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Santorum Invents New Front In Fake War On Religion: Obama Wants Female Catholic Priests

By Ian Millhiser  

"Santorum Invents New Front In Fake War On Religion: Obama Wants Female Catholic Priests"

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For weeks, Republicans have pretended that President Obama is waging some kind of war on religion because his administration recently approved regulations requiring insurers to cover contraceptive care — spurred on in large part because the conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes the contraceptive care regulations. Their claim is utterly absurd. The new rules exempt churches from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception. And they align closely with the beliefs of actual Catholics, 58 percent of whom believe that employers should be required to provide insurance that cover contraception.

On Fox News this morning, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum doubled down on this bizarre claim that Obama is going after religion — falsely claiming that the president wants to tell Catholics who they can hire as priests:

What they’ve done here is a direct assault on the First Amendment, not only a direct assault on the freedom of religion, by forcing people specifically to do things that are against their religious teachings. . . . This is a president who, just recently, in this Hosanna-Tabor case was basically making the argument that Catholics had to, you know, maybe even had to go so far as to hire women priests to comply with employment discrimination issues. This is a very hostile president to people of faith. He’s a hostile president, not just to people of faith, but to all freedoms.

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It’s not clear exactly which First Amendment Santorum is talking about here, because he clearly isn’t talking about the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. As conservative (and Catholic) Justice Antonin Scalia explained in a Supreme Court opinion more than twenty years ago, a law does not suddenly become unconstitutional because someone raises a religious objective to it — if this actually were true, anyone at all could immunize themselves from paying taxes or from any other law simply by claiming they have a religious objection to being a law-abiding citizen.

Moreover, Santorum’s claim that the Obama Administration wants to force Catholics to hire female priests (something which, incidentally, 53 percent of Catholics support) is the opposite of true. The Obama Administration’s brief in the case Santorum cites expressly stated that it would be unconstitutional to tell the Catholic church to do so, a fact that Santorum would have been aware of if he had actually bothered to read the Supreme Court’s opinion in Hosanna-Tabor. That opinion explains that the administration “grant[s] . . . that it would violate the First Amendment for courts to apply [anti-discrimination] laws to compel the ordination of women by the Catholic Church or by an Orthodox Jewish seminary.”

Ultimately, however, Santorum’s objection to the president doesn’t come down to some paranoid debate over whether President Obama is hostile to “all freedoms,” but a very important debate over what the word freedom actually means. President Obama does believe that women’s access to contraceptive care is fundamentally important to ensuring their freedom to participate in society and the in the workforce. Santorum, on the other hand, harshly criticized the Supreme Court’s longstanding decision saying that woman have a constitutional right to use birth control at all. Given that Santorum’s long history of radicalism on women’s health and the Constitution, it’s no surprise that he couldn’t be bothered to check basic facts before mouthing off about what the Obama Administration does and does not believe.

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