The Obama contraception compromise: A model to end the ‘war on religion’?

In January of 2012, political and religious conservatives declared a “war on religion” largely in response to the ruling from … Continued

In January of 2012, political and religious conservatives declared a “war on religion” largely in response to the ruling from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requiring that birth-control be supported in employee health plans, even in the case of some religious employers. Now that the Obama administration has announced a compromise that states if employers object to birth control on religious groups, provision can made for women to seek the coverage directly from their insurance companies, is the ‘war on religion’ over?

No. It is clear that on the political right, this “war” is just getting started. But this time, progressive people of faith are prepared to defend our values in the public square.

The conservatives’ so-called “war on religion” is the latest version of what used to be called the “culture wars”). The reason for the heightened rhetoric in 2012 about a “war on religion” is that conservatives have realized they can’t win the election this year on the economy. By all relevant measures, the economy is improving.

Thus, we see the ramping up of “religious war” rhetoric among GOP candidates. It’s an alternative to talking about the economy. This realization explains the mini-surge recently in support for Rick Santorum, who is an expert at playing the “culture wars” card. The conservative base has been lukewarm about Mitt Romney all along; this is called the “enthusiasm” gap. So nothing closes a “gap” like a “war” and political conservatives realize this.

It worked in 2004.

But this is 2012, not 2004 and this time, there’s no longer a “God Gap.” Progressive people of faith have found their voice in the public square.

It takes two sides to make a “war,” however, and religious progressives are getting the message they had better step up to the issues and declare their own religious values, or once again they will lose the “values” struggle. Progressive faith values are under attack in this new conservative “war on religion” and we are prepared this time to protect our values and lift our voices.

First, the “war on progressive religion” is not new; it has been going on for a long time. The “front” in this war can be most clearly seen in the language of “conscience.” Religious and political conservatives refuse to even recognize that progressive people of faith have consciences. But more and more, progressive people of faith make their arguments on their political convictions in terms of their consciences.

Second, progressive people of faith are able to articulate the connection between our faith, our consciences, and our commitments to reproductive responsibility, opposition to war, especially ‘wars of choice,’ to marriage equality, to the environment, and to economic fairness and opportunity among other issues. If you are in doubt about the “surge” in progressive faith arguments on all of these issues, subscribe to the Faith in Public Life news reel, “Bold Faith Type.” Every day, the top progressive faith articles are delivered to your inbox and it is always an impressive list. Many Washington Post “On Faith” posts are part of this list. Also, see ReligionDispatches for an in-depth analysis of progressive religion and the issues of the day.

But there’s the difference between the way progressive people of faith pursue issues in the public square, and those on the far right. Creative compromise, like the recent decision by the Obama administration, that builds common ground, we regard as a good thing and something that finally will produce a “cease-fire” through negotiation. We are open to a cease-fire, though not when it means our values are demeaned and violated. Negotiated settlements have to represent the real interests of each side and be made in good faith for there to be genuine and lasting peace.

That is why I, along with many other religious leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, signed and just released a joint statement that celebrates the Obama administration’s decision as a “major victory for religious liberty and women’s health.”

Conscience and common ground. It’s possible for there to be peace between us over religious differences.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is an On Faith panelist and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008). Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • Pilot1

    Who does Obama think he is fooling? The fact that the insurance companies have to pay for this “free” contraception means the Church is still paying for it. The only option the Church has now is to stop providing health care for it’s employees. But this is the ultimate goal of Obama care, to force employers to stop offering health care and put us all on the exchanges. In order to “help” the 10% who did not have health care insurance the left has managed to destroy the benifits of the other 90%.

    The fact is people nothing is for “free” someone is going to pay for it one way or other and it is not the insurance companies but the customers.

  • MK61

    If the bishops had taken the side of the uninsured poor and pushed for single payer health care a few years ago, we would not even be having this discussion. They do not have any moral high ground on which to make their argument, as they obviously have no concerns about the children left in poverty when “natural” family planning results in more children than a working father can reasonably support (Not many families can afford to put 3, 4, 5 or more children in day care so mom can work). This is exactly what motivated Margaret Sanger to devote her life to the cause of contraceptive options and access for the masses.

  • weinermeyer

    Miss Susan is obviously pushing her newsletter by spewing a bunch of gobblygook that makes no sense.

  • vzepijdu

    War on terror, war on religion, culture war …. it is obvious which party makes the most money off war … and why they support and politicize it.

  • olivia42

    Why is the contraception practices of ANY woman the business of Barack Obama?

