Editor's Note: This column was co-written by Bob Morrison.
TIME Magazine’s nation editor, Amy Sullivan, thinks all this talk of President Obama’s “war” on religious liberty is overwrought. She told a recent Georgetown gathering that it was absurd to claim the latest Mandate from HHS ranks with such horrible events in American history as the Philadelphia Bible Riots of 1844.
To be sure, those riots were terrible. Catholics and Protestants in the City of Brotherly Love attacked each others’ churches in a series of violent clashes that left several dead. In nearby New York , however, the situation remained tense but calm. That’s because Catholic Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes made it clear that if a single Catholic Church was torched, he’d make sure New York looked like “a second Moscow .” The reference was to Napoleon’s burning the Russian city in 1812. (The “dagger” referred to was for his piercing sermons, and perhaps his Irish wit, not for any weapons he carried. Thank God.)
Well, Editor Sullivan is surely right to recall with a shudder the kinds of religious strife we went though as Americans in our past. But she missed the main point of those of us who protest against President Obama’s unconscionable HHS Mandate: As deplorable as the Philadelphia Bible Riots were, they were not the result of conscious, deliberate federal government policy.
Of course, it’s always hard to get journalists to understand a story about religious liberty. The famed Rothman and Lichter study found that 91% of reporters and columnists for the prestige press never attend a religious service of any kind.
No wonder no one blinked an eye when NBC News Anchorman John Chancellor solemnly intoned that President Reagan was being sworn in, his hand on the family Bible, “opened to Eleven Chronicles 7:22.” Few reporters looked up when presidential candidate Howard Dean claimed that his favorite New Testament book was “Job.” Maybe they thought he was talking unemployment figures. CNN’s Bill Schneider had a point when he said that the mass media “doesn’t get religion.” Can they hum a few bars?