By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published October 13, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
My mailbox recently revealed that the U.S. presidential election has finally arrived — or at least my Vote By Mail ballot had. The sight of its companion, a thick gray Official Voter Information Guide, made me cringe. Oh joy. Homework ahead.
Yet who needs to bother with studying the facts when one has television to tell you what is so. For example:
“Apparently a large branch of (candidate) Mitt Romney’s family lives in Mexico… His grandfather in the late 1800s moved his whole family to Mexico… Mitt can use that to show that he’s tough on immigration. His family kicked themselves out of the country,” joked late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.
“A man in Florida has been arrested for wearing a President Obama mask while robbing a McDonald’s. To show you how good this guy’s disguise was, instead of a holdup note he was reading from a teleprompter,” said host Jay Leno.
“This Obama robber made some pretty scary threats to the McDonald’s employees. He said, ‘Give me your money, or else my economic plan will have you working here for the rest of your life.’”
Then there was the most laughable comment of all during the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, which coincidentally featured two Catholic politicians.
“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “No religious institution — Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital — has to either refer contraception, … pay for contraception, (or) … be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”
Okay, I guess I didn’t laugh when I heard that “fact” and I was relieved when U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan responded, “(Then) why would they keep suing you? It’s a distinction without a difference.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops must have felt the same shock at Biden’s inaccuracy as I did. On Friday they replied: “This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain ‘religious employers.’ That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to ‘Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,’ or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
“HHS has proposed an additional ‘accommodation’ for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as ‘non-exempt.’ That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation ‘to pay for contraception’ and ‘to be a vehicle to get contraception.’”
The biweekly business magazine Forbes expressed the situation surprisingly well in February. If President Barack Obama “forces the Catholic Church to comply with the Health and Human Services ruling to provide its employees with insurance that covers activities the Church has long held sinful — abortion via the morning after pill, sterilization and contraceptives — then the precedent is clear: when religious beliefs conflict with government decrees, religion must yield,” wrote Charles Kadlec, a non-Catholic.
What is at stake this election is nothing less than the U.S. principle of religious liberty.
Are there other issues this election? Certainly. But few rise to the same level of importance in my mind.
Two that do so are abortion and same-sex marriage. Both issues divide U.S. voters nearly in half — except when religion is factored in. People of faith in the U.S. tend to oppose both, which puts them in disagreement with Obama.
Several years ago a Gallup analysis of polls found that only 20 percent of U.S. Christians share Obama’s stance that abortion should be legal under any circumstances. Only 28 percent of those who attend religious services at least weekly support same-sex marriage, according to a survey this July by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
The problem is that U.S. adults are increasingly less committed to what we claim to believe. The Pew Research Center published research Tuesday entitled: “‘Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation.” It reported “a gradual decline in religious commitment,” especially among younger generations. Only 37 percent of adults attend religious services weekly and 33 percent only do so monthly or yearly.
It is no wonder religious liberty and more is under attack.
This election, as always, those of us who claim to follow the person and teachings of Jesus should defend life, marriage, and liberty of conscience, which are the fundamental building blocks of any civilization.