  • tombukowski

    There is no war on religion. What there is is a religious-right war on secularism, as they try to force their beliefs into everyone elses life. Mind your own business, and look after your own house. Stay out of mine.

  • tombukowski

    There is no war on religion. What there is is a religious-right war on secularism, as they try to force their beliefs into everyone elses life. Mind your own business, and look after your own house. Stay out of mine.

  • tombukowski

    There is no war on religion. What there is is a religious-right war on secularism, as they try to force their beliefs into everyone elses life. Mind your own business, and look after your own house. Stay out of mine.

  • boblesch

    there is no WAR on religion in this country – stop this misleading rhetoric. this is all about a bunch of old men trying to keep a tight reign on woman and their bodies

  • Wildthing1

    But there is a religious sectarian war on for control of faith based initiatives and patronage to control the people in need of assistance and coerce them with excessive religious indoctrination and intimidation with the willing help of government throwing its citizens to the wolves of ideological insanity and the dark ages dungeons of sexual repression and ignorance of human nature believing in mind at war with body.

  • usapdx

    The war is religion on the government. No religion can ever take a right from any American ever but it was the people that gave freedom of religion by our supreme law, the Constitution.

  • ChoKum

    Olivia,
    You, the author of this article, and the bishops have declared war on all those who disagree with you–especially the huge majority of women who fervently resist your religion based demands.

    We would not impose any restrictions on your beliefs and practices. You however would tear the nation apart in order to make everyone else abide by your rules. Your effort is viciously inhumane, unAmerican, and contrary to the true meaning of Freedom of Religion.

  • FranknErnest

    Olivia pull your head out from-under… 99% of all women use some form of contraception during their lifetime and 98% of all catholics use some form of contraception during their lifetime. now zen in on this statistic for a just a minute (an hour or more if you are blonde). why do gay pedophile priests in the catholic church feel it is their business to set policy for women? zen in on that for a minute or more too. then ask yourself … if you wouldn’t trust a gay pedophile catholic priest with YOUR child … why would you follow or even listen to his nonsense about whether contraception should be covered on your medical plan formulary. fat people substitute food for sex… should we eliminate blood pressure medication, statins, and other medications because these too are used as prophylactics

  • margoni

    The real issue here is not about women’s liberty or women’s health, no matter one’s views on contraception. Neither is peace in the public square the outcome.

    The creative compromise and common ground celebrated by your ‘progressive’ church are just euphemisms for trampling the First Amendment.

    Forcing religious persons and institutions who are employers to purchase health insurance contracts that provide for activities that are morally proscribed by their religion violates religious freedom.

    Religious differences withstanding, your ‘progressive’ church’s chosen path is extremist, anti-constitutional and pro-tyranny.

  • margoni

    The real issue here is not about women’s liberty or women’s health, no matter one’s views on contraception. Neither is peace in the public square the outcome.

    The creative compromise and common ground celebrated by your ‘progressive’ church are just euphemisms for trampling the First Amendment.

    Forcing religious persons and institutions who are employers to purchase health insurance contracts that provide for activities that are morally proscribed by their religion violates religious freedom.

    Religious differences withstanding, your ‘progressive’ church’s chosen path is extremist, anti-constitutional and pro-tyranny.

  • scoter

    Obama compromise? What compromise? The conservative catholics got everything they wanted…the plan they negotiate for their employees no longer must include birt control. Wasn’t that the issue? Do they also want to insert themseleves as masters over their employees, that they can’t get bc on their own? What right have they to prevent their employees from going to the insurance company and adding bc? The problem is an authoritarian ownership class conservative mindset that believes they own their employees.

  • scoter

    The issue is how much power and control does an employer have over his/her employees? Can they prevent their employees from accessing certain kinds of healthcare through healthcare insurers? There’s your tyranny. It’s the same tyranny the working man and woman has been fighting for centuries – the belief by owners that they own the business, the market, and the worker.

  • kinkysr

    The war I perceive is the one Papists, GOPhers, and other benighted
    religious-freaks are waging against educated and tolerant Americans.

  • northernharrier

    It’s not just aboout women and their bodies, Bob. It is also about the right to be gay or lesbian and retain the same rights as everyone else; it is about the right to live by one’s religion without being pressured or forced to adhere to the practices of those who adhere to the dominant faiths; and it is about the hypocrisy of many of the majority faiths who are militantly vigilant against any encroachments upon their religious freedom, but at the same time always trying to shove their relgious beliefs and practices down everyone else’s throats.

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