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White House Mandate Ignites Firestorm

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

Sean Hannity calls President Barack Obama "The Chosen One." And as a matter of policy, it turns out to be the perfect characterization.

Obama unites people; he is a healer. I would even go so far to suggest that he might be a miracle worker.

George Weigel, the conservative biographer of Pope John Paul II, and E.J. Dionne, a progressive columnist -- Catholics on opposing sides of the political aisle -- recently sat side by side on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown." They both protested the Obama administration's mandate that Catholic-run organizations offer and purchase health insurance plans for their employees that pay for contraceptives and abortions, in violation of Church law. ABC correspondent Jake Tapper reports that even within the administration, some Catholics are arguing against the mandate, not only for political but for policy reasons.

The administration's overreach has backfired politically. And it has been tremendously instructive.

The radicalism of some in the administration has been exposed, and at the top are the president and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. They, along with Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates, consider birth control a basic health need and pregnancy a disease that needs to be managed, suppressed and sometimes ended. But this fight is not and has not been entirely or primarily about contraception. It's about religious liberty. It's about the federal government taking it upon itself to determine who is and who isn't religious, what is and what isn't an acceptable belief.

As Carl Anderson put it in his 2010 book "Beyond a House Divided": "On basic moral questions ... most Americans stand shoulder to shoulder. They agree that morality has a place not only in our families and personal relationships but also in corporate offices and boardrooms on Wall Street, in the country's newsrooms and in the halls of political power in Washington."

As he told me at the time, the polling showed "alignment on issue after issue between the Catholic Church's position and the values of the American people." He listed the importance of a fair immigration solution, the ultimate harm that abortion can have on women in the long run, and the need for ethical behavior in both the private and public sectors and many others as issues on which society and the Church see eye to eye.

A candidate of any faith who understands this can craft a winning message this fall: a forward-looking vision that preserves the ideals that have served us well and have made us a beacon to dissidents throughout the world.

The John F. Kennedy era is finally just about over. In a famous speech to a group of Texan ministers, Kennedy, still a senator at that time, insisted that in America "the separation of church and state is absolute." He was trying to make clear that, as a Catholic, he believed that a president's religious views should be "his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office."

Both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have taken issue with the Kennedy model in their campaigns for the Republican nomination for president. In a 2007 speech about religious faith, Romney said: "The notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God ... They are wrong."

Santorum, while sharply dismantling Kennedy's assertions, also noted that the former president got something right: He said that he would resign rather than violate his conscience. How far we have come in the Obama administration, where the president announces a federal mandate that some of us violate ours.

Even with White-House repair work, the administration's power-grab will be an election issue, because it goes right to the center of so much that matters in our country's physical and spiritual lives. There is an "author of liberty," as Mitt Romney put it in his speech on faith. And it is not President Obama.

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