WEDGE politics typically involves using an issue to divide your opponent from potential supporters. President Obama has flipped the practice on its head. He's using wedge politics on his own supporters.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the controversy over the administration's mandate for all employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control and abortifacients, including most religious organizations. That action has led Roman Catholic leaders to file lawsuits decrying the mandate as an infringement upon religious liberty.
For many Americans, the idea that government can force citizens to violate their religious beliefs strikes at the core of our national identity. Our country's earliest settlers included many escaping religious persecution, and our founding documents stress the right to practice one's religion without government interference.
The issue is not whether you agree with the Catholic Church's teachings on birth control; the issue is whether people of Catholic or other faiths should be forced to violate deeply held religious beliefs, particularly when the practice of those beliefs poses no harm to anyone else. The clear threat to religious liberty is why local officials with Oklahoma Christian University and Southern Nazarene University have both voiced objections to the mandate, as have many evangelicals nationally.
This is a fight the Obama administration should have avoided. The Catholic Church has long partnered with and supported government programs to aid the poor. While evangelicals have trended strongly Republican in recent decades, Catholics remained a Democrat-friendly corner of the religious world. That may be changing because of the administration's actions.
Locally, state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, filed a resolution calling on Congress to overturn the birth control mandate. Hamilton, a Catholic, called it “a deliberate attempt to force the Catholic Church to abandon 2,000 years of consistent moral teaching and accede its moral and prophetic voice to the government,” adding that it was “the most crude and obvious violation of American religious freedom that I have seen in my life.”
Hamilton is no Democrat in name only. Although socially conservative, she's been a forceful proponent of state spending on programs for those in need. She enjoys strong support from labor unions. That should be a warning sign to the president's campaign strategists: This action could drive even some core Democrat voters away from Obama.
Mandate supporters say it isn't fair that employees at a Catholic school or charity have to pay for birth control out of pocket. But no one's forcing those people to work for a Catholic employer. The absurdity of the debate was graphically illustrated when a Georgetown student decried the cost of birth control even as she paid an estimated $50,000 annually for college.
If the mandate is upheld, Catholic charities may have to drop all employee coverage or scale back their work to avoid legal problems. It would be tragic if the truly needy lose access to soup kitchens just so a privileged Georgetown student can have “free” birth control pills.