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Tip-of-the-Hat: Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia - and friends

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

As a life-long Catholic, the often blind loyalty of many in my faith to the Democrat Party has befuddled me for years. Regardless of the promotion of a social agenda at odds with the Doctrinal Principles of the Church, Catholics have continued to overwhelmingly support Democrat candidates. Even Barack Obama – "the most antilife presidential candidate ever" – got 54% of the Catholic vote in 2008. That may be about to change.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – a professed Catholic herself – announced in late January a new regulation mandate that she would implement as part of the ObamaCare legislation requiring that all employers – regardless of moral objection - would be required to provide contraception, sterilization, and the "morning after pill" – an abortifacient – to all employees through employer provided health insurance programs.

It was as if a bomb went off.

Catholic Universities, Hospitals, Schools, Daycare Centers, Adoption Agencies, Homeless Shelters, as well as thousands of private employers that similarly have a moral objection to the mandate would be forced under the rule to violate their faith – a principle protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

While the immediate reaction was greatest within the Catholic community, very quickly people of all faiths realized it was not just an issue involving reproductive health care, but one of religious liberty – a foundational issue of American culture.

I have been pleased that the issue has captivated much of America, and we hope the concern remains top-of-mind. Even the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 didn't seem to mobilize and energize the Catholic community and people of faith like this arrogant breech of authority by the Obama White House. Regardless of outcome, this arrogant abuse of power should be reason enough to deny Barack Obama a second term in office.

I'll not attempt to re-write the extensive record already created by this controversy. It has dominated news media as well as pulpits and even the halls of Congress for the last month, and likely will for some time to come. We would, however, be remiss if we failed to compliment the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops led by Archbishop (Newly appointed Cardinal) Timothy Dolan for the courageous, outspoken challenge of the mandate. In their latest public letter, the Conference of Bishops said the Administration's mandate amounts to "government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters." The Bishops continue to demand that the mandate be rescinded "to protect the religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all."

Many of the 160 American Bishops have spoken out individually. Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware said emphatically, "We will not comply with this unjust law." The Bishop of Pittsburgh David Zubik used the vernacular of the Steel City to explain the situation; "Kathleen Sebelius and through her, the Obama administration, have said 'To Hell with You' to the Catholic faithful in the United States."

Of all the letters I read by the various clerics, my personal favorite was by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. Until last year Chaput was my Archbishop in the Denver Diocese where he emerged as one of the most outspoken of all the bishops in America. His moral clarity and unwavering courage quickly captivated his new flock in Philadelphia where he has already been labeled the "warrior bishop."

In an op-ed published February 12, 2012 by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chaput is his normal candid self:

The current administration prides itself on being measured and deliberate. The current HHS mandate needs to be understood as exactly that. Commentators are using words like 'gaffe,' 'ill conceived,' and 'mistake' to describe the mandate. They're wrong. It's impossible to see this regulation as some happenstance policy. It has been too long in the making.

Despite all of its public apprehension about 'culture warriors' on the political right in the past, the current administration has created an HHS mandate that is the embodiment of culture war. At its heart is a seemingly deep distrust of the formative role religious faith has on personal and social conduct, and a deep distaste for religion's moral influence on public affairs. To say that this view is contrary to the Founders' thinking and the record of American history would be an understatement.

American clergy, including Catholic bishops, have largely avoided public feuds with government officials, particularly Presidents – but, Chaput is going right at President Obama and his administration. He concludes with this:

"But it is this administration - not Catholic ministries, or institutions, or bishops - that chose the timing and nature of the fight. The onus is entirely on the White House, which also has the power to remove the issue from public conflict. Catholics should not be misled into accepting feeble compromises on issues of principle. The HHS mandate is bad law; and not merely bad, but dangerous and insulting. It needs to be withdrawn - now."

I have lamented many times that the leaders of my Church were too silent and accepting of government actions in the name of so-called "social justice" or separation of church-and-state. In Congress, I watched as scores of elected officials professed to be Catholic, but repeatedly voted with apparent impunity against Catholic Doctrine.

Silence – sometimes even acceptance – by the faith community only encouraged some in government to be more egregious. Obama may have finally crossed the line. So, to Archbishop Chaput, his fellow Bishops and Priests, Pastors and Rabbis who have joined in the fight, and the millions of rank-and-file citizens who still believe in Religious Freedom in America, I tip-my-hat and vow to stand right with you.

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