After Triple Primary Loss, Romney Picks Up Santorum’s False Claim About Government Picking Church Ministers

Yesterday morning, presidential candidate Rick Santorum made the unambiguously false claim that the Obama Administration wants the government to force Catholics to ordain female priests — a brief the administration filed in the Supreme Court actually says exactly the opposite. Perhaps inspired by his surprising triple loss in three GOP primary and caucus states earlier this week, Santorum’s opponent Mitt Romney repeated Santorum’s fabricated claim at a campaign event later in the day:

This president is attacking religion, and is putting in place a secular agenda that our forefounders would not recognize. He, uh, he took a position which I thought was interesting which is he said, instead of a church being able to say who their ministers are, the government has to approve who you say your ministers are. He made that decision, and by the way, the church involved went to the Supreme Court, ultimately, to see if they could reverse that decision by the Obama Administration . . . did you know that the Supreme Court voted 9-0 against the president to retain religious liberty.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Romney really shouldn’t ape Santorum’s inability to get his facts straight. For starters, the Obama Administration did not even come close to saying that the government has to approve church ministers. Rather, as conservative Chief Justice John Roberts explained in the unanimous opinion Romney refers to, the Obama Administration’s position is 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.”

Nor is it true that this Supreme Court decision ended some nefarious Obama plot to impose unwanted clergy upon churches. The case that Romney refers to, Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, dealt with a school teacher who spent most of her time teaching secular subjects, but who also spent some time providing religious education at a religious school. The school claimed this teacher was actually a minister — and thus unprotected from the federal law that makes it illegal to fire her because she has a disability — while the teacher (and the Obama Administration) believed that she should not be treated the same way as Catholic priests or Orthodox rabbis because the overwhelming majority of her job duties were secular. Ultimately, a federal appeals court agreed with the teacher, and the Supreme Court agreed with the school.

No one in this saga ever claimed that the government can pick and choose a church’s ministers. Rather, the most important issue in the case was a very narrow factual dispute over what a single woman’s job was. But, of course, for Romney to realize this, he would actually have to spend some time learning basic facts before opening his mouth. And he has much more important things to do, like finding ways to copy Santorum’s successful strategy of telling falsehoods to GOP primary voters.