The GOP couldn't have three more hypocritical champions in the fight between the White House and the Catholic bishops over contraception insurance coverage. Romney, Gingrich and Santorum have each benefitted enormously from previous government "intrusion" into "freedom of religion".
Further, there is no freedom of religion constitutional issue in the current tempest.
Gingrich is the most obvious beneficiary of government "intrusion" into religious matters, chiefly the Catholic doctrine of the sanctity of marriage. In the mid-1970s the state of California pioneered no-fault divorce through a law carried to passage by my old friend John Vasconcellos, ironically a Catholic bachelor. Up until then the need to prove "fault" kept many marriages out of the divorce courts, thus buttressing the Catholic Church's prohibition against divorce. Once the barrier came down on the civil side, the unhappy marrieds flocked to divorce, including huge numbers of Catholics. The Catholic Church had to find a way to keep these people in the Church, especially if they remarried. It did so by liberalizing the grounds for annulment for the marriages that had ended in divorce, thus freeing the divorced Catholics to remarry within the Church. It's likely that Gingrich and Calista availed themselves of the new annulment standards in order to clear him of his prior marriages so he could marry her in the Church. Without annulment, the Catholic Church considers any prior Christian marriage to be binding until death.
Rick Santorum has also benefitted from government "intrusion" into religious matters. Or he certainly could. If he and his wife get tired of home-schooling their kids, they can send them to public schools, confident that their Catholic children will not be actively proselytized by Protestant teachers and on-campus Protestant "Christian Crusades". Nor will they be made to feel outcast as the rest of their class recites the Our Father with wording different from the Catholic version. (These things were rough too on the Jewish kids and other non-Protestants.) All of these things went on in the public schools I attended in Illinois and in California so that Catholic neighbors of limited means had to scrape and skimp to send their kids to Catholic schools. Then the Supreme Court forbade religion in public schools. So how does Rick Santorum have the nerve to foment against federal "intrusion" into religion after Catholics received this enormous benefit from the Supreme Court decision?
Mitt Romney's story as a Mormon is equally important. In the late 1800s the federal government outlawed polygamy, and the Mormon Church reluctantly "obeyed" but hedged its bets by ordering Mitt's ancestor and others to establish a polygamist Mormon colony in Mexico. You know the story. To be consistent now, Romney would have to attack the federal law that prohibited polygamy and drove his family out of America. What greater intrusion on religious belief could there be than the banning of a fundamental Mormon practice? But he won't make this attack because it's pointless. It's not just politically stupid; it's baseless in law and in practicality for modern Mormons. Indeed, the Mormons would likely have no place in America society today had they continued polygamy because hatred of it historically enraged their fellow citizens to the point of murder and war. The federal law against polygamy probably saved the Mormons from near-extinction.
As an attorney and former law professor, I can assure you that there is NO absolute guarantee in the First Amendment of the right do do whatever you like in the name of religion. Quakers and Mennonites were jailed for refusing to serve in our wars. Parents have been jailed for failing to get medical care for their children because of their religious beliefs. Churches cannot be built in violation of city zoning laws. And because of this well-established principle of law, I had a tough job as an attorney arguing the religious rights of Native Americans to their spiritual sites on public lands.
In the 1990 Supreme Court case "Employment Division v. Smith", Justice Antonin Scalia, hardly a pro-government justice, noted the well-established principle that established religious belief doesn't outrank otherwise neutral law: "To permit otherwise would be to make the professed doctrine of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."
What is at issue in the contraceptive insurance coverage matter is nothing near as compelling as the issues of conscience involved in killing others in war, refusing medical help when one believes God should suffice for healing, or erecting a structure vital to the practice of religion. At issue in the present controversy is whether the Catholic Church should spend its money to buy insurance coverage for its employees in schools, hospitals and social services. The action at issue is the spending of one's money.
And so we turn to ol' Joan Baez.
In 1964 Joanie refused to pay the 60% of her federal income tax that she deemed was supporting the Vietnam War. Paying for war violated her conscience. At this time, some Catholic theologians were arguing that this was "an immoral war" and therefore sinful. But neither Joanie nor others who agreed with her had a leg to stand on. The IRS filed a lien on her home and collected her tax debt from the box office receipts at her concerts. Along with fines and interest. No court rushed to help her. In fact, I don't recall any attorneys stepping up to the plate on her behalf.
Why no help for Joanie? Because it's well-settled in American law that you can't use religious conviction as a reason for not paying what the law requires of everyone else. Freedom of religion does not extend that far.
And it never has. During the American Revolution, Quakers who refused to pay a tax for the war saw their property seized by the Founding Founders and the nascent American government.
So let's cut the baloney about "faith being crushed by the Obama administration", as Santorum so hysterically puts it. Hey, Santorum, try peddling your malarkey to George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison! Our Founding Fathers would think you were out of your mind!
And what kind of believers are Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney if they truly fear that our federal government can "crush faith"?
Religious faith doesn't live or die because of the Ten Commandments being displayed in a courthouse or a Nativity scene being in front of a city hall. True faith lives in the heart and mind, not in greeting cards that say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" instead of "Happy Holidays".
So shut up, Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney. Oh, ye, of little faith in faith. You should know, almost better than anyone, that from its very birth in the American Revolution this country has always required that we all, regardless of religious belief, pay our money just like everyone else as required by duly enacted law.
This is not war on religion. It's how we avoid chaos as a society.
Just ask Scalia.