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Obama Meets with Catholic Bishop, Won't Talk to Discrimination Opponents

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By Simon Brown

The New York Times reported yesterday that President Barack Obama met privately with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan at the White House last week in order to discuss, at least in part, religious liberty in America. This was their second meeting.

“I found the president of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community,” said Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, at a news conference this week, according to The Times. “I left there feeling a bit more at peace about this issue than when I entered.”

The real issue for the Catholic hierarchy isn’t religious liberty in America – it’s reproductive services, gay marriage and continued taxpayer funding of Catholic organizations that oppose the aforementioned.

That was perfectly clear last month when Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who is head of the new bishops’ committee on religious liberty, told a U.S. House subcommittee that Catholic organizations are under attack. He complained that they’re being asked to provide birth control services and acknowledge the civil marriages of same-sex couples as the price of access to some government grants and contracts.

At a hearing Oct. 26 before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, at which Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn also testified, Lori criticized the Obama administration’s refusal to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act and railed against healthcare mandates that don’t allow religious organizations to pick and choose which services they provide.

The hierarchy has been lobbying the Department of Health and Human Services as well as Republicans in Congress, for a variety of overly broad legal exemptions, including expanding the religious exemption to Obama’s healthcare overhaul that requires most private insurers to cover contraception.

What Dolan, Lori and their colleagues in the Catholic hierarchy don’t understand is that they can’t have it all. It’s unreasonable to demand government support of your activities, and then refuse to comply with state or federal laws. Nobody is stopping Catholic organizations from opposing birth control and gay marriage. If they feel that way, though, they can’t demand access to taxpayer funds for programs that include those two aspects of life.

As frustrating as it is that the hierarchy wants to have its cake and eat it too, it’s also pretty frustrating that Obama has twice invited Archbishop Dolan to the White House for a private meeting, but recent requests by the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD) to meet with Obama’s staff have gone unanswered. CARD leaders (including Americans United, which serves as chair of the coalition) want to discuss the president’s failure to ban religion-based job discrimination in publicly funded “faith-based” social services (as he promised during the 2008 campaign). That’s a real religious liberty issue!

The most recent CARD letter to the White House – Sept. 19 -- was signed by 57 groups. They range from African American Ministers in Action, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Association of University Women, American Humanist Association and the American Jewish Committee to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, Union for Reform Judaism, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, Women of Reform Judaism and Women’s Law Project.

Obama administration officials have met with CARD representatives in the past, but no meeting has occurred in 2011 despite repeated entreaties to the White House.

Why Obama has chosen to offer some of his extremely limited meeting time to Archbishop Dolan while his staff won’t even respond to CARD is difficult to say, but it gives the impression that he is sympathetic to an organization that seeks to discriminate.

If Obama wants to be the kind of leader he told us he would be in 2008, he needs to start listening to the genuinely oppressed religious minorities and nonbelievers who face frequent persecution and harassment and stop giving so much time to groups that have nothing to fear but their own delusions. 


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