The Catholic Vote and the Contraception Mandate

Here’s an interesting piece of data from Tuesday’s exit polls: President Obama won the Catholic vote. The margin was narrow — 50%-48%, which more or less mirrors the President’s popular-vote victory — but, still, he won. Now, you might say, this isn’t surprising. Catholics have traditionally leaned Democratic, and President Obama’s campaign stressed social justice concerns that resonate with Catholic teaching. One should remember, though, that the Obama Administration imposed the contraception mandate, and that Catholic bishops made the mandate a salient issue. Requiring Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to employees, the bishops said, seriously threatens Catholics’ religious freedom. Apparently, the majority of Catholic voters disagreed. Or thought that the threat to religious freedom, if it existed, was not as important as other issues, like increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and leaving entitlement programs untouched. Perhaps Latino Catholics voted “ethnicity” rather than “religion.” Who knows? The point is, the majority of Catholic voters apparently did not accept the bishops’ understanding of the importance of the issue.

Leaving aside whether voters who disregard their bishops’ views on the contraception mandate are erring as Catholics – a question on which I’m not qualified to state an opinion — I wonder what implications this vote has for the future of the mandate. Legally, the lawsuits under RFRA will go forward, and I think they have a fair shot at success. But the atmosphere may have changed. It won’t show up expressly in judicial opinions, of course, but I wonder whether judges who support the mandate won’t feel more emboldened to find that the mandate doesn’t “substantially burden” Catholic institutions.  And I wonder whether the Obama Administration won’t feel more comfortable taking a hard line on whatever “accommodation” they are preparing for the final regulations, due before August 2013. The courts may or may not follow the election returns, but politicians surely do.

Religious Freedom Debate Today with Koppelman and Paulsen

A reminder that today CLR will host a debate, “Religious Liberty in the 2012 Election,” at 4:00 PM at the St. John’s University Law School campus in Queens, New York. Our two debaters will be Andy Koppelman (Northwestern) and Mike Paulsen (St. Thomas). Both are known to have strong opinions, so the event promises to be a lively and provocative one.

If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by. Details are here.

Koppelman and Paulsen at St. John’s on September 27

On September 27, CLR will host a debate, “Religious Liberty in the 2012 Election,” at the St. John’s University Law School campus in Queens, New York. Our two debaters will be Andy Koppelman (Northwestern) and Mike Paulsen (St. Thomas). Both are known to have strong opinions, so the event promises to be a lively and provocative one. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by. Details are here.

Garnett on the Virtues of Waiting

Have a look at our friend Rick Garnett’s short article at Commonweal on the the dangers of executive overreach — in this as well as prior presidential administrations — in response to the generally salutary frustrations of constitutionalism.  A bit from Rick’s essay:

The apparent urgency of these challenges prompts many to contend, understandably enough, that we have to act now and dramatically, that something bold must be done, that progress matters more than process, and that—in the words of one of President Barack Obama’s campaign themes—“we can’t wait.”

Last October, for example, after Congress responded coolly to his proposed jobs bill, the president promised—or warned—“If Congress won’t act, I will.” And he has. In a variety of contexts, he has moved on policy and personnel in ways designed to avoid the time-consuming gridlock that sometimes results from procedures mandated and constraints imposed by the Constitution. That document prescribes how high-ranking federal officials are to be appointed and gives the Senate a role in that process. The president—like, but to a greater extent than, other recent presidents—has avoided that check by creating a stable of “czars,” whose selection and portfolios are generally not reviewed by legislators. He has also outdone his predecessors in exploiting the Constitution’s authorization of “recess appointments” to install controversial appointees in powerful positions. Rather than wait for Congress to revise unpopular requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, he has offered to waive those requirements on the condition that states adopt practices, standards, and guidelines supported by his administration. Like other presidents, he has used both executive orders and the administrative-rulemaking process to implement substantive policies that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would likely reject. And, in a widely criticized effort to leap over the jurisdictional limits imposed by the First Amendment, his administration argued before the Supreme Court that the Constitution’s religious-freedom guarantees should not stand in the way of anti-discrimination lawsuits brought by ministerial employees against religious institutions.

Again and again, we hear the same rationale: “If Congress won’t act, I will,” because “we can’t wait.” This should worry, not rally. In the politics of a free society committed to the rule of law, we (usually) can wait, and even when it seems like we can’t, we sometimes have to. It is easy, but mistaken and dangerous, to equate disagreement with bad-faith obstructionism, and to cast one’s own side as an enlightened vanguard, empowered by this or that emergency to do whatever it takes to achieve unity, to make progress, to bring about change. In this election season, though, what is needed—from candidates and citizens alike, and on both the left and right—is humility, restraint, and patience. These are more than useful life skills. They are constitutional virtues.

Rick Santorum and Evangelicals

Last night, Rick Santorum finished second in the Iowa Republican caucuses, a mere eight votes behind Mitt Romney, propelled by strong support from Evangelical voters. According to entrance polls, Santorum received the votes of a third of Evangelical voters. You might say that’s not a big deal, since two-thirds of Evangelical votes went to other candidates. The thing is, Santorum is a Roman Catholic, and the Evangelical/Catholic divide was traditionally a strong one in American politics. The idea that a Northeast Catholic would get strong support from Midwest Evangelicals — far more than Evangelical candidates in the race like Michele Bachman and Rick Perry — shows how much the politics of American religion has changed in the last two generations. On many politically-salient issues, Evangelicals and Catholics today make common cause. The results from Iowa offer more evidence that the  divide in contemporary American politics is not so much between religions, as between voters who have traditional religious commitments and voters who don’t.