eyes, he'd see that he and other Catholic journalists who jumped onto the bishops' bandwagon from the outset made a serious mistake — as many of us knew from the outset, particularly those of us who have no option to delude ourselves about what the religious right always means when it asserts its "right" in the name of "religious freedom" to attack us and to deny rights to us.
If Winters would only open his eyes, he'd see that the reason a majority of his own co-religionists have turned their backs on the bishops' "religious freedom" crusade is not that they're rejecting the notion of religious freedom, as he wants to believe. They're defending it — against the bishops' and the Little Sisters' highly unprincipled attack on it.
I find the illustration at the head of the posting used at many online sites, with no clear indication (that I have found) of its source.